If you’ve grown a garden for a while, you may have noticed that the last few years have been brutal due to climate change-related patterns. One month it’s drought and the next it’s flooding. What is the best watering system for your home garden and can it help you navigate the climate ups and downs? Here are some great options with the pros and cons so you can decide the right garden irrigation system for your micro climate.
Top watering systems for home gardens
Here are the top types of irrigation you can use for a home garden:
- 1. Drip tape
- 2. Traditional sprinklers on a hose
- 3. In-ground sprinklers
- 4. Wobbler or overhead sprinkler system
- 5. Garden well
These options all have pros and cons, so I’ll go through them one at a time. Then go check out the options for whichever system sounds like a good fit for you. It’s not always about quality or price, as you’ll see. Personal preference, physical availability versus automation and seasonal temperature ranges are big factors, too.
Drip tape irrigation
Drip tape irrigation is a form of watering system where you hook up black hoses in a grid from a main water source like a hose spigot or well, Then leave it on a timer that decides when to water the garden, sometimes divided into zones. Drip tape is popular for micro farms or home gardens where the space to water is smaller, but you want to water your plants and not all the weeds between them. Drip tape is super popular in areas where water is scarce, because it helps reduce water lost to evaporation. This makes it a great choice for dry climates or areas where water is expensive or restricted use.
Pros: Saves on water and water costs.
Cons: Drip take can get plugged by dirt easily and is work intensive to set out and remove if you have to pull it up before a cold winter, which could blow out your tape/pipes from freezing.
Sprinkler hose irrigation
The old-fashioned sprinkler on a hose is a perfectly viable option for your home garden, and very affordable. Most hoses cost about $30 per 25-feet length and sprinklers are in the same cost zone. You might have to replace your hose or sprinkler every year or two if it sits out, so this is a good option for people who want to manually water their garden as needed but don’t have it running every single day.
One thing that is great about sprinklers is that you can use them to test how much water your garden needs in different areas and move it around. You can also use sprinkler systems to test if your home water supply has high enough pressure to manage splitting your garden sprinklers into zones before you commit to any equipment long term.
Pros: Saves a lot of money on costs and it’s simple.
Cons: Sprinklers need to be moved around manually or put on timers with a hose splitter for zones. This can be more expensive or require you to replace equipment more frequently as basic sprinklers aren’t designed for heavy farm/garden use every day.
In-ground sprinkler system
When we built our house years ago, we must have told the plumber that we weren’t sure if we were going to install an in-ground sprinkler system because he supplied us with enough water flow to accomplish that. Without that feature, our home exterior spigot may not have had enough pressure to supply four garden zones with sprinklers and then wobbler sprayers for a large 60 feet by 100 feet garden that is (even better) located uphill from our house at a distance.
In-ground sprinkler systems may require you to prep your home water supply or upgrade plumbing, so make sure you ask a professional to give you a quote before ordering parts for this irrigation system. In-ground sprinklers work best for landscaping because you can place them near small planting beds or fruit trees and have them retract when not in use. Just be sure to blow out the pipes before winter so nothing freezes and bursts your pipes.
Pros: Saves time automating a complex watering of landscaping.
Cons: Expensive and not ideal for home garden/farm use.
Wobbler and overhead pivot irrigation
Now we’re getting to the larger garden and farming equipment. If you have tested sprinklers and need something that sprays a bit more evenly over your plants or want to upgrade to higher water pressure, wobbler sprinklers are a great option. We like the ones from Neversink Farm’s Connor Crickmore, who switched from being a software engineer to a small market farmer and invented a few tools along the way (flame weeder, stirrup hoe) to make things easier.
Wobbler sprinklers are set on top of posts you can move around, and like sprinklers you can use one or split your garden hoses into zones on a timer and automate watering. This was a lifesaver for us this year. The garden is still a hot mess after we were stuck inside for a month due to wildfire smoke sensitivities, but we happened to get the irrigation in the day before the smoke hit, so everything was watered evenly and automatically all month without a second thought from us. It’s awesome for micro farmers, big home gardens or anywhere you want broader sprinkler coverage.
Pros: Automates watering a large garden evenly.
Cons: Make sure you have the water pressure for this system, and they do cost a bit more than traditional sprinklers (though probably less than your average drip tape setup).
If you’re getting serious about watering your garden or expanding your planting to something bigger than the average home garden, consider drilling a well or expanding the capacity of your existing well to handle the watering needs of a bigger space. Yes, this is expensive, but if you don’t have sprinkler system capacity from your home well or are able to drill a well on your property in the country, you should at least ask around about your options.
If you use an outdoor spigot and hose for a long time for a large garden, it can cause problems for your plumbing or give you unreliable water pressure that waxes and wanes. We have seen a tiny bit of this at our place, but for the most part, we lucked out and won’t drill a second well unless we significantly expand our garden to a micro farm.
Moreover, if you have an even larger property and want to set up a farm, look into overhead pivots, which are just wobblers inverted spraying downward from a big metal rig that rolls around your property to bring water where it’s needed. This is outside the scope of home gardening, but if you want to scale your home garden to a farm, a pivot might just save your farm during an unexpectedly dry summer.
Bonus: watering your crops this way instead of flooding your field with irrigation from a pipe that goes into furrows assures that you can save any crops that are protected from hard freeze. You do this by freezing their surface fruit/leaves with sprayed water at the beginning or end of your season. If you’re scaling up, this could save your whole fruit crop, but you’ll have to look into it more to learn the details.
Pros: Assures enough water and water pressure for a large garden or micro farm.
Cons: Expensive and requires professional installation and equipment in most cases.
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