Watering & Irrigation

How to Set Timers for Sprinklers in a Vegetable Garden

Are timers for sprinklers a good idea? If you “time” it right, they can save your garden.

One thing about gardening is that there are lots of gadgets that can help you grow a better garden. At least that’s the sales pitch. Some of them, I’m not too sure how they made it off the drawing board. Others, like timers for sprinklers, can be really helpful. But like any gadget, they only help you if you use the right one in the right way.

As you can imagine, timers for sprinklers come with a range of technological capabilities, features, and price tags. There are 8-zone smart systems that offer WiFi compatibility and voice-activation. You can get a 24-zone web-based controller that includes a rain sensor and offers a water usage history report. Either of those run well into the three-figure price range.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, simple mechanical timers cost less than a fancy drink at your favorite bar. But how much do you really need? And how do you program a timer to be the most effective?

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Timers for sprinklers: The pros, the cons, and the how-to’s of watering your vegetable garden

Most gardens don’t need much. Sunshine and water are the two most important factors in a successful garden. You can’t do a whole lot about sunshine, except for planning your garden appropriately. Water, on the other hand, is as simple as turning your hose off and on.

But what happens if you’re the forgetful type or if you go on vacation or even if you just want to sleep in and pretend the world is a utopia? Your garden doesn’t care. And some plants will tell you right away if they’re thirsty. Talk about a guilt trip! They’re droopy and look utterly miserable.

That’s why I love using timers for sprinklers in my garden. Work smarter, not harder, right? There are a few things to consider, though. Just like watering them manually, you don’t want to overwater your garden or water at the wrong time of day. Here are some of the pros and cons of manual and smart timers:

Smart timers for sprinklers

  • Pros
    • Can adjust for rain, humidity levels, and temperature
    • You can control the system via an internet connection when you aren’t home
    • May help reduce water consumption
  • Cons
    • Can be pricey
    • May be more than some gardeners need

Manual timers for sprinklers

  • Pros
    • Inexpensive
    • Simple construction, so there isn’t much that can malfunction
    • Easy to set
  • Cons
    • Won’t adjust for weather conditions
    • Not as efficient as a smart system, especially for larger gardens

As far as setting timers for sprinklers, whether you go with a manual or smart version, the basic rules of watering your garden apply.

  • Water early in the morning so any moisture on the leaves and stems will evaporate. Damp leaves lead to mold and fungus.
  • Don’t water in the middle of the day in the summer, the water can cause leaves to burn.
  • Water enough that the soil can absorb water deeply.
  • Water approximately one inch per week. You may have to experiment to figure out the timing on this. Use a small container to catch water while your system is on to gauge how much water the soil is getting.
  • Remember that container gardens and some small raised beds will dry out more quickly, so those may need additional water.

Obviously one size doesn’t fit all, but one plant that likes consistency is the tomato plant. Intermittent, inconsistent watering is usually what causes splitting.

The nice thing about gardens is that they can be forgiving, as long as you adjust the level of water to the need. A little too much or too little water every now and then won’t ruin your garden. Just be sure to keep an eye on things and change your timing to adapt. And enjoy the fact that once plants are established, you don’t need to worry whether or not your garden will get watered if you decide to take a few days away.

Do you use a timer for watering your garden? I’d love to read about your experience and any lessons you’ve learned. Leave a comment below!

Discover 7 top tips for growing, harvesting, and enjoying tomatoes from your home garden—when you access the FREE guide The Best Way to Grow Tomatoes, right now!

By Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur is Senior Editor & Producer for Food Gardening Network and GreenPrints. She is responsible for generating all daily content and managing distribution across web, email, and social. In her producer role, she plans, edits, and deploys all video content for guides, magazine issues, and daily tips. As a best-selling cookbook author, Amanda cooks using ingredients from her outdoor gardens in the summer and from her indoor hydroponic garden in the winter.

2 replies on “How to Set Timers for Sprinklers in a Vegetable Garden”

Do you really still use a sprinkler? Soaker hoses are much more efficient and we can make them from old hoses. They can also use a timer.

Love your newsletter. I have a small garden. I use a soaker hose set up to a time. How often should I water, and for how long? I live in Staten Island NY

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