Monthly Archives: August 2016

Automatic watering systems are ideal for summer holiday plant care

It’s a problem faced by almost every gardener… what do you do about watering if you are going to be away from home during the summer?

If all your plants are outdoors in the ground rather than in pots or in a greenhouse, it may not be a problem.  Plants outdoors  in the ground should be fine for a week or two, and in a normal UK summer I’d not expect to water borders at all, except just after planting out or during a drought, so a couple of weeks without water should be fine.

However, most gardens include some plants in pots or containers, and these, plus any that are under cover in a greenhouse or conservatory, most definitely will need watering if you are away from home.  What to do?  The easiest answer is to ask a neighbour to do some watering for you, and that’s probably the best solution if possible.  However, if you don’t have a capable and willing neighbour, or if you don’t want to impose, then what you really need is a timer system to automatically water your plants.

A dripper system for pots, combined with a cheap electronic water timer, can be set up for under £30.   This summer I’m using a dripper system for the containers in my front garden, and spray irrigation for the more numerous and transient plants on my back garden terrace.   Drip irrigation and spray irrigation really need to be on for different lengths of time, so this meant installing a second garden tap so that I could have two timers in use at once (luckily one of my hobbies is plumbing!).

using water timers for plant watering when on holiday
Two outside taps and watering timers side by side, one for a short daily burst of overhead spray irrigation, and the other for longer morning and evening sessions of drip irrigation elsewhere in the garden.

My drip irrigation pipework and drippers came in a kit that cost £6 from Wilkinsons, and other similar kits are available on ebay, or slightly more expensively in garden centres.

Black flexible pipe runs from pot to pot, with a dripper in each pot and a stopper at the end of the pipe.
Black flexible pipe runs from pot to pot, with a dripper in each pot and a stopper at the end of the pipe.

The kit consists of about 20 metres of pipe, and lots of T connectors and drippers, plus end stoppers.  You can have all the drippers running from a single pipe, or have ‘branch lines’ for pots in different areas.  The pipe is easy to cut with scissors and the connectors and drippers push easily into the pipe.

For overhead irrigation, last year I simply clamped a hose sprayer over a garden table, but this year I installed purpose-made irrigation sprayers intended for use in polytunnels (kits obtainable for about £30 from First Tunnels).   This pipework is wider diameter and somewhat harder to work with – the connectors take quite a lot of force to push into the pipe, which needs to be warmed up in hot water to soften it.

Overhead irrigation sprayers used for outdoor watering - these were part of a kit intended for polytunnel irrigation.
Overhead irrigation sprayers used for outdoor watering – these were part of a kit intended for polytunnel irrigation.

Whether you are setting up spray irrigation or drip irrigation, you use the same sort of watering timer, which connects to the irrigation pipework using normal hose fittings.  Last year I used an expensive £50 Gardena water timer, but was disappointed when it ceased to function just outside its 2 year guarantee period.   This year I bought two timers for £20 each from Screwfix – they are extremely simple to set up thanks to their detailed LCD display of settings.   I hope that these ones outlast their 3 year guarantee period by a considerable margin (but I’m keeping the receipts carefully just in case).

Once set up and running, automatic plant watering is a fantastic work and worry saver – well worth the modest investment of time and money.

For my polytunnel watering, I have a third system, porous rubber pipes in the polytunnel borders, fed by gravity from a large rainwater tank.  This system has been running entirely trouble-free for two years (no electronic parts!), completely relieving me from having to water the polytunnel borders in which dozens of tomato plants happily grow – I’ll write more about this in a future article.