Water in the desert – this is a conundrum! If you read most of the information out there about high desert gardening it will tell you that you have to commit to using a lot of water. As a conscientious person this can seem very irresponsible and certainly give you pause. Over the years I have modified and tweaked my watering system and I will say that done properly this is not the case. Of course it will cost more to water a garden than not but you can keep water consumption at a reasonable level and have amazing gardens.
1. Manual or automatic?
Not only is hand watering inconsistent but it is another garden chore that can quickly become tiresome.
Most of us will prefer some type of automatic system. If you travel this is a necessity. Depending on the size of your garden area, completely irrigating every bed may be impractical. It certainly was in my case. I have opted to irrigate my main flower beds and create other more scattered beds that must be hand watered using the most drought tolerant plants.
2. Type of automatic systems
Providing automatic watering can be as simple as laying hoses around your beds and connecting them to a timer that is attached to your water source. For this type of application you could connect your hose to a sprinkler or use soaker hoses. If you have a large garden area this approach would most likely be impractical. The disadvantage of this is a) unsightly hose all over the place and b) you have one point of control for the entire area.
An underground system is the ideal. This type of system has a valve box wired to a control panel allowing for multiple zones to be automatically watered. There are plenty of sources of information if you choose to go this way and it is not beyond the scope of a DIY project. Note that in order to use this type of system you must have access to electricity for the control panel.
At the time I was laying out my garden area this type of system seemed a daunting task to me and I also had no exterior power source (my house was built in 1958). I chose to create a hybrid system – battery operated timers that are hard-plumbed with PVC. You can follow my plan – here
3. To Drip or Not to Drip
The next decision is what type of heads to use. Every gardening expert will tell you that a drip system is the only way to go – that your plants should be watered at the roots and that slow deep watering is best. In addition overhead watering can be wasteful, allowing water to be evaporated on hot, windy days before it even reaches its destination.
The problem with deep watering is that in the high desert the soil is sandy. Water will flow right through. Soil amendment helps to the roots of your plants but beyond that your water is wasted. What may work in the Midwest certainly will not work here.
I tried a drip system and it was terrible. It is a pain to work with, expensive and ineffective. If my advice can save you any amount of hassle and expense this could be #1. In your ideal flower garden you will have many plants close together and of different heights….. a little drip head at the base of each plant is impossible. You will run into areas that are perfect, those that are too wet and some that get no water at all.
I next tried a DIY drip system using ½” PVC with small holes drilled into the pipe to emit the water. Two issues here. Although the timers I was using will restrict the flow somewhat, ½” pipe restricted it even further. Using small “irrigation” holes resulted in similar unevenness as the drip system. In addition, the holes were easily plugged up. You will find many Youtube videos that show this method and I do believe that in raised beds with rows of vegetables it is effective. For a more abstract flower bed layout I found it ineffective.
As a matter of trial and error I have found the most effective way to water is sprinkler-type watering heads with periods that are relatively short and frequent. And the timing is critical. If you are going to soak your plants from the top down, you must do so very early or very late. If done when the sun is high and hot … well you can imagine how your plants would be burned.
Find more information on watering here: