JoAnne Skelly: Summer irrigation

Without irrigation, Nevada gardeners could not have gardens or landscapes. These life-giving watering systems need regular maintenance to operate efficiently so plants can thrive. A well-maintained system is water efficient, which is critical this year with the drought.

As temperatures rise, gardeners start irrigating more, making system maintenance even more important to make sure water is used carefully. In an effort to get the most out of the water we apply, my husband and I updated our irrigation system. Our yard has outgrown the design of the old one, over watering some areas and under watering others. We capped off sprinklers that were useless because they were hidden behind bushes. We placed sprinkler heads at the edge of the yard on risers to allow them to spray over the plants in front of them. We cleaned out or replaced sprinkler heads to improve coverage. We replaced our old timer with a new one that allows us to control when and how long we water more effectively.

Hand watering, while relaxing and Zen-like, rarely waters deeply enough for optimal plant health. Roots end up growing near the surface of the soil, drying out on hot windy days, so plants need more water. Deep watering with a drip system or soaker hoses helps plants be more drought-resistant, because roots go deeper into the soil where they are less affected by sun or wind. After years of watering most of my flower beds by hand, I finally installed soaker hoses, one of which is homemade. I simply poked a bunch of additional holes into an old leaky hose to create my own version of a soaker/sprayer hose. Now I water deeply and less often.

Automatic drip systems are the best way to water trees, shrubs, flowers and veggies. They conserve water, applying it only to the roots of plants where it’s not lost to evaporation. Water soaks deep into the ground. However, drip systems need regular maintenance to keep emitters flowing. People often install a drip system and walk away, only checking it when plants die.

Remember, trees need more water than flowers. Put them on their own station with emitters that put out multiple gallons of water per hour. Water them for hours at a time so the soil is soaked 15 to 18 inches deep all the way around the trunk out to the drip line. As trees age, add more emitters farther out.

Keep your plants beautiful by taking good care of your irrigation system.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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