Lowenfels: Good watering system is worthwhile

Jeff Lowenfels

As I write this, the last patch of snow is melting fast. I would say it is safe in almost all parts of town to get out the accouterments for watering plants and lawns and set up your irrigation system. There is probably no other more important chore in gardening. Water is essential to plant growth, even if you use fertilizers. Delivering it to your plants efficiently and effortlessly is a must.

Face it: You will need to water your plants this spring and summer whether you like it or not. There is no reason to get everything soaked every time, and there is no reason to have to expend much energy since it is a repetitive chore. Set up a system, and all you have to do is open a valve or two or set a timer.

Let's start with the water itself. Even if your water is from the muni and not well water, it is probably no warmer than 40 degrees at any given time when it comes out of the outdoor faucet. We do all sorts of things to warm up our soils and then we hit the soil with chilling, 40-degree water? Plants grow best when temperatures are between 70 and 80 degrees.

The solution is a hot water source you can mix with this cold water. Be inventive. Put a "y" valve on your laundry hot water source. Call a plumber. Do something! Your plants will thank you. And, at the very least, employ a water barrel to warm water for those outdoor greenhouse plants.

Next, place timers where appropriate. The faucet that waters the lawn should have one. So should any faucet that feeds a drip system or a garden that is watered regularly. If you only have one faucet, by the way, get a splitter valve that allows you to hook up more than one hose.

Each faucet, hose and any tools for watering should be equipped with a quick release fixture so it can be quickly taken on or off without having to twist and turn until the mosquitoes find you. It really doesn't matter if you use the brass or the plastic systems, provided you stick with what you start with as they are not mix-and-match.

There are special hoses for drinking out of, and you may want to use these for watering those tomatoes and edibles. You should have pegs pounded into the lawn in strategic areas to prevent hoses from being pulled into gardens when the puller is on the other side of the house. More than one faucet is an excellent idea to help here.

Hose reels make sense to keep hoses out of sight when they are not in use. These also protect the hose from those accidental run-overs with the mower and makes things look more tidy.

On-off fixtures should also be installed at appropriate locations. The idea is not to get wet while watering plants. This means no leaks. Usually the fix is as simple as a new washer. Hoses should never leak. Fix them or toss them.

Great advances have been made in the design and construction of both sprinkler systems and sprayers. You might consider checking out the new tools at your favorite nursery. The easiest way to water a lawn is to use a traveling sprinkler, sometimes known as a watering tractor. It moves along a hose and is one of the best yardening investments we ever made.

All of this may take you a while to set up, and you may even have to buy a few items. Consider the investment you make in plants and the other things in your busy Alaska summer that you would rather be doing. Trust me: Setting up a good system for watering is well worth the investment.


Jeff Lowenfels' new book, "Teaming With Nutrients," the story of how plants eat and what to feed them, has just been published by Timber Press.