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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday Garden Party - Secrets from The Mr for a Beautiful Garden

**Thoughts from The Mr:

So the Mrs. asked me to pen a guest blog about irrigation. Unfortnuately (for you), I don’t have her wit, brevity, or ability to use spell check. Still, I will do my best.

When we recently spent a week away from our home, we realized that one can go a long way towards having a green thumb by first having a wet thumb.  Plants mostly want light and water, and, if you’re anything like me, it’s far too easy to provide the former and neglect the latter. That’s where your local home improvement superstore (or neighborhood hardware store, for that matter) can help...with automatic irrigation!  Being an engineer, I’ll break irrigation down into arbitrary and meaningless categories
  1. Boring prerequisite stuff
  2. Timing devices
  3. The water “backbone” (I’d love to have a better title)
  4. Drippers, misters, and emitters...oh my!
  5. Tune up
Boring Prerequisite Stuff
First of all, there are likely to be many “code” requirements for irrigation systems of which I am unaware.  Unless you have a particularly nasty homeowners association, it seems pretty unlikely that you’ll fall victim to the irrigation police.  Still, it’s wise to understand if your neighborhood/city/state/region have any specific irrigation regulations of which they are particularly fond.

From first principles, the regulations mostly center around making sure that it’s not possible for water from your plants to inadvertently make its way back into the water main in the event of a loss of water main pressure.  So, get yourself a backflow preventer (

Also, most drip irrigation systems are designed for a lower water pressure than your house likely receives.  If you’re super interested, you can get a water pressure gage ( and test the garden hose outlet you plan to use.  If it’s more than about 20 psi (pounds per square inch), you’ll also need to get a pressure reducer ( Oh...install the pressure reducer first, then the backflow preventer.  Now you’re ready for...

Timing devices:  
There’s about a dozen makes and models.  Some are for a single circuit (, 

Think about the kinds of plants you have and what their watering needs are.  Some might require daily, others every 3-4 days.  You’ll need a timing device for each different timing you require.  You can use Y-adapters ( either after your backflow preventer to allow you to hook up multiple timers, or you can hook up Y-adapters on the outlet of your timer to send water in different directions after the timer.

An important note:  You don’t want to suspend too much stuff from your garden hose outlet.  I ended up running a heavy duty short hose from the backflow preventer to the ground and then set up the timers on the ground.  Make sure it’s a good hose if you do this, because it will be charged (under pressure) all the time.  If it ruptures, there will be lots and lots of water on the ground...

Water Backbone
You can probably identify a reasonably straight line (or a few lines) that will get pretty close to most of your plants.  The plan is to run a reasonably large “backbone” or “header” on this line, and then tap that line to get water to your plants.

If you have more than one timing device, make sure you get the right backbone to the right plants.  I use mostly 1/2 inch tubing (, for which many fittings are available:  T (, elbow (, cap (, and brackets (can’t find a link...they’re available with all these other parts, trust me).

An adapter is available to attach 1/2 inch tubing to standard garden hose (3/4 inch female pipe thread,  Oh, there’s a tool that cuts 1/2 inch pipe really well (, but you can probably find a different way.  Go nuts!
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Drippers, misters, and emittersr
 To get the water to the actual plants, I use 1/4-inch tubing. I use this tool ( to tap into the “backbone” close to the plan.

I attach one of these fittings ( to an end of the tubing and poke the fitting into the hole I tapped.  I then cut the tubing to length with side cutters ( and attach a dripper ( or a mister (

Oh, I keep it all reasonably neat with brackets (

Buy some drippers & misters that are larger and smaller than the ones you think you might need, so you can...

Tune up!:  
You’ll want to monitor closely for the first few days and weeks to make sure that your system is properly balanced.  I use a moisture sensor to see how all the plants are doing...probably best to check just before the next irrigation cycle is due.

Seems like the plants should be on the dry side of the scale but not dusty or anything.  If all your plants are soggy, you might want to reduce the time on the timer.  If they’re all droopy, you might want to add some time to all.  If some are looking good while others are dry, you’ll want to use a larger dripper or mister on that specific plant.  You can also use 1/2 inch T’s ( and put a separate dripper or mister in, if needed.  Turn on each timer manually for a few minutes and make sure that all the drippers/misters are working properly.

For extra credit, you can install one of these to fertilize your plants periodically.  I’m sure you can figure it out.

I hope this helps.  It’s a little bit of an investment up front in time and money, but really pays off with the ability to have lots of lovely plants that you know won’t be dead in two weeks!

The Mr.

** zentMRS here - Did you enjoy The Mr's info? He's wicked smart. He'd be happy to answer any questions you might have. About irrigation or other stuff. (He didn't say that exactly, but I figure he will if you ask...) In the meantime, check out An Oregon Cottage for her weekly Garden Party.

What's in YOUR garden this week?

Zentmrs Pin It


  1. The Mr is a good job! I bet your back yard is quite green now!

  2. well done, mr. and wow. that's the high-tech-est garden i've seen in a long while!

  3. Great post!

    My irrigation tip is to marry a man who is good at putting in irrigation or willing to learn! :D My long-suffering husband has spent a lot of time in the hardware store and digging in the back yard as I attempt to turn Mordor into the Hundred Acre Wood. He is determined that our next move will be to a location that actually receives some precipitation. :)

  4. Hory Toritos! You are going to be my GO TO GUY from now on! Just kidding... I may ask a question now and then. Thanks, Dan

  5. That is a really helpful post--thank you! So my question is: What if you rotate your garden beds each year, so different plants are grown in different spots? How easy is it to adapt an irrigation system to a garden that gets moved around each year? Or is this simply a better solution for permanent plantings?

    Athena at Minerva's Garden

  6. As someone who hand waters just about everything in the yard and garden I can appreciate this post. It has been on my to do list for a few years now... I just can't seem to motivate myself. Perhaps this is just what I needed!

    How did the critter guard work on your bird feeder?

    Thanks for visiting myeverydaygraces... the onion jam was delish, can't wait to make more! It is perfect for an antipasto plate.

  7. Wow a guest blogger and an irrigation system. Fancy stuff! :) I just wanted to personally invite you to my "Canning Week Blog Party" August 23-27th. I've seen your Rosmary Jelly and hope you will link up to our party. We will also have guest blogers with tips, recipes and of course recipes. Can't wait!!!!

  8. Awesome guest appearance! Nice job on the irrigation system!

  9. Fantastic directions… My back patio has absolutely no plants (oops, did I type that out loud?). We have plenty of ground for gardens, and I just haven't gotten around to it - mainly because of cost of getting it going and the upkeep with watering it all. I usually over or under water potted plants, being consistently inconsistent…

    I already spend a good hour every couple of days in the main gardens and want to actually sit to enjoy the patio. This post really helps me understand how I can plan it out for when I do get planters designed and attempt to build them (I see big, long, elevated planting beds - somehow…).

    Thanks for all the directions!

  10. Awesomely detailed post - I directed "my guy" to read it immediately!