(This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of the Houston Rose Society's Rose Ette)
The simplest and cheapest irrigation system employs soaker hoses. Their chief advantages are that they are cheap, easy to use in curved beds and require no special tools to install. Soaker hoses are usually black, and are designed to ooze water out along their entire length. Sadly, that's not the way it usually works.
Soaker hoses quickly deteriorate in Houston's heat and sun, and they are renown for uneven water output along their length. This problem gets worse, with longer lengths of soaker hose. Water tends to shoot skyward at the end closest to the water source, and dribble out at the far end. Also, soaker hoses are easily damaged by pets and shovels. Although soaker hoses are readily available at box stores and nurseries, few rosarians stick with these hoses.
A second approach to irrigating your roses uses a drip irrigation system from Raindrip, Inc. The Raindrip system uses 1/2 inch hose into which barbed fittings are inserted. Spaghetti hoses run from the fittings to the drippers that actually water your rose. Different drippers have different flow rates. With the Raindrip system you can buy drippers that put out 1/2 gallon per hour, one gallon per hour or two gallons per hour.
There are a lot of accessories in the Raindrip system, and individual components are fairly inexpensive. Starter kits are available with a basic selection of fittings and drippers. I grow lots of roses on my back porch, and I use this system to water them. If you grow roses in pots, you must have a water system during the heat of the summer or your roses will quickly die. The Raindrip system is the ideal system for potted plants. I can easily get thirty-five drippers on a run.
The main difficulties with the system are that sometimes the drippers fall out of the pots (a condition that reveals itself with a droopy plant) and, on rare occassions, the drippers sometimes clog. There are plant stakes to anchor the drippers in place. A clogged dripper is easily handled. I simply snip it off with my Felco pruners and replace the dripper. The system is very forgiving, and very efficient in its use of water. The only special tool needed to install the system is a punch to make the holes in the 1/2 inch hose. The punch comes with all the starter kits, or can be purchased separately.
I got my system at Bering's Hardware. They have stores on Westheimer near the Galleria (713-785-6400) and on Bissonnet at Weslayan (713-665-0500).
The irrigation system most consulting rosarians in Houston use is the Dramm nozzle/PVC system. This approach uses PVC to supply the water, and Dramm nozzles to do the actual irrigating. Dramm nozzles are very reliable, and it is easy to see if they are working. The PVC can be made to disappear in your beds if you cover the white pipe with brown paint.
The main disadvantage of this system is that it is complicated to install. PVC is hard to cut unless you buy a special cutting tool. Also, the glues used on the PVC dry almost instantly, so you better know what you are doing when you start. There are ninety degree and forty-five degree fittings for direction changes in the PVC, but this system is not easy to install in curved beds. The biggest disadvantage to Dramm nozzles is the limit on the number of nozzles in an individual run. Because the system puts out so much water, I can only get ten to twelve nozzles on a run before the limits of my water pressure affects the system. I use 3/4 inch PVC for my runs. If I had to do it over again, I would probably go with one inch PVC to cut down on the water pressure drop.
The PVC pipe and fittings are available at the box stores and local hardware stores. Dramm nozzles are available from Southwest Fertilizer (713-666-1744) and from Kimbrew-Walter Roses (877-597-6737).
Net-A-Fim In-Line Drip Emitters
This is a relatively new system in the Houston area. Last year I put in this system in some existing beds where I already had Dramm nozzles. The main reason I tried it was because I can water all my beds off of one water timer.
The system is simplicity itself. You buy a 1/2 inch hose that has emitters built in every eighteen inches. The hose is easy to lay, even in curved beds. You cover the hose with mulch, and you're done. The system is invisible when covered with the mulch. It is self cleaning. What that means is that if an emitter gets clogged with a bit of sand, the system is designed to blow the sand out, and the emitter is back in business. And there is no pressure loss along the system. The emitters each put out one gallon per hour, whether the emitters are at the beginning of a run or all the way at the end.
I use u-shaped fabric pins to hold the hose in place when making tight turns. I love this system. Anyone can install it in very little time. There are no glues or special tools needed. Sections of hose are attached to each other through pressure couplings. This is a DIYer delight.
The only place in Houston that I know of that sells it is the Vintage Rosery in Needville (979-793-2888). There is extensive information about the system on their website: www.vintagerosery.com. Click the button for "Products."
The last topic I want to address in this article is water timers. I consider such timers essential to any irrigation system. Professional timers that handle multiple stations are expensive and bulky. I like the kind of timer that goes on the hose bib, and can be programmed to come on at regular intervals for various lengths of time. I have bought many such timers over the years.
My current favorite model is the Nelson Model 5920 (Nine Selection Pre-Set Timer). I got mine at Target. It costs around thirty dollars and is very easy to set. In fact, it is the ease of setting it that is its greatest advantage. The clock is digital. It runs off two batteries. But the rest of the settings on this timer are analog. You just rotate the dial to the setting you want. You can set it to come on every other day, every day or twice a day. You can tell it to stay on for fifteen, thirty or sixty minutes. And, best of all, if you want to just turn on the water for some hand watering, you don't have to reprogram it. That is because you never have to program it. You just rotate the dial to one of the above settings and you're done. I love this timer. You can view a picture of it at Nelson's website: www.lrnelson.com. Click the "Consumer Products" button then go to "Timer Simulators."
So there you have it. Give one of these systems a try (other than the soaker hose) and see if your roses don't thank you for it.