We often have the best intentions as homeowners: We create beautiful gardens at our home, and we promise ourselves that we will water faithfully—and living here in the desert can mean watering daily. In the severe heat we have much of the year, if we miss a day, our beautiful flowers can become toast.
And sometimes, we miss a day.
If this sounds like you, and your potted gardens are often dying, the most-reliable way to keep your pots healthy is to irrigate them automatically with a dedicated irrigation valve and timer. Yes, it takes some initial time and money to set up, but the payoff is huge: When I first set up my home pots with a drip system, I began saving an hour a day by not having to hand-water!
You have two options for irrigating your pots. The preferred method is to use an existing irrigation system. If your existing timer can accommodate an extra valve and run times, you can use it. Pots typically are watered five to 10 minutes a day during the hot periods of the year. (Here in the Palm Springs area, that is a majority of the time!)
If you’re tempted to hook your pots up to your landscape line, they will be getting one to two hours twice a week or so. This is excessive water, and you risk losing your plants from the abundant water and “erratic” watering schedule. This may mean you need to have another valve put in—at an expense of $500 to $1,200, if you hire a professional. It’s well worth it when you think of the value of your time and the materials you buy for your gardens that die.
The beauty of a good timer is that you can change the run time in one-minute intervals—so you can set it for five minutes, and then adjust it, one minute at a time, until your pots are getting the right amount of water. Additionally, if the water is running through the pots too fast, you can run it for a shorter period of time, more often during the day.
If you are unable to put a pot line into your landscaping system, an alternative is to add a Y-valve to a hose bib near the location of the pots, and connect them to a simple battery operated timer. These timers are inexpensive and typically allow for many start times. A good timer will cost between $20 and $50, and the rest of the parts will run less than $100, depending on how many pots you have. This is a great solution for vacation time, too! Just be sure to change the batteries twice a year—do not wait for them to run out. Daylight saving time is a good way to remember—and while you are at it, change the batteries in your smoke detectors, too!
Regardless of which method you use, you will want to use the right emitters for your pots. An adjustable emitter on a stake is my preferred method. The output of water is patterned like wheel spokes, and is adjustable from about 4 to 10 inches. In larger pots, you would use two or three emitters, each off their own quarter-inch line.
Another option is to use in-line emitters, spaced every six inches, on a quarter-inch line. These lines will need a longer run time to water your pots thoroughly, but they do work well with gardens that need a slower water delivery. Test your system by running it for five to 10 minutes. After watering, the soil should be thoroughly wet, with some water draining out of the container bottoms. If water floods out, you have run it too long; if no water comes out, and the soil isn’t thoroughly moist, you need to run the system longer or use more emitters. Most controllers allow you to run the system several times a day, which is particularly useful in our hot climate.
Get this all done, and you can enjoy your garden oasis even more, thanks to the newfound time you have gained!
Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org; and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook. The Potted Desert Garden appears Tuesdays at CVIndependent.com.