Things Mom Never Told You, Vol VII.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post on putting together a drip irrigation system for your patio or flower garden to help ensure your flowers and/or vegetables stay watered, even if you’re not around to do it. Well one of the lessons I learned last year is that there IS a limit to what you can do with a very basic set-up and 1/4″ tubing, but fortunately, there is a solution.

I ran into a problem last year that didn’t make itself known right away. It wasn’t until we had transplanted several hosta from our backyard where they weren’t doing much of anything, to the front yard landscaped area next to our sidewalk where our 15-year old shrubs had finally given up the ghost. After pulling out a lot of old, tenacious roots, we added in some lovely soil amendments to break up all the clay we have to deal with, and planted the hosta. I then set about putting my drip irrigation together.

I wanted to really make certain they were well watered, so rather than just use a button dripper with about a 0.5-1.0 gallon per hour (GPH) flow rate, I brought my big guns – the adjustable dripper on a spike that has a flow rate of 0-10 GPH. Sounds really great, doesn’t it? The hanging pot next to our front door already had one, as did the elephant ear plant on the other side of the door. After adding in the new hosta on the right side of the sidewalk, and the 5 new hostas on the left side, for the life of me, I could NOT figure out why I wasn’t getting anything more than a trickle for the last 3 or so hostas, despite having the flow rate on the drippers wide open. It wasn’t until I did some basic math that it all made sense. 8 heads at up to 10 GPH – on tubing that has a max flow rate of 35 GPH – I’d have to turn the rate so low on the plants on either side of the door that they would barely even get watered at all. As my husband is fond of saying, it’s an insurmountable problem, and nothing I could ever do on that setup was going to fix it. I had a similar situation on my patio, with too many drippers for the tubing, and barely being able to get all of my plants watered.

This year, however, I decided to upgrade, and for a small investment and a little planning, I’ve got a far superior set up. I switched over to the DIG products and am running 1/2″ tubing rather than 1/4″. The flow rate for that is 220 GPH.

For a quick visual reference, check out the difference between the two lines. In this picture, coming off the left side of the timer first is the pressure reducer and filter, followed by the new 1/2″ black tubing at the bottom. On the right side of the timer right after the pressure reducer is the original 1/4″ tubing. It really makes it easy to see the difference in the amount of the water that can move through the tubing!

I ran that all the way around the periphery of the patio and then plugged the individual lines for the pots into the tubing. It was so simple to do; all you need is a punch to make the hole in the tubing and the connectors. One end of the connector goes into the 1/4″ tubing, the other into the 1/2″ tubing. On the other side of the 1/4″ I put the appropriate watering head. At the end of the 1/2″ tubing run, I just looped the tubing over on itself and put a zip tie on it to securely kink it closed rather than buy the special gadget they sell for this purpose.

So how small of an investment you wonder? Well I had a lot of the smaller tubing and connections, but the larger tubing and head unit, plus a few connection pieces that I needed cost me around $30. I set it up in an evening, everything went together really quickly. The only problem I had with it, was I got a little carried away on one punch and went out the other side. Fortunately DIG has a solution for that with something called a “goof plug”. It looks like a standard connection plug but it’s solid. You just push it into the spot where you made the mistake and it’s plugged up.

Another addition this year are some micro-spray mister heads from Rain Bird for some of my hanging pots. If I used the adjustable sprayers, it seemed like they got watered, but a lot of the water was also just running through the pot and out the bottom. With the sprayer head it seems now like it’s more evenly dispersed over the whole plant and takes longer before I have run-off of the extra.

The plants are happy, getting watered consistently every day, and I don’t have to run around filling up my watering can. We even buried some PVC pipe under the grass about 4 inches down, with an elbow on each end to bring the pipe up above ground so that I can run 1/4″ tubing from the patio area through that, under the grass and into a different area that we have landscaped. In there I have a couple of other pots to water as well, and they’re now connected to the irrigation system too. So even on really hot days, if I get busy or just don’t want to be outside like last week when the heat index hit 114 degrees, it won’t matter: my system is on a timer and my plants stay happy. Can’t beat that!

