Irrigation is a super important part of vegetable gardening, and in our arid area, we tend to pay even closer attention to it. A vegetable garden left to be watered by Mother Nature here is not much of an option (though efforts can be made to maximize the benefit of any rainfall). But the vegetable gardener is going to have to supply extra water, so let’s look at a few different irrigation possibilities for vegetable beds:
1) Handheld Hose-End Sprayer
2) Overhead Sprinkler
3) Soaker Hoses
4) Drip Irrigation

wateringgun.jpgHandheld Hose-End Sprayer
– Gardener gets to spend quality time in the garden on a regular basis
– Timing and application of water is strictly controlled
– Those cool colorful hose-end sprayers (and even some hoses come in candy colors now!)

– It’s difficult to know just how much water is actually being applied (in many cases, hand watered vegetable gardens are under watered)
– Difficult to water efficiently if it is windy
– Most sprayers break the water into a fine spray, losing more than you’d ever believe to evaporation
– A tendency to water during less-than-ideal times (in the middle of a hot day, for instance, rather than very early in the morning or late in the evening)
– Water is applied high above ground level, increasing chances of splashing disease carrying fungi and bacteria on to the plants

sprinkler.jpgOverhead Sprinkler
– Can be attached to a manual or automatic timer
– A little easier to determine how much water is being applied (using small containers or rain gauges to measure)

– This option has all of the same “cons” listed for Handheld Hose-End Sprayer irrigation
– If not attached to a timer, very easy to forget it is running and overwater
– Can be difficult to get a spray pattern that fits the shape of your vegetable bed

soakerhose.jpgSoaker Hoses
– Can be attached to a manual or automatic timer
– Water is applied slowly, minimizing any possibility of run-off
– Water is applied at ground level, so no water is lost to wind
– Can lay the hose out to fit the exact shape of your bed

– If not attached to a timer, it is VERY easy to forget the system is running and seriously overwater (I know of a fellow gardener who accidentally left such a system running the entire time she was away on a vacation)
– Even with the little pressure regulator disks that come with the hoses, more water tends to move towards the ends of the hoses, resulting in inconsistent water delivery along the hose length
– Leaks, leaks, leaks….these hoses often come with little pinhole leaks in them when they are new (you’ll see little geysers of water spraying up where these pinholes are – covering with mulch can help a bit, but water is still being delivered inconsistently along the hose). And then it doesn’t take too long for slightly larger holes to appear.
– If the hoses are put in place and left for the growing season, it is easy for the gardener to knick the hoses with trowels, forks, and other tools. The hoses can be repaired using standard hose repair pieces, but this maintenance will become an ongoing part of the growing season chore list.

drip_veggie.jpgDrip Irrigation
– Water is applied slowly and at ground level (no water lost to wind)
– If the correct drip components are chosen, water is delivered consistently along the entire length of the system (the first emitter on the line puts out as much water the last one)
– Far less likely to develop leaks than soaker hoses
– Can be used with a manual or automatic timer. If used with an automatic timer, the system can pretty much take care of itself (and the gardener may even be able to take a vacation!)
– The system can be modified in later years – adding on sections, for example

– More expensive than soaker hoses
– If not attached to a timer, it’s very easy to forget the system is running
– If using a system with spaghetti line and external emitters, wildlife may chew on them to get access to the water (like a little water fountain just for them!)
– More initial work to design and install (can feel a bit overwhelming at the start!) If you can find a drip irrigation workshop (the Colorado Springs Utilities Conservation Center usually offers at least one every spring), you’ll gain the confidence and inspiration needed to tackle such a project.

Coming soon – more details on how to install a drip irrigation system in your vegetable garden!

Contributed by Carey Harrington, Certified Colorado Gardener and Colorado Native Plant Master

Hose end sprayer, sprinker, and soaker photos courtesy of Gardener’s Supply Company (