Automatic plant watering with Lawn Belt Irrigation
Automatically give your plants water when and where they need it!
by Erik Alan Bend, OR
I have found Lawn Belt irrigation to be the smartest way to water, whether you garden in an arid climate or one with ample rainfall. You can even implement automatic plant watering using battery operated timers.
When my wife and I planted our garden here in dry high desert in Central Oregon, we knew we’d have to somehow irrigate all of our plants and do it in a way so that we wouldn’t have worry about it.
For many years, we watered it all by hand using a hose and sprinkler, but that got old real fast. Many times I found my self forgetting to shut the water off sometimes watering for over 2 hours.
We definitely needed to find a quick and simple way install a automatic plant watering system in our already well established garden.
We considered in-ground irrigation systems, but they seemed real costly and too big of a project. Then I learned about this fascinating little product called LawnBelt Irrigation.
Using just a couple of Lawn Belt kits water could be delivered right where we needed it in our front yard. And we could enjoy the convenience of having a permanent watering system and the convenience of automatic plant watering as well.
Water conservation and why automatic plant watering makes sense
I’m a firm believer in not wasting water or over watering. As populations here in the U.S. continue to rise, many areas are facing water shortages and restrictions. These water shortages make a automatic plant watering even more important to the gardener.
With a Lawn Belt irrigation system, my plants thrive with less water. By using a automatic watering strategy I am regularly watering in the early mornings. I’m not only saving water but I’m also finding that my plants are healthy.
With this neat little irrigation system, you can water perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, ground covers, and even potted plants.
Attaching an automatic plant watering device to each zone just takes a minute – no wiring as they simply screw into your spigot where LawnBelt attaches.
What really is Lawn Belt anyway?
Think of Lawn Belt Irrigation System as an invisible high-tech garden hose. Instead of your hose laying on your lawn and burning your grass the system is hidden 3 inches down in your garden.
But unlike a garden hose LawnBelt is made of a diamond shaped plastic and resin that can easily bend while you install it. The system can be adjusted to the landscape changes in your garden.
With very little planning and installation time you can achieve the same great results as I did in just one afternoon.
Assembling a flexible, low-cost, automatic irrigation system
Fittings connect together using stainless steel clamps and collars which wrap around the connections. (see how to assemble a flexible, low-cost irrigation system ).
You’ll need a 5/16″ wrench (or screwdriver), a flat spade, some Teflon tape and a utility knife (I used a PVC cutter) to cut the diamond tubing.
You’ll also need a short 3 foot hose to connect the Lawn Belt to you spigot. A backflow preventer may also be required by your municipal water department.
Optional parts include a 4 way distributor (very handy if you have multiple sprinkler zones), connecting tees if you want to branch out and converters (if you want to connect it to a PVC system. This allows you to glue the PVC system to the LawnBelt tubing.
I highly recommend implementing a automatic plant watering strategy using the simple battery operate timers as I described above, these can always be installed later but I highly recommend them to save water.
A fertilizer bottle can also be added to the system. For under 10 dollars you can attach a automatic fertilizing system.
You can buy these fertilizers at most hardware stores or garden centers, or from companies specializing in irrigation systems.
If you want to add your own sprinkler heads, bubblers or even drip irrigation, the system will accept all 1/2″ pipe threading. Sprinkler heads from different manufacturers are almost always interchangeable.
Design issues installation and systems cost
System costs are very affordable, especially when comparing the cost to conventional in-ground systems. You could cover about 1500-1800 square feet of irrigation for $100. If attaching a timer plan on an additional $30.
You can bury the system just below the soil. When installing it along garden beds I try to run it along the edge of a bed so I won’t accidentally damage it with a weeding tool. Amazingly the Lawn Belt acts as a garden border keeping the lawn roots from spreading into my garden beds!
Lawn Belt has a thick plastic flange that runs along the top to protect it from shovels which I have a hit pretty hard a few times and the system still works great. Lawn Belt has a repair kit if you ever go thru the wall.
There are a couple of simple test to complete before installation.
First, this system requires about 30 pounds per square inch (psi) operate. Its best to call your water company to see what this may be. Or you can buy a pressure gauge at you sprinkler outlet that screws right to you hose bib.
Second, as a good rule of thumb, each zone needs a water flow of about 8 GPM meaning gallons per minute. To see how much flow you have simply take a gallon bucket to you spigot and do the following test:
GMP Formula Calculation = 60 / Seconds to fill 1 gallon
For example: If it takes 7 seconds to fill a gallon bucket then divided 60 by 7 .. or 8.6 GPM
Note: Some newer spigots have a higher restriction on the flow – meaning that your Gpm reading may be slightly lower than actual.
Map out your automatic plant watering strategy!
Lawn Belt comes in kits. Each kit contains 50 feet of conduit and three heads. As you map out your system, think of each kit as a separate zone in your garden.
Using 50 foot piece of spring will roughly determine how much flexible conduit you’ll need for each zone. Just start at the hose spigot and work your way through your garden. Since the tubing is flexible you can make wide turns as you go from one head to the next with your string. (see how to design, map and layout your irrigation system )
Figure out that each head will water about 10-15 feet in diameter. You’ll want some overlapping to occur as well. Garden spray paint may come in handy for this as you hardline in where your heads will be located.
I find it also necessary to group all your plants in one zone and lawn areas in another. This way you can control your automatic plant watering times differently to each zone.
Your plants and lawn are the best indicators of how long you need to water. If plants look the worse for wear at 5 p.m. on a hot, sunny day, that’s pretty common. But if the same plants still look wilted early the next morning, you need to investigate.
Check your soil moisture with an old screwdriver. In damp soil, it’s easy to push in the screwdriver. In dry soil, you’ll need help from a big hammer. If the soil is dry, then your plants aren’t getting enough water.
Lengthen your automatic plant watering times each time. If the soil is wet, then you might be overwatering. Pay special attention to new plants because their roots haven’t spread out in the soil yet. Just because the soil is damp a few inches from a new plant doesn’t mean the plant is getting any water.
It’s best to water deeply but infrequently. If you have any puddling or sogginess lawn, you’ve run your system too long. Instead, you should see a small area of damp earth. Below the surface, where roots can go as deep as 18 inches, water will spread out and sink into the soil.
Winterizing your system
Maintenance on the Lawn Belt System is very minimal. If you live where it freezes in winter just disconnect the line from the spigot in the fall and remove the backflow preventer and short hose. To keep dirt out of the system, just plug with the brass hose fitting (where the 3 foot hose connects into) with a cap or duct tape will work as well.
The Lawn Belt tubing is flexible and will not split when frozen. The manufacturer guarantees this from happening for up to 5 years. I’ve had mine in the ground for about that and no problems whatsoever. It has survived fine through many cold winters here. Bend sometimes gets in the minus temperatures for weeks at a time.
In springtime just open up the sealed end and flush the system to get rid of debris. In a warm climate, your entire system may remain in place year-round.
I’ve used this fascinating automatic plant watering system for about 5 years now and everything in my garden is doing well, thank you. And, as a bonus, my water bills are lower than most of my neighbors.
Erik Alan consults on automatic plant watering and ways to save water in Central Oregon.