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Traditionally garden plants are watered based on soil moisture, when the soil feels dry we water thoroughly. This drench and dry method can subject plants to unseen stresses that have very visual results. Delay in flowering to poor vegetable performance can be attributed to watering practices.
A much better approach is to maintain soil moisture by slow and steady water delivery. An easy way to do this is using micro-irrigation (also called drip or trickle irrigation). By keeping the root zone moist the plants are not stressed and the homeowner can use up to 70% less water compared to using overhead sprinklers.
Micro-irrigation systems supply water to the plants and not the surrounding area through the use of emitters. The emitters regulate the amount of water being applied, usually measured in gallons per hour (gph). These come in different rates from ½ gph to 10 gph and their use is based on the water needs of a particular plant. If you grow plants in containers micro-irrigation is a very effect method of watering.
Soaker hoses are another effective method of micro-irrigation. Sometimes called soaker hoses they come in two types, leaky pipe and drip hose, or tape. Leaky pipe sweats along its entire length and delivers from ½ to ¾ gallons/minute for each 100 foot section. Drip hose actually has emitters built into the pipe (at pre-determined spacing) and delivers water at set rates. Both are effective at watering vegetable or flower gardens.
If you have an existing irrigation system using sprinklers, conversion kits are available to convert to micro-irrigation.
Micro-irrigation systems are easy to install and the best way to get started is to buy a starter kit. These kits (containing tubing, emitters, timers, and tools) are available at most home improvement stores and garden centers and are easy to add additional tubing and emitters.