Nothing makes your gardening prowess better than an efficient raised bed watering system. Whether you go for drip irrigation, soaker hoses, a sprinkler system, or an automatic watering system, you will save much time and energy after your setup is complete.
Especially with raised garden beds, irrigation systems prevent lots of problems. Say goodbye to uneven watering and waterborne diseases, and say hello to water conservation! With soaker hoses or drip lines, delivering water at the ground level right where it needs to be is not just possible. It will happen.
Systemic irrigation is one of the best things anyone can add to a vegetable garden. You can drip water into certain areas and leave more drought-tolerant areas out of the system too if you so choose. Let’s discuss getting an irrigation system installed so you can enjoy the greenery.
Watering System or Hose?
While a garden hose is a completely adequate way to water plants, there are benefits associated with switching to an irrigation system. By watering at the root zone, you deliver moisture directly to the plant and avoid waterborne diseases, like powdery mildew or other fungal spores that attach to wet leaves. Systems also prevent evaporation of water on plant leaves, which ultimately becomes water waste that can promote diseases.
An irrigation system allows you to wake up, turn it on, do your daily garden walk, and turn it off. Instead of dragging a hose around the garden, you can focus on inspecting your plants to ensure they’re healthy and strong. With an automatic system like a hose timer, you may not even have to turn it on and off. That gives you time to relax in the morning. This allows you to save your garden walk for the time that’s most convenient.
Soaker hoses are an excellent way to irrigate plants gradually while delivering water to the root zone. A soaker hose is usually made of rubber or polyurethane and contains dozens of small holes that slowly drip water into your garden. The outer layer of these types of soaker hose are often made of cloth. Another form of soaker hose is made of recycled rubber and is entirely porous, allowing water to bead out along its entire length.
The benefit to a soaker hose is you can simply lay it in your raised beds to water the existing plants. Especially if you’re square-foot gardening, a soaker hose is a great alternative to a drip irrigation system. One thing soaker hoses have over drip irrigation is they don’t require any kind of installation other than hose placement and connecting to the main source.
Drip irrigation systems in raised beds offer gardeners sleek designs and efficient watering of plants. Some systems come with multiple parts that you put together yourself, and some come with the basics that you add to as needed. Every drip irrigation system comes with hoses or tubing that either have holes pre-punctured or to be punctured by you. When connected, they slowly drip water into raised bed gardens and can be placed so they only drip at certain plants and areas. Those systems that allow you to poke holes make it possible to design water conservative irrigation in your own garden.
A drip system may also include an assortment of drip heads. Heads range from a simple hole in a hose to attachments that control the flow of irrigation more effectively. If you’re ok with a hole in the hose as your main water source, look for porous pipe, drip tape, or laser tubing. If you are working with water that has a lot of minerals, these types of emitters can get clogged easily. Instead, work with a sprinkler emitter, which forces the water out above ground just like it would in a sprinkler system. The water intensity in a sprinkler is higher than that of a porous hose but not as high as your average sprinkler. In a raised bed, you can set up a system that directs line up to raised bed gardens, and then out through a protruding sprinkler head. This is perfectly acceptable for a garden irrigation system, especially in plants that aren’t prone to mildew.
How to Set Up a System
Installing soaker hoses or a drip system involves varying levels of difficulty based on your preferences and the equipment. Before you install a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses in your raised bed gardens, consider the following.
Main Water Source
Start at the main water source. Does it come from rain barrels or a well pump? Or do you have a spigot on the side of your house that you’d like to use to irrigate raised beds? Does your preferred system use PVC pipe or flexible hosing? Will you connect a regular method to some other system? Most of all, what’s your biggest garden inspiration?
Once you’ve taken time to think about these things, you can plan how you will set up water lines from the main to your garden beds. One important consideration: will the piping go from the main to your raised bed gardens on or under the ground? While piping buried in the ground is aesthetically appealing, it requires much more setup than simple garden hoses placed on the ground. However, buried piping prevents tripping hazards in the garden. Decide whether you will trail the piping up the side of raised bed gardens, or if you’ll bury them to come up into the garden grid. If you haven’t set up your raised beds yet, great! That means you have a lot more room to install a new drip system that is in-ground. If you have already-installed beds, and you’re concerned about trip hazards lying in the garden, a few inches of mulch covers the hose and prevents tripping.
Hose diameters vary based on the purpose of irrigation. Wider tubes send more water to a bed, while smaller hoses send less water. To start, determine how you want to provide water, and in what amounts. Then examine whether or not you’ll adjust as you go. Most regular hoses (soaker hoses included) come in ¼, ½, ⅝, and ¾ inch sizes. Main lines could be anywhere from 1 to 3 inches wide because they have to withstand the bulk of the physical force. Most drip irrigation kits come with ¼ or ½ inch tubes that you connect to the main line. One rule of thumb: the higher the pressure, the wider the hose.
