Hand watering with a garden hose may lead to shallow root systems.

Drip vs. Overhead for Watering Vegetables

by Arlene Miles

For vegetables to grow properly, most gardens need approximately 1 inch of water each week from rain or irrigation during the growing season. Rainwater rarely provides enough, particularly when temperatures are high, so gardeners must supplement through regular watering. Overhead options such as a watering can, garden hose with a nozzle or spray attachment or a portable sprinkler are simple and easy to use. Watering with drip or soaker hoses takes more initial setup but provides season-long convenience.

Drip Advantages

Water delivered directly to where plants need it most results in less water evaporation. Drip water systems require only about one-quarter to one-half of the volume of water used by overhead systems for the same area. Gardeners may also precisely control delivery through a network of valves, pipes, tubing and emitters. Some systems allow the convenience of delivering fertilizer along with water, resulting in healthier, more vigorous plants. Automated systems also reduce your labor. Weed and disease problems are reduced as drip systems and soaker hoses do not leave wet rows of standing water or droplets on foliage.

Drip Disadvantages

The biggest disadvantage of drip systems is cost. The larger the garden, the larger the initial monetary outlay. Such systems may be too costly for homeowners with larger gardens. Gardeners must also deal with annual maintenance costs for parts that may wear out such as tubing and emitters. The amount of water delivered through drip irrigation or soaker hoses is more difficult to gauge and could result in overwatering or underwatering.

Overhead Advantages

Water cans and hoses with nozzle attachments are appropriate for containers and small gardens. Sprinklers offer a wide range of watering patterns and coverage areas. Oscillating sprinklers distribute more evenly than permanent overhead systems and may be adjusted to cover rectangular or square areas. By placing containers strategically throughout the garden, you can gauge how much water the area receives.

Overhead Disadvantages

Because gardeners must often move portable sprinklers to provide coverage throughout the garden, some areas may receive water more than once during a session, resulting in overwatering. Additionally, some models deposit less water as the stream moves outward from the source, resulting in uneven watering. Sprinklers are not water-efficient, particularly during hot, windy days when much evaporation occurs. Overhead watering may also increase the risk of disease when moisture stays on plant leaves too long. Watering with a hose and spray nozzle requires gardeners to stand in one place for a long time and may result in frequent, light watering that results in shallow roots.

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