Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tell The Truth Tuesday -- The Ugly Truth About Watering My Garden During the Summer in the PNW

I often think -- usually it's during the summer as soon as the weather turns dry -- that if I had known how dry it is here in the PNW during the summer (three months at least of no rain -- usually) I might not have moved here. It took me a good couple of years of experience to figure out how much watering I would need to do and ten years to finally settle on a system that I think is working.  The reason I said "usually" is because July so far has been unusually wet and cool. In fact, it was so warm and dry earlier in the spring that I set up sprinklers and hoses over a month ago, in May, even though I haven't really needed them lately.

Our winter and early spring weather forecasts were full of warnings about snowpack in the mountains, which is what we rely on for water in the summer. We had less rain than a normal winter, which meant less snow up in the mountains. And when the weather turned warm early in spring, it meant that the snowpack that was in the mountains started melting early. 2019 is currently shaping up to be one of Washington's worst droughts since they started keeping records. You can read about it here.

I have a lot of garden to keep watered. I dislike summer weather, so there is no way in hell that I'm going to spend a day outside watering it all by hand. In fact, that would BE hell, especially since I have asthma and our last few summers have been smoky from wildfires. And although the system I have implemented this year seems to be working, I still hate it, because it's ugly and obtrusive and full of trip hazards.

The Front Garden
Here's my front faucet

My front faucet has this minor monstrosity attached to it -- a timer with four connections that lets me water once a week for an hour

Hose No. 1

Hose No. 1, the first one on the left, goes into the front foundation bed and connects to...
...this sprinkler...
...which is daisy-chained to two more similar sprinklers.

The flexible fabric hose that connects it snakes through the other end of the bed, circles around this pot...

...crosses the gravel path....

...into another bed....

...where it connects to this second sprinkler.

Another flexible fabric hose then connects that sprinkler....

...across this path....

to here.

And that's the end of the line for Hose No. 1.

Hose No. 2

The second hose connection on the timer that's connected to my front faucet feeds two sprinklers in the new meadow bed that I planted up this spring.

The second hose goes across the gravel (actually the third hose goes across the gravel too, to a different bed, we'll get to that)...

...where the excess gets messily coiled up here...

...and then continues into the bed...

...where it connects to this sprinkler....

...which is daisy-chained to this sprinkler.

And that's the end of the line for Hose. No. 2. Those two sprinklers give pretty good coverage for the entire meadow bed, which is about 50 feet long by ten feet wide.

Ugh, that bed already needs a good weeding.

Hose No. 3

Hose No. 3 runs along the side of the new meadow bed, heading all the way to the street

...along this little path that cuts through the hell strip bed to the street...

...where the excess is curled up...

...and disappears into this bed... connect to this sprinkler....

...which is daisy-chained via a flexible fabric hose.... a second sprinkler

And that's the end of Hose no. 3.

There are a couple of beds in the front that get no water.

At the moment this bed in the front garden has not been watered yet this summer. If I feel ambitious in a few weeks maybe I'll give it a hand watering.

This little herb bed also gets no summer water

The fourth hose that's connected to the timer is for hand watering, which I use to water the potted plants on the front porch or in the greenhouse.

And that's just the front garden. Are you still with me? Bored to tears? It's pretty tedious, believe me, I know. I dread the deadly tedious chore of setting this crap up every year.

I have a lot of new plants in the front garden this year, which means they need watering once a week. But my goal is to eventually be able to water it once every three weeks.

The Back Garden

I have a similar battery-operated timer connected to the faucet in the back. The beds in the back garden have been established longer than the ones in the front, and are set up to be watered every two weeks for an hour.

Three hoses snake across the patio in every direction

Hose No. 1

The one on the left...

...goes down the right hand side of the path...

...where the excess gets coiled up...

...and then it's connected to this single sprinkler, which waters the Ruby Red Death Bed. (Please do me the favor of ignoring the weeds in the gravel -- yes, there's gravel there)

Hose No. 2

The second hose travels across the front of the Ruby Red Death Bed, where in spots it is actually pegged into the ground with earth staples...

...into this bed...

...around this big rock... this sprinkler...

which is daisy-chained via another hose, whose excess is coiled around this rock..

...snaked through the bed... that sprinkler

And that's where the second connection ends.

Hose No. 3

The third hose on the far right snakes through the pots at the foot of the back stairs...

