A garden irrigation system is a great way to free up some gardening time. Just put in an hour or two of getting your ducks lined up in a row and you can save days and days of watering time. But how do you set one up?
This simple guide is here to help you do just that. Save yourself the trips to the water butt or tap, bucket in hand, or possible excessive use of water with a hose, and go hands-free with your sprinkling this season.
Let’s do it!
- Choose your system
- Soaker hose
- Drip line
- Collect your connectors
- Water butts
- Pick your placement
- Link it up
- Turn it on
The most obvious irrigation system is a simple sprinkler. Connect it to a tap, place it in the middle of your lawn, and turn the tap when you want some sprinkling. It’s easy to set up, just one step removed from using a hose. If you want to save yourself the most effort, this is the way to go, but it also lacks nuance. It’s also best for summer, when you can leave it out without fear of freezing and weathering. Requires a tap.
A soaker hose is a good water conservation option, and works at soil-level so best for veg patches, borders and hedges. The water oozes out for as long as the tap is turned on, so it can be automated as well as a sprinkler can. Doesn’t work for pots or planters though, unless you want a conspicuous black snake running around your patio or deck. Requires a tap.
Setting up a drip line can leave you feeling like an engineer with lots of fiddling and tweaking, but it’s a great way to tailor your irrigation, your way. Run it from your water butt through pots to borders, and weave it through your veg and along your hedge. The main downside is the length of time it takes to set up correctly and the fact it won’t do for your lawn. Or work uphill. Requires a water butt.
Connectors for taps
If your chosen system requires a tap, you’re going to need a tap adaptor/connector for it. You get a few different types, but more often than not they use a little tension screw to hold it in place. Others will screw on, but curiously there are different thread sizes for taps so you’ll need to measure your taps diameter before you commit to one of those.
Next you’ll need a hose to run from the tap to your sprinkler/soaker. Each end will need a connection too, so check if your hose comes with a connector pre-attached, and it the thing you’re connecting to also has a connector. Hoses and these kinds of systems talk about ‘female‘ and ‘male‘ connectors, and the easiest way to think about it is the end that comes off a tap is male, and the first thing that connects to is is female.
Down the hose line it’ll then go female-male-female-male until everything’s connected to everything. If you want to connect two standard garden hoses (nothing special about them), you’ll need a male-male connector too.
Basic tap connector line
Tap connector (male) -> Hose connector (female) -> Hose -> Hose connector (female) -> Sprinkler/nozzle/soaker hose (male)
If you’re unsure about any of this, simply wait until your chosen sprinkler or soaker system has arrived, check the ends of it, then buy connectors accordingly. Takes a little longer, but that way you can be sure you’re getting what you need. If memory might be a problem or you’re still unsure, take pictures of the various ends and show them to a member of staff in a garden centre to have them point you in the right direction.
Connectors for water butts
Water butts come with tiny little taps, and they can only work with irrigation systems that don’t need force or high pressure (gravity does all the work). So, drip lines are your only choice here if you want to free yourself of the mains water supply.
Usually the diameter of a drip line hose will fit on a water butt tap, and it’s a stiff rubber so you’ll need to give it a wiggle to get it on there. Make sure the tap doesn’t get too knocked when you do this, or you might spring a leak where the tap connects to the butt. If you do, patch it quick or the water butt will steadily and continually drain away.
Drip line connectors
Like with the hoses above, you’ll need tubes to go from the butt to your first water outlet (see just below), then a tube to the next one, and so on until a bung at the end. It’s worth drawing out a diagram of your eventual placement before you go buying connectors and tubes, so you know what you need for your garden. Remember that drip line tubes are relatively stiff, so they can only describe wide arcs by themselves and need 90-degree connectors to turn corners with ease. And you can use T-shaped tubes for really complex layouts.
After that, what you’ll need is the drips that let the water out in a controlled fashion. You’ll normally get a few if you buy a set, and then you just need to buy as many more as you have pots or specific plants that want attention. Each drip needs an outlet too, a T-shaped piece of tubing where hose connects to the bars while a drip connects to the perpendicular bit. Make sure your outlets adds up to your number of drips!
