In the 1990s, when our hillside was terraced and the gardens were transformed, no automatic irrigation system was installed. We made that decision, because sprinkler systems need frequent monitoring and maintenance. We were concerned that when we travelled, an automatic system might malfunction and flood the new gardens. Plants can drown where puddles form. Too much water can be as destructive as not enough.
Kurt Bluemel, who masterminded the garden redesign, also said that without an automatic watering system, plants learn to adapt to the climate and a specific garden environment. Gradually weaning them from the frequent watering required right after planting enables them to go longer stretches of time without water.
We find effective the use of hoses to water our garden. This June, early for Maryland, they were called into action for one long dry snap. They attach to several above ground faucets and a few in the house wall. In some areas, where the plants don’t mind overhead watering, we add a sprinkler to the hose. This works well on the hillside above the pool that’s blanketed with low Epimedium and perennial geraniums. When using the sprinkler we run it in morning. That gives the leaves plenty of time to dry in the sun and minimizes the risk of a fungus taking hold. When foliage is dry, it’s harder for disease to begin.
Sprinklers are really not the most efficient way to water. Some of the water evaporates, and sprinklers take a long time to give a good drink to plants. Annuals concentrate their roots in the top six inches of soil, while perennials, shrubs and trees concentrate theirs in the top 12 inches.
Nozzles attached to hoses are help concentrate water on new plants and those with deep roots. Inserting tags to mark the new plants offers gives us reminders which plants need special attention. It takes patience to water thoroughly the garden with a hose; on the other hand, when not in a hurry we find watering meditative.
Mulching in spring fortifies the garden for summer dry spells. We use compost that enriches the soil more than hardwood mulch. In older areas of the garden, we loosen the soil around plants each year with a trowel. This helps the water absorb and not run off.
We’ve learned to plant more natives too. Native plants seem more adaptable and more tolerant of dry spells. A helper willing to come pull the garden hoses is a bonus. Together we’ve had a good success rate with our hoses, even in summers with extended droughts.