...along the side of the porch...

...around the patio...

...where it disappears into this bed...

...and comes out here...

...with a few extra coils...

where it's connected to three sprinklers that are daisy-chained with flexible fabric hoses -- One...



There are three beds in the back garden that have been getting little to no water at all so far this summer.

I stood and hand watered this bed once

This bed, which runs in front of the stream, as well as the one that runs in back of the stream, have not been watered at all

I really should rescue this poor Brunnera

My Catalpa is not particularly happy either

And this bed, beside the shed near the compost bins, has not had summer water for the last two summers. No water at all. Somehow the plants have survived. They don't always look happy at the end of the summer, but they live.

And now you know the awful, ugly truth about how I keep my garden watered in the summer. I wish I didn't have hoses snaking everywhere, or sprinklers all over the place. The hoses are trip hazards, and are one of the main reasons I will probably never have a summertime tour of my garden. Watering is one of the main reasons why I hate summer too. I can't think of a better solution that doesn't involve digging up the garden everywhere to install some kind of in-ground system. It takes me two or three days to lay this all out every year, and two days in the fall to pick it all up and put it away.

I despise it. But I can't help feeling like I'm missing something. I've visited some gorgeous, lush NPA gardens recently, with no sign anywhere of how they water. Am I dense? Is there some obvious better solution that I just haven't figured out? What's the magic secret?


  1. Oh dear. I don't know how you handle that. What an thing to have to manage! Can you leave the hoses in the beds year-round and just connect to them at the start of summer? We have in-ground with zones and then I spot-water whatever gets overly droopy.

    1. I need to coil the hoses up in the fall and store them to make sure all the water is out, otherwise if we get a freeze, they might burst. I think that's just good hose care.

  2. That is impressive - how often do you water? The dry summers here were a shock to me as well. Watering is a huge CHORE. I have cut so many soaker hoses that we are just relying on overhead sprinklers this year and I know that isn't the best way to water. We water the entire garden once per week - it takes two full days, one day for the front, the next for the back. In addition to that, the pots get watered daily which takes about an hour and half. Michael does most of it, thank God, because I just would not have time to do it.

    1. Right now the front gets watered once a week for an hour, and the back gets watered once every two weeks for an hour. Each zone takes turns, so Hose No. 1 is on for an hour watering zone one, then Hose no. 2 is on, etc. so technically the water is on for three hours. My goal for the front is to water once every three weeks, when the plants have become established. I've tried soakers too, and they don't last, I've cut into them just like you.

  3. Oh, Alison, I feel your pain. I don't like Summer either for the exact same reason. Lucky for me, the Home Owner is retired and uncharged of watering. He has one sprinkler that he moves around as needed: he's got it down to a science! I'd rather spend all day weeding. Love this cool and sprinkley July!

  4. I would have had either my lazy husband dig a little trench and put the hoses into them and cover them out of site in the winter. But he doesn't do gardening anymore and I can't go out into the sun or heat of the day so our gardens have suffered. But yeah, I would dig a little trench for each hose and cover them up so the tripping hazard is gone. Otherwise I love your garden and yard.

  5. Wow, you've got a small fortune invested in those hoses!

    As for our dry summers; I helped someone out with a basic planting plan several years ago. A lot of things then died. I asked about how often she was watering and her response was "I don't need to water this is rainy Oregon"... ya, she's a native. Somehow the fact that it doesn't rain in the summertime escaped her notice.

  6. Yikes! I can't imagine wrangling all those hoses. We go much longer without rain but luckily this house came with a full blown irrigation system. The biggest negative is that it was set up to take care of lawn we no longer have. We (the "royal we") have restructured some of it, adding drip systems and soaker hoses in a few areas but sprinklers aren't the best way to water here. My husband designed a full drip system for our former townhome but that was a tiny space and I'm not about to request a full-scale re-do of our current irrigation system, at least not yet. After discussion with our contractor this morning, my husband just added a whole new roof to our project. (I don't know whether to laugh or cry.)

  7. Wow...I feel better about my own irrigation mania now! Norm likes to make fun of me...because setting it up is such an ongoing pain...but not having to lug around (and move) hoses makes up for it. I've found that running individual drip emitters to my containers has been one of the best things I ever did...because they have to be watered almost daily...and it is so much easier to just turn on the water, rather than watering by hand...which I was doing every day before or after work. Sadly, sometimes they get clogged and I don't notice until a plant is practically dead...sigh.

