Monday, June 9, 2014

Drip Systems for Containers - Tips for Beginners

For years I watered everything by hand. This year I took the plunge and installed a battery operated timer with 1/4 inch drip system to water my window boxes and the pots on my front porch.

Let me share my experience so you can see what I've learned. It does take some planning and basic understanding of the various parts that are needed.

Let's start with the parts. The system I am describing is all 1/4 inch parts. There are larger soaker hoses which are used in the garden beds, but for this project all parts are 1/4 inch.

Timer with 4 Port Irrigation Manifold
My timer is battery operated so there is no need to run an electric cord to the garden. The top of the timer attaches to the faucet, just unscrew your hose and screw on the timer. The faucet is left turned on so that there is water pressure ready for the timer to release the water. 
This timer has 2 places where water comes out the bottom. On the left is my garden hose. On the right is the timed station that will water my pots and window boxes. I needed 4 lines to run off that one station so I attached a 4 port manifold where I can attach the 4 distribution hoses.
4 port manifold with 3 hoses attached, one port is capped.
They come with little caps which are removed before the hose is attached.
As you can see, I needed an adapter (white piece) to attach the manifold to the timer. Luckily I discovered that before I left the store. 

Soaker Hose
Soaker hose is porous.
Soaker hoses are made of porous material that allows water to drip out through very small holes all along the hose.
Water seeping out of soaker hose.
In my experience these 1/4 inch soaker hoses deliver water slowly requiring a long watering cycle. They also tend to clog (we have hard water) so the little pores don't allow water to come out evenly. Another issue I've had with them is that they tend to put out less water toward the end of the hose than they do near the faucet. These porous hoses sometimes will have a slightly larger hole which creates a tiny spray of water that can reach a couple of feet making a mess of the windows. For these reasons, I did not use them in this project.

Pierced Soaker Tubing
Pierced soaker tubing has small holes, usually spaced 6 inches apart.
This tubing has small holes spaced evenly along the hose, usually 6 inches apart. This is the tubing I use in my window boxes and pots because it delivers water faster than the porous type. The other advantage is that the holes are poked on one side of the tubing, so if it is place with the holes pointing downward, the water will not spray the windows.

This pierced soaker tubing has an arrow printed on it which denotes the direction of the water flow. Take care to attach it correctly so the arrow points the direction the water moves.
Pierced tubing has arrows showing the direction of the water flow.
Distribution Hose
Distribution hose has no holes, it carries water like a garden hose. 
Distribution hoses have no holes and are not porous so they carry water without letting any water out, like a garden hose. You use this between pots, and between the faucet and pots, where you do not want water.

At the store, the hoses come in rolls like this.

Barbed Connector 
Barbed connector attach two pieces of hose in a straight line.
This barbed connector attaches two pieces of hose, for example it can connect distribution hose to pierced hose like in this pot.
Barbed connector

Elbow Connector
Elbow connector attaches two hoses at a 90 degree angle.
Elbow connectors allow you to make a sharp 90 degree turn, rather than bending the hose which can kink the hose.
Elbow connector

Tee Connector
Tee connector splits one line into two at a 90 degree angle.
Tee connectors split the line into two lines at a 90 degree angle like this.
Tee connector

Wall Clamp
Wall clamps allow you to attach the hose to a wall.
To make the project look neat, wall clamps hold the hose against the wall using a nail.
Wall clamp
You can use wall clamps at the steps.

End Plug
End plugs seal the hose end.
End plugs are placed at the end of the hose to create the pressure inside the hose which is necessary to force the water out of the pierced hose.

End plug

Stakes come in handy to hold the hose in place.

In-Line Dripper
In-line drippers are placed anywhere along distribution hose.
In-line drippers are placed along the distribution hose by cutting the hose and putting this between the cut ends. It drips water into a pot. 

I chose not to use in-line drippers in my pots. I used the pierced tubing instead because the pierced tubing is what I used in the window boxes, and I wanted to be consistent so the water flow rates would be the same in the pots and window boxes.

There are other types of nozzles that I have not mentioned or used. Ask your store clerk for recommendations for your particular needs.

If you are finding it is difficult to push the connectors into the hose end, you can warm the hose end to soften it by placing it in a cup of hot water or using a lighter to gently warm it.

Now that you have an idea of the types of parts that are available, you need a plan.

Figure out where the timer will be placed. I attached mine to the faucet, but you could run a garden hose from the faucet to the timer if you need the timer someplace where there was no faucet.

Now imagine the path the distribution hose will take from the timer to the first pot. Determine what type of connectors you will need. Then continue on to the next pot again noting what connectors are needed until you reach the end of that line.

My goal was to hide the hoses as much as possible, so that determined the path of the distribution hose. Some of my pots are close together so I didn't use distribution hose between them. For larger pots I made a loop of pierced hose but for smaller pots I just ran the hose in a straight line across several pots in a row. For the window boxes I ran the hose straight across the box.

I have been told that it is best to keep the hoses 25 feet or shorter to provide adequate water pressure within the system.

For me, making a diagram was really helpful. It allowed me to figure out how many lines I needed and what connectors to buy. I took my drawing with me to the store and used it when asking advise from the store clerk. A picture is worth a thousand words and he understood what I needed so much easier than if I tried to explain the set up I had planned without a diagram.

Once you have installed the hoses, turn the timer on and watch how long it takes for water to start dripping out the bottom of the pot. That will determine how many minutes you need to have the timer run to adequately water you plants with your new automated system.


  1. Would you happen to have a picture of the completed set up? This so sounds like something that would be of help to me once I actually get a garden going; I want to do container gardening and I just know one of my issues will be with remembering to water and this looks like my answer. Thanks for your help.

  2. Deitra, I know what you mean about watering. I'm hoping my window boxes do better now that they have a more consistent watering schedule.
    I tried to take some pictures but the hoses are pretty well hidden so you can't really see the details that well in pictures. It seems like every garden is so unique that your set up may be completely different than mine anyway. So I encourage you to jump in and use your imagination. Trial and error is the way I figure out what works. Maybe taking some pictures of your garden with you to the hardware store would help. I ask lots of questions of the store clerks. They are full of great ideas so pick their brains too! Let me know if you have any specific questions.
    Good luck with your garden!