No snow = low soil moisture

Judith Adam

Looking at my garden at the end of February, what I see is mostly bare soil. This doesn’t bode well for spring growth. A  is one of the most challenging conditions for farmers and gardeners, all trying to get plants into rapid root growth before summer heat and mid-season droughts set in. Of course, my own garden is just one place on the map, and others may have sufficiently deep snow to provide spring soil moisture. But I don’t, and that’s a worry. There’s still time for a big snowfall, and perhaps March will come in like the predictable lion. I’m hoping to hear it roar!

If a dry spring is in store, I’d better think about irrigation needs sooner, rather than later. I’ve been considering some different methods of delivering water to plants this year. My community charges for water. When the hose is running, there’s a meter in the basement audibly clicking and charging my water use to a municipal account. Of course, living in a rural area and being on a well would raise the concern of possibly running out of water. So it’s important to make good use of water resources, and deliver moisture effectively.

There are more watering devices than there are ways to whip an egg. All will get water around where you want it and some will deliver it where you don’t want it (like on the paved driveway). There’s no getting away from the time necessary to understand each irrigation device, and experimenting with it to see where the water goes. But once you understand how it works, you can let it run and turn your back for a couple of hours. That’s not an overly long time. It’s far more effective to water less frequently (say, twice a week) for longer periods, than more frequently (say, daily) for shorter periods. That means two hours of watering, delivered twice a week at the height of summer, is more effective than 30 minutes daily. A longer watering period allows moisture to sink into the root zone, and less is lost to evaporation.

I’ve seen the soil under my lawn break open with fissures in extended droughts, and that’s what I want to avoid. The best lawn irrigation devices cover a large territory (so you don’t have to move the sprinkler too often), and keep water droplets large and low. That means the devices don’t break the droplets into mist-like water vapour, and the large droplets aren’t thrown too high where they will lose much of their volume to evaporation before reaching soil level.

I have two oscillating bar sprinklers that hurl dramatic 10-foot (3-m) vertical fans of water droplets, lacking only coloured lights to make the spectacle into a terrific water show. This method probably loses more than half the water to evaporation. I’ve got to find something better, and recently noticed an improved oscillator that addresses the problem. The new design cuts the height of the water fan when it reaches the apex, seriously diminishing entertainment value, but probably saving some water (

Another appealing device is the familiar impact or impulse sprinkler so often seen on golf courses or in public parks. It shoots a strong stream of water out at a horizontal angle (keeping the water droplets low) and has an interrupter mechanism that consistently cuts into the stream, breaking it into large droplets. (Two pleasant and evocative sounds I would know anywhere with my eyes shut are those of a reel mower and an impact sprinkler.) Its construction is a bit complicated to look at, but easy to understand once you have one in hand. There are adjustments for one spot or full 360° watering patterns. Different models may be plastic or metal based, and come with spike or sled anchoring (

But my most emphatic opinion about irrigation is — let it snow!


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Posts by Judith last week:

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