A few pots or hanging baskets can really lift a property if they look good. Usually they do when you first put them in, but without careful attention to watering and feeding, in a few weeks time they can be looking miserable and neglected – not the look most of us are after.
We all know what we need to do – just go out and water the plants regularly, maybe once or twice a day when it is hot, but therein lies the problem, life just gets in the way.
We have all heard about irrigation, but isn’t it complicated? Hundreds of little bits, a need for an outside tap, an unsightly hosepipe and a huge water bill?
There is an easier way.
The WaterWand irrigation kit uses sunshine to power your irrigation – no wires, no dangerous electricity/water mixes.
It uses rainwater from your water barrel. No hosepipe bans, no nasty surprises in your water bill.
The WaterWand solar pump is completely automatic. It waters every 3 hours through the day, whether you are there or not. It waters slowly, with drip or seep hose irrigation, so that water goes exactly where you want it. Water has time to soak in rather than run off. Compost or soil does not have time to dry out. It waters more when it is sunny and your plants need extra.
Soluble fertiliser (about a quarter normal strength) can be added to your water barrel so your plants get fed as they are watered. They grow and flower better.
But most important of all the WaterWand is so simple to set up that almost anyone can do it with tools that almost everyone has.
How to do it
The solar irrigation pump needs to be positioned so that it is facing in the sunniest direction and is not shaded. If your water barrel is in a shady position it is okay to position the pump some distance away. Ideally the pump should be just a little higher than the high water mark in the rain barrel, but if needs be can be up to 6′ (2m) higher. It can be hung from a nail, hook or similar.
Follow the link at the bottom to see a schematic.
Start with the most distant pot or basket from the pump. Screw a drip nozzle into the delivery tube. Screw it right in or it will leak. Put a stake onto the tube about an inch (3cm) back from the dripper. Stake into your pot or basket so it drips near the middle. Route the tube back to the next container, concealing it as you go and if necessary clipping into place. When you have got back to where the irrigation needs to branch, cut the tube. It’s safest to use scissors. Screw another dripper in the end and hold in the desired position over the pot/basket, then follow the tube back to where it needs to connect to the first piece. Cut the tube. Screw a tee into the first piece of tube, then screw the second piece of tube to the tee. When you have done this attach the stake and fix in position. Repeat until all your pots or baskets are connected up.
If your plants are grouped connect up the plants in each group, then connect the groups using sub mains. (the tube is all the same – a sub main is simply a tube leading to a group of drippers.
You should have one open end left on your tube – take this back to the WaterWand pump. Cut the tube clean and square (a sharp knife is needed) leaving enough slack so that when connected it will not be bent sideways or pull against the pump connection. Push it onto the connector marked O.
Now drill a hole in the top edge of your water barrel – above the high water mark but low enough for the lid to fit on. You can drill the hole in the lid but this will make lid removal more awkward.
Thread tube through the hole and push the filter on the end. Adjust the tube so the filter hangs 5 -10cm above the bottom of the barrel as in schematic. Take the other end back to the pump and fit in the same manner as the outlet tube.
A new pump may run for some time when it is first turned on. Ideally water should be directed back to the barrel until it stops for the first time. Then turn the pump to maximum and connect to the outlet tube. The pump will start up at 3 hour intervals from when it is first turned on. If it applies too much water, turn it down. Repeat until you are happy with the application rate. Remember as plants grow the pump may need to be turned up.
How much water is the right amount?
Hanging baskets should drip a little after the afternoon watering. Pots should also drain a little. You should be monitoring the driest basket or pot. As long as containers are free draining, excess water will escape.
Where to use it
Anywhere under the sun that needs automatic watering and maybe feeding too.
Care and maintenance
Ensure your water barrel and water are clean before you start watering.
Clean the solar panel with a damp cloth if it gets dirty.
Change the battery annually, especially before you go away.
Ensure your water barrel is full before you go away.
Keep the WaterWand pump inside during the winter, away from severe frost.
Do check regularly that the water application rate is correct.
The pump is designed for small-scale use.
5 – 6 large hanging baskets
20 10 litre pots
Maximum height above water barrel 15′ (4.5m). It will pump higher, but you get less water.
Normal flow rate 130ml/min. 50m of tubing will reduce this by about 10%. Keep tube lengths as short as practical.
George H Evans has been a gardener for all his life and a professional horticulturalist for most of it. Since August 2008 he has been developing solar irrigation kits specifically for small scale garden projects.