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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Buckets Can Be Used for Drip Irrigation

Q. My pine trees are over 20 years old and very tall.  I looked on the net and found a YouTube video out of Kansas showing the man using a 5 gallon bucket with a pin hole in the bottom for the purpose of watering them. I called out my landscaping guy and he said that I am wasting water by watering that way. He said to dig a trench and fill it with water so it can be soaked into the ground and reach the roots of the tree. I do not have the ability to dig trenches.  Am I doing right by watering with the buckets or is he correct about his method?

A. Using a bucket with a small hole in it works just like drip irrigation. I would use about five or more buckets and distribute them under the canopy, about three or 4 feet apart, if you don’t mind looking at them.
Using buckets is the easiest and similar to the very first form of drip irrigation which was sinking unglazed ceramic pots into the soil. Make the holes small. Should run out in about one hour or so. The water will not run off and accomplish the same thing as a drip system but with more work on your part and kind of ugly. But it will work.

Make sure the water leaks from the bucket in the 12 inches depth of soil beneath the tree. If it runs into the soil below this 12 inch depth it is possible it may miss the roots that actively take up water. In our urban landscapes these roots are typically close to the soil surface. Roots for anchoring the plant usually run deeper than this and are not as responsible for water and nutrient uptake as the surface roots.
There is another form of using buckets for irrigation. This concept was pioneered by a hero of mine of the name Dick Chapin who passed away a couple of years ago. He is the father of American drip irrigation and developed the first drip tapes that were used in the greenhouse and nursery industry starting back in the 1960s.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, what he was able to accomplish in the distribution of low-cost, drip irrigation systems using buckets (aka bucket irrigation) was truly remarkable. This is what made him a hero of mine. You can learn more about his foundation below. 
I have implemented the strategy in my international work and it will also work here if you have a small garden area. If you want some classes on how to construct these or information posted on my blog showing you how to do it, just let me know.

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