This bit’s pretty straightforward – just think about which plants want watering! The only thing you’ll need to spend a moment on is how the water comes out of your system. And how long your hose is.
Sprinklers come in various forms, but the main thing they do is ‘sprinkle’, so they go a little ways away from the plants that need the water. Your sprinkler should come with a diagram showing the radius/area covered, so just get out a tape measure to marry diagram to real life.
If you want to get really fancy you can lay out string to visualise the area your sprinkler will cover, meaning you don’t have to turn it on to be sure of your work. Just remember to work from the plants outwards, otherwise you’ll end up doing it twice. Also, make sure your sprinkler is pointed in the right direction before you soak a neighbour by mistake.
Soaker hoses sit on the ground, and works best snaking its way through hedges, borders or veg patches right near the roots. If the plants are densely packed you’ll have a bit of a challenge on your hands getting the hose down to the ground without destroying branches on the way, but there’s a little construction trick you can use to help you here.
Attach a line of thick-ish string with a strong knot to one end of the soaker hose, then run that string amongst your plants. It’s thinner so won’t destroy anything on the way, then you can pull the string to draw the soaker hose through the undergrowth. Don’t do this for the whole length at once as it will definitely get stuck, but you can use it for short sections at a time to make the whole job a doddle.
Drip lines are limited by the length of the line, but luckily you can just keep adding pieces as your needs grow. If you’re running it for a veg patch the placement’s easy, just run main lines down each row and a line down one end. If it’s pots you’re dousing, pop your drip and connector piece in each pot you need to connect so you know where you need to go – and to stop you holding loads of connectors during the next step.
As the name suggests, drip lines water by drips, so place your drippers right next to your plant stems for best results. And make sure you aren’t running the tubes uphill to a point beyond the top of the water butt – otherwise the pressure will drop too low and the whole thing won’t work.
Provided you’ve got all your connectors and you’ve placed your bits accordingly, it’s time to link them up. Whichever irrigation system you’ve chosen, work from the plant end of the system backwards, so you don’t find yourself pulling to bring connections closer together. If you can’t reach the tap at the end, get yourself a short (1m or so) hose and just make up the difference, or use an extra tube if it’s a drip line system.
Better to look scrappy at the tap end than the plant end where presentation matters!
The moment of truth – time to turn the tap and see the fruits of your labour. With a sprinkler the results will be immediate, btu soaker hoses and drip lines will require a bit of patience.
Soaker hoses sweat the water out, so you can either look to the soil or touch it to feel if it’s…soaked. For the drip lines, you’ll need to visit each dripper individually, and touch the end or unscrew it slightly to make sure the water flows. The drips should be slow enough that each drop barely affects the next dripper down the line, but you might need to fiddle with each one to get an even flow throughout the system.
With that done, you’re all set! Just turn the taps on when you want some watering, and turn them off when you don’t. For sprinklers about 10 minutes a time will do it, while soakers and drips will need around 20 minutes to half an hour.
But what if you want to take your garden irrigation a step further?
Automated irrigation needn’t be exclusively for farmers and lauded agriculturalists. Anyone with a tap can do it, and there are even systems now that can automate a drip line system too.
For a tap-based system, simply attach a watering timer between the tap and the first bit of hose. Set it according to your needs (morning/late afternoon/both, some can even have separate weekday/weekend programmes!) and sit back in style.
If you’ve opted for a drip line, you’ll need to attach a bit of kit to your water butt instead or partway down the tube line. You can get solar- or battery-powered ones, which water every few hours without any super-complicated programmes due to the slow nature of the dripping.
With that, you’ve made it to the end of our comprehensive garden irrigation guide! It’s a lot of info, but hopefully if you follow all these steps you’ll have a worry free watering system that’ll last you for years. No more watering cans for you!
Header Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash
Sprinkler Photo by Paul Moody on Unsplash
Tap Photo by Harry Grout on Unsplash
Second sprinkler Photo by Mohammad Rezaie on Unsplash
Hoses Photo by Rodrigo Pereira on Unsplash