Well, fellow gardeners, hopefully as you read this we will be in the 70s again. (No, not the '70s!) I hope everyone’s pumpkins are getting big and fat for state fair time, and that you haven’t alienated neighbors by blessing them with cucumbers and zucchini. My Sungold cherry tomatoes haven’t gone too crazy this year, but they have produced enough sweet mouthfuls for me to nibble on them daily.
Speaking of the weather, how many of you have been praying for rain, especially so you won’t have to stand in the sun watering? Sprinklers are good, but you never are sure which one to buy. Fan sprinklers, bubblers, oscillating, spot, multi-function; which one is best, you ask?
Fan sprinklers are semi-obvious. You hook them up, turn them on, and poof! A fan of water comes out, moving on its own to reach a large area. It makes a great toy for the kids, and usually shows us a rainbow. Spot sprinklers usually have one setting. On. That’s it. Nothing to see here, so let’s move along.
Adjustable dial sprinklers have five or more settings you can choose from. They do have a use for odd or tightly shaped areas, but this is basically a fancy spot sprinkler. Rain trains are a cool invention! They actually harness the outgoing flow of water to help powering and move it across your yard! And you have the ability to adjust the speed of the train as well as the spread by choosing fast mode or slow from a lever, and decide the spread by slightly twisting the arms.
Now for the oscillating kind. Big word, lots of levers to adjust. It can consume you trying to get it just right before you give up and toss it or return it. Don’t. It is actually very easy to use, it’s that the directions are stupid on some packages, or non-existent on others. So, from the top, here’s how to do it. On the top is a dial that tells you high or low. This is for distance, how far the unit can actually spray the water. Set it first. You may have to tweak it later, but by then you’ll know what you’re doing. Second is the spread, located as an arm at the end of the water flow. You raise or lower it in the stream of water to adjust the droplets coming out. This helps if you are watering baby seedlings, and you don’t want large drops to knock them around. Third is the arc. It is usually a metal spring-like piece on the leg of the sprinkler. It has two larger pieces that determine your borders on the right and left. Forth, It has a paper clip like lever on the arc that you flip up to control the direction it moves.
Clear as mud? The oscillating sprinkler is much easier if you have someone actually show you the operation. It is a great tool to keep your babies looking their best. But all sprinklers have a problem with one thing. Wind. Oklahoma wind to be exact. Not only is is strong and unpredictable, but when you factor heat and evaporation in, just how much water is really going where it needs to? If you’re on a well it might not be too bad, but if you live in town and pay a water bill each month, it gets expensive!
Which brings us to another form, drip irrigation. There are no moving parts, and best of all, it can be completely covered in mulch and hidden from view. You can even hook up a timer to regulate it even more! Soaker hoses are a good, inexpensive drip system that works well for a few years. Then it starts to deteriorate, since most of them are made from recycled tires. It deteriorates faster if it is exposed to the sun too, so mulch is critical to its lifespan as well.
Another form is a tube of this plastic with holes cut ever 12” or 18”. Inside the hose behind the hole is a hard plastic baffle that lets water flow slowly and not spew out with great force. It is laid in a grid pattern, normally before the garden is planted. It is set either 12” or 18” apart, ensuring that all areas of the garden receive the correct amount of moisture. This type can also come without holes. You get a tool that punches the openings for you, and you inset a connector that is attached to a thin flexible tube with a special bubbler head on it. This form also has the advantage of being hidden under mulch and connected to a timer.
I hope this helps you decides which system works best for your garden. None are perfect, so you can now choose which one suits your needs best. As always-
Lisa K Hair is a member of the Multi County Master Gardeners, and was the campus landscaper for Oklahoma Baptist University for 18 years. She has a degree in Horticulture for OSU/OKC.