Most drip irrigation systems run effectively at 25 psi but can handle lower pressure at 15 psi. If the intensity is too low in the drip line low you’ll have inconsistent watering. With too much, parts may come off of the system or hoses may burst. There are ways to regulate higher intensity through the drip line, which we will discuss in the next section. Lower pressure is harder to adjust and often requires that users install a system designed to handle lower flows. Thankfully there are many on the market with all the hoses at the right diameters, that funnel more water directly to plants than would be funneled in a regular hose. If you’re unsure what system has the best way to provide water for your plants, measure the intensity with a pressure gauge acquired at your local hardware store.
Now that we’ve laid out the basics of watering plants in a garden with raised beds, let’s talk about miscellaneous additions that improve the gardening journey. Pressure controllers are a great option for high-pressure sources. They come in low, medium, and high-flow formats. If you know high pressure is an issue, a controller will adjust so you can water directly without losing equipment or blasting plants in the process. Another issue that a lot of people come across in watering plants is hard water, which is full of minerals that overwhelm plants and soil. In that case, install a hard water softener system in the line at the source. These remove excess minerals from the water and keep the soil in your beds healthy and stable. Filters, related to hard water softeners, remove excess minerals through a filtration system that ranges from a small screen in the hose, to a full pump. More complex filters may not be a necessity in your gardening practice. A very small hose attachment might be enough.
One way to make your watering fully automatic is to install a timer at the source, which will turn irrigation on and off without the need for manual intervention. Some timers are solar-powered, and sense the rising and setting sun to turn on and off. Some are high-tech and controlled by an app on your mobile phone. While a timer is great when it works, sometimes they break or work improperly. If you have a little extra money to spend, consider a timer that works via specific timings rather than solar timing. In the summer season, when water evaporation is an issue, a timer is a great watering method that takes some of the effort out of gardening. In any season, a functioning timer helps you spend less time lugging around a hose.
Mix and Match Systems
One way to try different watering systems in your garden is to mix and match watering methods. If you’re growing traditional crops alongside a more freeform garden, maybe a mix of drip irrigation for the former and soaker attachments for the latter makes the most sense for you and the soil. If you’re like me, and you grow tomatoes in pots, you can have a drip irrigation system running through the pots, and one buried in the ground in a pathway to your raised garden. Every few years, you can change the mode of watering you use and update the irrigation system you’re working with, testing different methods as you go. Then you’ll find your favorite way to go about watering your garden.
The mix you choose could involve gardening with different emitters. If evaporation isn’t a problem in one bed, you could have a standard sprinkler emitter, while your tomatoes benefit from watering via drip tape. Crops might benefit most from watering derived from PVC-guided systems, while you may want to hand water other plants that don’t need as much water because the rain takes care of them. Figure out which plants need what kind of watering method and go from there.
Steps for Installation
No matter the season, it’s never too late to set up a raised bed watering system. Follow these steps to fill your garden with lush green plants all year round.
- Do some research. Learn what your plants need, what the soil fill and seeds in your beds need, and determine which system is best. Consider the main source of water in your yard and the water stream strength and mineral content. Watch a video on different irrigation methods (or specifically on drip irrigation like Kevin’s video linked earlier in this piece), and use that video to look for products that fit your needs and budget.
- Draw out your design. A visual understanding of the design helps you develop a plan. Get as specific or general as you want here, including actual measurements and proportions.
- Find and purchase the equipment. Choose either a full kit or assemble the parts yourself. Consider hose diameter, emitters, and any miscellaneous items you might need.
- Lay out the tubing. Before you get into the install, ensure your design works by placing everything where it will eventually go.
- Proceed with the install. This is the hardest part, but it’s the most important! If you’re working with a kit, follow the instructions. Otherwise, stick to the design and you’re good to go!
- Sit back, relax, and enjoy the extra time and money you’ve saved. Now that you have a system, you don’t have to work as hard in your garden, and your plants are happier. Make any adjustments as you go.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the best way to water a raised bed garden?
A: Anything that is well-planned and suits your needs is best. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are typically what most gardeners go for, but if that doesn’t work for you, use something else.
Q: Should I water my raised beds everyday?
A: That depends on what soil you’re working, and what plants you’re growing. Some, like tomatoes, need consistent water every day. Others don’t need water more than a couple of times per week. In a raised bed you’re retaining more moisture than you would in the earth. Consider the timing of irrigation in your planning process and you’ll be off to a good start.
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