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Things Mom Never Told You, Vol V

How to Keep Patio/Deck Plants Looking Fantastic All Summer…

Are you like me in that you absolutely LOVE having plants outside on your deck or patio in the summer time, but hate the chore of having to water them every day? My patio is my oasis from life, I have Adirondak chairs and side tables that are painted cheerful colors, and everything is done to give me a tropical, “down island” feel for those few months out of the year we have summer. Having lush, well-watered plants for me is a must, and in the beginning of the summer it’s fun, but honestly by August, it’s a chore. IMG_3638 (1).jpg

The solution was to install a drip irrigation system, which sounds difficult, but really isn’t at all. I purchased my initial setup from Proven Winners, although there are others out there including the DIG system I found at Home Depot, which is what I’ve supplemented with. Here is a link to a video about the Proven Winners system, and you can purchase directly from them as well.  The customer service staff at Proven Winners are incredibly helpful and have a really fast response time. I’ve had emails answered within a day and sometimes the same day. The DIG website has a wealth of information as well, take a look at it too.

The way the system works, is that you have a coupler consisting of a backflow valve and adapter, that reduces the water pressure from your system down, and then the drip tubing connects to that. You then run the drip tubing around to where you want for your plants. You cut the tubing and insert a coupler to branch off tubing to extend it. They have “T” shaped couplers if you want to just have a single extension off, and “X” shaped if you want to have 2 extensions plus continuing your run. There are also different drip heads as well, depending on your needs. You can bury the tubing in dirt or under rock to hide it, run it behind objects, etc.

For the past several years I’ve put a brass “Y” splitter on our outdoor spigot, which allows us to have our hose still connected and then the drip irrigation on the other side of the “Y”. On that side I connect an automatic watering timer. For our patio I use a 2-zone timer, so I can run two separate sets of tubing. One set goes one direction, to the flowers, and the other set goes the other way, to the tomatoes and a few other flowers. That allows me to set two separate sets of times and frequencies. This year I also ran tubing through PVC pipe that I buried in the grass between the landscaped area off the patio, and out to a landscaped area further into the yard where I have a few potted plants. Then I know they get watered on the days our sprinkler doesn’t run. Depending on how many plants my patio ends up having, I may end up getting a 4 zone timer, as I’m not sure how many times I can branch off the tubing before I lose water pressure.

Pros and Cons of The Two I’ve Used

Pros: What I like about Proven Winners’ system is that the tubing is softer and more flexible than the DIG tubing I found at Home Depot. That allows me to disconnect it from the connectors and watering ends each year so I can change up the configuration every year. Another thing that I really like about PW, and I mentioned this above, is their customer service. I had a small problem this year with a part, and emailed them one evening about it, telling them what the issue was, and how I had tried to troubleshoot it, asking what else I could try. A few hours later (at 11 pm!) I had a response, which was basically “sounds like you have a broken part, I checked your order history and will send you a new one tomorrow at no cost.” Am I going to keep going back to them? You bet I am!

A couple of nice things about DIG is that it’s readily available from Home Depot, and they do have a bigger variety of drip heads available. So if I’m in the middle of set up and run out, or if I find that some of mine are no longer working I can just run up there and get new ones. I don’t have to order them online and wait, and is a bit more cost effective.

Cons: The tubing from Proven Winners so far only comes in white and tan, while the tubing from DIG comes in brown and black. IMG_1341Our patio is stained a terra cotta color, so both white and tan tubing show up VERY well, as you can see. I did talk to the nice folks at Proven Winners and even sent them this picture of our patio with white tubing showing, letting them know that not everyone has white concrete patios and could they perhaps get brown tubing? They said they would mention it to their vendor, but so far their website still has only the white and tan.

Another con, and this is a biggie for me, is that the tubing from DIG is very rigid and inflexible, and much more difficult to remove it from the connectors. So if I want to change configuration I have to boil water, and put the connection in the water for several seconds to make the tubing very pliable and I can then pull it off. If it starts to cool down, it won’t come off.  At that point I have to go back in the house and reheat the water, or cut the tubing off the connector and then take a utility knife and cut away the small amount of tubing that is still on the connector to start over. I’m either wasting additional time or money. I sometimes have to use warm water to soften the connections from Proven Winners to get the tubing off, but the water can cool down a lot more before I have to reheat it, so I have a lot more working time with it first, and I find I don’t always have to do that. Sometimes I can just pull connections apart. However, do that too often and the Proven Winners tubing will stretch out at the connection, leaving you with a leak.

Overall, it’s a toss up. I like Proven Winners tubing better, but DIG has more watering end options and I really like that, plus their brochure is really informative. I do wish I had known about a drip irrigation system years ago, and if you’ve never tried one before, give it a shot. They really are easy to set up, and you’ll wonder how the heck you lived without one this long. Let me know if you have questions about setting one up, or your success using one.

My promise: I will never share something with you that I haven’t personally tried. I won’t tell you it works if I can’t prove it. Where possible I will share photos or a video. If something is an epic fail, well I’ll tell you that too as I think that is just as valuable, even if I end up looking ridiculous doing it.