  8. Oh, the exhausting memories this elicits! Dragging hoses, then installing drip systems that barely last a season, if that, in Texas heat. Hated it! I think I have to take a nap now.

    The last move I made entailed buying a house which just happened to include an irrigation system divided up into 11 segments on an auto-timer that can be switched to manual whenever a newly planted section needs water outside the program schedule. I had never had an in-ground system before but, I'll tell you, in July and August - and most years May through August here - it is a life saver. I could never go back to a hose system again. Had no idea what it took out of me every year to go through precisely what you do, only my routine wasn't nearly as organized. If I had it to do over, I would have gritted my teeth, had a system installed & just repaired the damage to gardens one area at the time. Truly worth it IMO.

  9. We had a set up like this at our old house. This one has a quirky irrigation system that I am thankful for.

  10. That does look painful -- no wonder you're so ornery ;) From this post, the amount of space that needs supplemental irrigation seems enormous, and I'm thinking I've underestimated your lot size. At my own house, lot size about 5,400 square feet approx, not very large, I've made concessions like giving up on planting the hell strip -- it's pretty much a bioswale now. The south back garden is intensively planted, the east side mostly patio and pots, the west the ugly/utilitarian driveway, cars, etc, and the north front garden pretty much xeriscaped. I've got drip hoses laid down in the back garden that I use once a month maybe, but everything else is hand watered -- which I still enjoy! But then I ditched the day job and it's all been much easier. Truly, you have singled out the Achilles heel in summer-dry climates -- and I think it might be harder in the PNW because you have a great garden culture, fab nurseries and that drizzly overcast climate the rest of the year for planting -- whereas I'm always thinking about drought, drought, dry, dry and plant for that reality. If I had a bigger property I'd definitely have to rethink my approach -- great post!

    1. The listing when we bought the house said it was 0.35 acres, so basically a tiny bit more than a third of an acre. Google tells me that is 15,246 square feet.

  11. Oh boy-I can completely understand your frustration with the time involved in stetting this up. I use the recycled tire soaker hoses with quick connectors, and I can usually go a couple of years before I accidentally slice into one with my shovel. I would have no hesitation with making the investment in having a drip irrigation system professionally installed but I am constantly digging things up and moving them around . I've been thinking about it though;it could probably be made flexible and I am capable of making minor repairs myself if need be. But the disruption the installation would involve holds me back.

  12. When you can't see how a garden gets watered, It is probably buried underground, with drop systems, pop up sprinklers, and spray heads, which is what we have.
    tom engineered and installed it himself, and it is wonderful. We do still have a few spots that require hose dragging once in a while though.

  13. Wow, great post! I too have a few sprinklers set up, but they are not on timers. Instead, I move them around by hand. Generally I divide our 5,000 sf lot into two evenings; backyard one day, and front yard the next. What needs the most attention is of course all the unplanted things, and the planters. Sigh... with all those things in smaller pots, there is no shortage of things to kill in this place.

  14. Can you tell me where you got your sprinklers? I need some and these look good. Thanks.

    1. I got the sprinklers from Amazon. There are actually two different ones. I like this one best, because the adjustments are easier to figure out:

      The second one is this one:

      I've also bought a couple of similar Melnor brand ones at Lowes, but the version they sell is cheaper and doesn't have a metal spike, it has a cheap plastic one, so it's not as sturdy.

  15. Our summers are much rainier than yours. I don't know if I could handle such a complicated irrigation system. Established plants don't get watered at all. New plants and containers get watered by hand, which can be a pain for sure.

  16. I have soaker hoses that are buried under mulch. They work really well and don't care how cold it gets. That might make your life easier, especially since your winters are warmer than mine so your hoses will definitely survive.

  17. Hand watering the pots & greenhouse in summer is a meditative experience for me & allows me to be in touch with the plants and enjoy being outside. I'm a hose dragging sprinkler waterer otherwise. Your setup looks like it's a time saver once it's all set up.

  18. I am amazed at your complex system of hoses and timers. I water by hand using a hose so my method is simple. I live in a temperate weather place so summer days are usually in the 70s so not a lot of watering needed. You get beautiful results, your garden looks lush.


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