Raised Garden Watering Systems

I battled a mess in my backyard and finally won last week.
A few months ago, a gopher ate its way through a peach tree and artichoke plant then it headed for my citrus. At that point, I declared war. With a gopher trap and a little patience overnight, the problem was resolved. I know that a few gardeners believe there might be non-fatal ways to deal with gophers, but I haven’t found one.

I catch and release the field mice who enter my garden but there is no way to organically deal with gophers other than traps. Poison can be passed to other animals and water in the hole does nothing other than create a huge mud puddle in your yard. I have tried it all – a sonic vibration device that claims it will deter them, sticking various disgusting items down their holes and every other suggestion I found through the web and YouTube.

As this gopher made its home in my backyard and traveled from plant to tree, it didn’t let anything get in its way, including the main lines for my drip system. It took me more than a week of digging and repairs before I found all of the breaks and small bites it left behind. Meanwhile, my garden, trees and shrubs suffered.

The number one killer of gardens is too little or too much water. In Arizona, just one day without water in the summer can stress a plant so that it won’t fruit well and it may die. Consistent watering done at the right frequency and right depth will increase your fruit and vegetable yield dramatically and protect your investment.

 

MoistureMeter
Neewer 3-1 Moisture Meter

The correct moisture depth for a raised garden is about 3”. Stick your finger down that far. If the ground feels a bit damp and spongy, you are watering correctly. If it feels soggy an hour or so after watering, you are watering too much. When the soil moisture is less than 3″, it’s time to water again. A more accurate way to check moisture is through a moisture meter. I use the Neewer® 3in1 Plant Flowers Soil Tester Moisture Light PH Meter. I got it for $7.50 through Amazon. It takes the guessing out of watering and also measures PH (acidity) in your soil.

I have experimented with many ways to water my gardens for both raised beds and surface gardening. Hand watering with a hose or sprinkler is not an economical way to go. You lose much of the water through evaporation before it gets to the roots of your plants. It also takes up so much of your time. I have more than 200 edible plants and trees and I can’t imagine watering each of them by hand on a daily basis!

The most consistent means of watering is a drip system. You can have a system with valves installed professionally, use your outdoor faucet with attachments or convert your sprinkler heads to drip systems. I am only going to talk about the DIY approaches.

How you will water your raised bed depends upon your availability to water and budget.

OUTDOOR FAUCET DRIP LINE
Drip-Irrigation-System-BreakdownWith your outdoor faucet, you can save money and simplify the process. I would put an outdoor faucet splitter on the faucet so that you can use a second hose while your sprinkler system is hooked up. If you want to run more than one sprinkler line, you can get splitters with 2 to 4 connections. Your local home improvement store will carry a variety of kits, so don’t try to buy all of the parts separately. You will save yourself a lot of grief, however, if you also buy an automatic timer that will not only control the amount of time the line runs but what days and time of day it runs. You can walk away from your yard for days without worry. Watch an installation video.

LAWN SPRINKLER CONVERSION
I got rid of some of my lawn about six months ago, so I had lawn sprinkler heads that weren’t in use. I wanted to replace the grass with a garden so I researched different sprinkler to drip conversions. Two of the best are Agrifim and Rain Bird Drip Retrofit. (The links take you to YouTube videos showing installation.)

outletmanifold
Manifold for 1/4″ drip line

You can also use a manifold. You remove the sprinkler head and screw in the manifold. It has a built-in pressure gauge and filter. You can attach 1/4″ tubing directly to it. This works well if the sprinkler head is close to the area you want to water. The manifold will not work well for a raised bed unless you want quite a few 1/4″ tubing lines going into your raised bed. These can be purchased in the irrigation section of any home improvement store.

Once the line is in, whether professionally done or as a DIY by hose or through sprinkler conversion, you need to select your emitters. You can use a small drip tubing with holes every 6-12”, single drip emitters or spray emitters. I have used all three. I like the spray emitters because I can control the water to plants easier when I have more than one kind of plant in one raised bed. I don’t have to add single emitters if I have rotated tomato plants into an area that had plants that used less water. Other gardeners swear by the other two.

Sub-Irrigated raised bed diagram
Sub-Irrigated raised bed diagram

SUB-IRRIGATED PLANTER (SIP)
If you don’t want to invest in a professional valve system or your raised bed is not near a faucet,  the Sub-Irrigated Planter (SIP) might be for you. This is a wicking bed that uses corrugated perforated tube pipes laid side-by-side into the bottom of a raised bed. A tube leads down to the pipes and a small drainage tube leads to the outside so that excess water has a way to escape. The perforations point up so that the roots of your plants will draw water as needed. It tends to develop deeper, healthier roots as the roots reach for the water. You may have to give new transplants a little water above ground to get started, however. On average, you will need to pour water down the raised spout about twice a week in the summer and once a week in the winter so it isn’t automated like a drip system. You can find instructions and a video at Albopepper Urbanized Gardening.

Whatever you do, choose a system that won’t have you standing in the yard, hose in hand for hours at a time. Put your time into planting and harvesting. That’s what raised beds are all about.

Jknapp

I am a certified agriscape designer and Maricopa County Master Gardener. I have been gardening since I was six years old and worked in my grandfather's garden. I believe that the only way to be a responsible gardener is to garden organically. It improves our soil, is safer for us to eat, sustainable and it protects our pollinators and soil from chemical poisoning.