Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals

Rainmaking

by Ed Hutchison


Where lawns and gardens need extra water only occasionally, portable sprinklers are the answer. Besides, they're fun!

In Camelot, there's no need for a garden sprinkler--sunny days and evening rains keep things green all the time. But most of us don't live in Camelot, so we need some kind of sprinkler system to achieve and maintain a healthy garden.

The original sprinkler was a gardener's thumb pressed down on the end of a hose. The problem was standing there long enough to make a difference. Most gardeners can't. So it wasn't long before sprinkler heads that screw onto the end of a hose were invented. Not surprisingly, further ingenuity has been applied, so that now we can choose from a wide variety of designs.

If you live where watering lawns and gardens is a way of life, such as in the dry-summer Western states, or if the value of your landscape or the cost of labor is very high, an automated in-ground system makes the best sense. All you have to do is monitor it occasionally to be sure it's working correctly. But in-ground systems are initially very expensive and, once in place, are difficult to adapt to new plants or configurations.

If you're like many home gardeners, especially if you live in the rainy-summer East, the versatility and low cost of portable sprinklers make them a top choice. There's simply no more versatile or inexpensive way to water your lawn and garden.

Last year we shopped for the latest models and tested them. When you shop, you'll still find four basic designs: stationary, spinning, rotary and impulse, and oscillating. What you may not know is that new, rugged plastics and refined designs make the newest versions of these sprinklers work better and last longer than their predecessors.

Our testing demonstrated a fundamental principle of portable sprinklers: all start with the same amount of water, namely, the maximum amount your water line and hose can deliver. The sprinklers then spread that water over as little as 100 square feet, or as much as 7,850 square feet. Therefore, the smaller the area covered by the sprinkler, the faster the water is applied; the larger the area, the slower. The rate of water application is called the precipitation rate. Knowing how fast the water is applied is the only way you can know how long to let the sprinkler operate.

By testing, we also learned that water is not applied evenly over the wetted area. In some cases the inequalities were minor; in others they were significant. The only way to know is to set several containers (such as tuna fish cans) over the area you want to water. Operate the sprinkler for a half-hour or so, then measure the depth of water in the cans. This tells you not only how evenly the sprinkler applies water, but also how fast.

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