Upgrade your flower beds to blooming oases so lush, colorful and exuberant they belong on a garden tour -- and do it while you sleep in, are away during a heat wave, work mad overtime at the office or are too busy with kid-tending to get to the landscaping. A sprinkler or irrigation system that pampers your precious blooms cuts water waste to a minimum while adequately satisfying thirsty plants, even in a heat wave.
Reach the Roots
One common mistake novice gardeners make is shallow sprinkling. Water enters the soil at the surface and slowly fills each layer to capacity before trickling down to deeper levels and saturating them, too. A quick dousing with a hose and sprayer might supply half the water your flowers really need to thrive. The water doesn't sink down to root level; it soaks a level above the roots and dries out, leaving the plant completely unwatered. A deep soak once a week is better than a short sprinkle even daily, for reaching the roots that absorb the water and send it up through the rest of the plant. Deep watering leaves moisture in the soil for days; shallow watering dries out in a day. But excessive flooding cuts off oxygen to the plant, so it is possible to have too much of a good thing. A cycle of flooding and drought will leave you with a brown wasteland where the flower beds were. Design your sprinkler system for effective maximum irrigation using the minimum amount of water.
Protect the Petals
All water is not alike. Yours may have salts or minerals in it that can spot or rust leaves and blossoms if it sits on them and turn them brown. The weight of water sprinkled down from above may cause blossoms to collapse, and water collecting on a plant contributes to the development of diseases that can kill it. Bad timing can slow or prevent flowering -- water the garden in the morning before the sun is fully up so the foliage has time to dry before nightfall. Avoid noonday sun to cut down on wasteful evaporation that can dry out your plants and evaporate the water before it reaches the roots. Skip the evening and night watering since that can leave plants and soil soggy while promoting mold. Pay attention to growth -- bushy flowers that shoot up and out over lower growth will prevent water from reaching the ground-huggers. Set sprinklers must be evaluated frequently and moved to accommodate plant growth. The watering can is a custom tool for directing the right amount of hydration to each flower -- not a dump-and-run way to avoid creating a tailored irrigation system.
Waste Not ...
Sprinklers have their advantages. Fixed sprinklers on a timer are buried so they won't interfere with mowing and other landscaping chores and turn on and off when it is convenient, whether you are there or not. A fixed spray can be adjusted to cover a single area with a fine mist; a rotating sprinkler will shoot water out farther with a strong flow. Micro spray systems, a hybrid of surface spray and drip irrigation, are small, adjustable raised heads fed through micro-tubing that pop up or are fixed, and can be individually set set to deliver a low-pressure mist over an unusually shaped flower bed.
Sprinklers work well in hilly gardens because they rain down from above, reaching the entire slope. The water carries salts down into the soil as it sinks in, so there is less chance for a surface accumulation that can damage fragile plants. But sprinklers work better for shallow-root plants like lawns and ground cover than they do for the deeper-rooted flowers. And wind will carry the water where you don't need it, leaving the flowers high and dry and running up your water bill to irrigate the neighbor's yard.
Set Up Your System
Drip irrigation is an ideal way to ensure the success of a flower garden. A system consists of a 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch hose or tubing, perforated with holes that are fitted with tiny plastic emitters at regular intervals. The emitters allow water to drip out slowly and soak into the soil, maintaining a constant moisture level. You snake the tubing in and around the plants, install a pressure regulator at the faucet to control the force of the flow, add a timer for optimum watering sessions and cover the hose with mulch, wood chips or another natural disguise. A soaker hose -- just a hose with minute pores or perforations that "weep" softly into the ground around the plants -- is a less elaborate version of a drip irrigation system. Install a drip irrigation system in a few hours and enjoy well-watered flower beds all season.
Lay out your plot.
Sketch the flower bed on a piece of paper, mark the outside faucet and pencil in the path for your hose. A plant that requires a lot of water should be encircled by the hose once as it winds through the flowers. After you see where the hose should go, measure the length and then purchase your system.
Connect the hose to the faucet.
Attach the outdoor timer to the faucet. Add the pressure regulator to control the force of the water flow. Drip systems are slow waterers, usually at a rate about half the normal flow from the tap. Screw a vacuum breaker to the pressure regulator if one isn't built into the hose. The breaker keeps any dirty backwash from entering the faucet and the household water supply.
Attach a length of regular hose or plastic tubing.
An unperforated length of garden hose or tubing runs from the faucet to the place where you begin watering the flower beds. Once it's in place, force barbed connectors into the ends of the unperforated tubing and the drip tubing or hose to connect the two and begin setting your soaker or emitter hose.
Follow your diagram.
Snake the hose among the flowers according to your plan, securing it in place with ground stakes that snug over the hose and dig into the soil. At the end of the irrigation trail, cut the hose and leave it open. Then flush the system briefly to ensure the water flows freely.
Close the hose.
Crimp the open end of the irrigation hose by sliding one loop of an end clamp over the hose, folding the raw end of the hose in half and sliding the other loop of the clamp over the crimped hose to hold it in place. Cover the end with your preferred camouflage -- wood chips, soil, mulch, ground cover -- and mark it with a decorative stone or small boulder so you can find it easily for repositioning, flushing or maintenance.
Hide your handiwork.
Cover the drip hose with mulch or another camouflage and turn on the system to observe any pooling areas or problems. If everything is working well, give the flower bed a good soak, then set the timer for regular irrigation sessions. Periodically check plants and the ground for any signs that water isn't getting to some flowers or too much water is collecting in one spot. Soaker and emitter hoses are fairly simple to adjust -- and to ignore. Don't forget about yours completely.