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Diggin' It

Zen and the art of watering the garden by hand

By Mary-Kate Mackey / September 18, 2009



I’m finally old enough to water by hand. That is to say, a certain length of living has given me the patience to stand and deliver the optimum amount of water to my plants. And age has granted me the perseverance to get up each morning and do it again — and again. It takes me about an hour. Hand watering is my meditation.

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Statistics show that hand irrigation can be more efficient than sprinklers or even drip. Each day I work my way across the deck from container to container — my new dwarf papryus (Papyrus 'King Tut') sucks up every bit of water I give it — I ruminate on what I’ve learned hauling this hundred-foot hose around my house.

Dress your hose in a wand
The average garden hose delivers approximately eight gallons per minute. That’s too much water. I use a watering wand to reduce the flow to more manageable levels, yet get the job done easily, so you can stop the water between containers without having to kink the hose (more on kinks below).

In my experience, all wands eventually leak at the connection, but a piece of white silicone plumbers’ tape wrapped around the hose fitting stops stray drips on my feet — or down my arm when I’m watering overhead.

Splitting up is easy
I had never understood the importance of connectors or splitters until I witnessed a near fistfight during the display gardens set-up at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. Two neighboring designers needed to water at the same time. Both had hoses, but only one faucet between them.

A nearby worker lamented the lack of a splitter — a neat item that gives you two (or more) connectors. Difficult to find that day in downtown Seattle, but most hardware stores and specialty catalogs carry them.

By using a y-connector, I reserve a designated hose for hand watering, with its plumber’s-taped, non-leaking wand.

When is enough enough?
Halfway through my watering ramble, I’m standing over a newly planted contorted filbert (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), called Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. A hybrid of our native filbert, it should be fairly drought tolerant. But this first season, I water as if it’s still in a container because of the cautionary mantra I’m always repeating in my articles on xeric plants — “must be watered regularly until established.”

The real trick with plants in the ground is that word “regularly.” I try never to let the soil under the mulch go completely dry. Somewhat moist soil attracts water. Dry dirt repels it, so repeated gentle soakings are the only way to make sure the whole root ball and its surrounding ground get wet again.

Depending on your soil type, the rough guide is one inch of water percolates down one foot. Water tends to spread underground in a pyramidal shape, wider at the bottom. Very little actually moves sideways. Testing garden soil is the best way to see how your watering efforts are working.  Until you know for certain, keep digging small tester holes near plants.

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