Jill Severn’s Gardening Column

There’s no perfect way to water


There are many ways to water a garden:

  • standing over plants or grass with a hose and a gentle spray nozzle every evening
  • dragging hoses around and placing a sprinkler
  • using an oscillating sprinkler
  • using soaker/drip irrigation hoses
  • having an installed irrigation system with timers.

There are even more ways to mess up any one of these ways of watering a garden.

The Standing-Around-with-a-Hose Method

 Standing around and watering, hose in hand is, by far, the most satisfying way to water. It’s a peaceful, idyllic pursuit in which you give your undivided attention to each plant and each crop. When I was a little kid, I followed my Aunt Marie around in her garden while she did this. My job was to guide the hose along so it didn’t accidentally drag across a flowerbed. No plant in her garden ever went dry, and no plant’s health and progress was ever unnoticed.

But that watering method only works if you’re faithful, consistent, and smart enough to check to make sure you’re watering enough. It’s very easy to think you’ve watered plenty when the water has barely penetrated the soil surface.

The Dragging-Hoses-with-Sprinklers-Around Method

I generally rely on the dragging-hoses-around-and-placing-a-sprinkler method. I’ve gotten better at it, but last night I fell asleep on the couch and left a sprinkler going for over an hour in one place. That was the first time this year I’ve messed up though, and that’s progress.

I use small, inexpensive sprinklers, and sometimes they annoy me by not sitting flat on the ground. Of course, that’s the hose’s fault, not theirs. Someday I’ll buy the perfect hose that never kinks or gets stiff. I’ve discovered that the different spray patterns on the sprinklers really do matter; there’s a square one, a round one, and a long rectangle one, all useful for different spots, so now I own all three. They are about $6 apiece.

The Oscillating-Sprinkler Method

Oscillating sprinklers are more suited to wide open spaces. My neighbor has recently taken to using an oscillating sprinkler, but he hasn’t mastered it yet, and a few days ago it was sending water through an open window into my dining room. I just closed the window. I was grateful for the free watering of the flowers just outside it. If I’d thought of it, I would have left the window open and moved a houseplant in front of it to reap the benefit indoors too.

There was a time, though, when an oscillating sprinkler, attached to the top of a six-foot ladder with bungee cords, was the perfect way to water a large vegetable garden at Quixote Village.* It got the water up high enough to pass over a crop of corn, and spread the water far and wide. It just took a very long time since, on every pass, the water only landed on any given spot for a second.

Soaker/drip-Irrigation-Hoses Method

Many people are convinced of the conservation virtue and wisdom of soaker hoses, but I’m still a skeptic. The idea makes sense, but my hunch is that their success depends on soil type, placement, hose quality, and probably other mysterious factors. I’ve seen them succeed, and I’ve seen them fail, and no one was ever certain why in either case. I realize my reaction lacks scientific rigor, but I’m into failure avoidance, so no soaker hoses for me.

The Installed-Sprinkler-System Method

The ultimate watering solution is an installed irrigation system, nowadays with digital controls and sprinkler heads that eerily rise out of the ground on command. They are, of course, expensive to install, and it’s the luck of the draw whether you get a reliable one or one that is endlessly in need of repair, re-aiming of the sprinkler heads so you’re not watering the driveway, or troubleshooting to find the leak that is driving up your water bill. But when they work well, they are wonderful indeed.

And thank you, Aunt Marie

So, to sum up, water is life, and life is tricky and uncertain, but joyous when everything is working right.

As my Aunt Marie knew, every plant’s needs have to be met for it to thrive, and so should every child’s, even when that means answering an unending stream of questions about plants’ names, growing habits, and whether it’s OK to pick them. She was the best garden mentor a child could have.

*Editor’s Note: About the garden at Quixote Village, Jill Severn knows much. She was a leader in its formation and development. See this Window Seat Media interview of her from 2019.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com


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  • Drutty

    I agree--I like the round and rectangle, while my partner ONLY likes the oscillating. And never the twain shall meet~!

    Friday, July 29 Report this

  • Annierae

    I have the water, the hoses, the sprinklers. Just looking for that one good niece.

    Saturday, July 30 Report this