I love the look of planters, hanging baskets and window boxes overflowing with flowers around my garden. But keeping them looking lush and beautiful during the heat of the summer has always been a problem, especially while I’m on vacation. So this year I installed an automatic watering system for my containers, and I’ve never had such good looking pots!
As most of you probably know, back in the spring, I did a big deck makeover. (If you missed it, you can see the final reveal HERE).
Part of that deck makeover involved planting a lot of containers, window boxes and even a couple of hanging plants. I may have gone a little overboard 🙂
But all those plants make the deck feel like it’s in the middle of a garden oasis.
What you may not know, is that the week after the deck makeover was finished, I went to the beach. For a week. With temperatures getting well into the 80’s here at home.
Having just spent all that time (and money) planting containers, the last thing I wanted was to come home to a bunch of brown, shriveled up plants…definitely not the oasis look I was going for!
So I either had to pray to the rain gods, and hope they listened. Or do something to make sure my outdoor containers got watered regularly.
Since I’ve tried the rain-god prayer route before without much success, I decided to go with the latter option and install an automatic watering system for my outdoor plants.
And I’m so glad I did!
When I came home, the plants in my containers had practically doubled in size. And we didn’t have any rain all week…so I can only imagine what they would have looked like otherwise!
Keep reading to find out how to keep your outdoor planters watered while you’re on vacation.
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- Outdoor container watering kit* – The easiest way to start an outdoor plant watering system is to buy a kit. It comes with the connector, some small hose, some splitters and the ends that drip the water (water emitters), as well as some stakes.
- Water timer* – Depending on the type of kit you buy, it may also come with a water timer. If you want your system to turn on automatically, you’re going to need one of these. So if your kit doesn’t come with it, you’ll need to buy a water timer separately.
- Additional tee connectors* and water emitters* – If you have a lot of containers (like I do), the kit won’t come with enough splitters or water emitters. So you’ll need to order some more. See the planning section below to figure out how many.
- (optional) 25 psi water pressure regulator* – If the water pressure from your hose is too high, the water emitters won’t drip very well even though the water is flowing. You can fix this problem by installing a water pressure regulator on the hose before you install the connector. They’re not very expensive, so I used one even though I’m not sure I needed it.
1 | Plan Out Your System
Before you do anything, you’ll want to plan out how you’re going to set up the automatic watering system for your outdoor plants.
Where Will The Hose Run?
First, make sure that you have positioned your containers where they are going to be. That way you can get an accurate idea of how much hose your are going to need.
Then figure out where you will start running the hose from. This will depend somewhat on where the tap is.
You can hook your automatic watering system up to the end of a regular hose, so it doesn’t have to start right at the tap.
If you have a lot of ground to cover (ie. your plants are far apart), I found that the plants at the end of the line got less water than the ones closer to the water source. So if you can, try to have the automatic watering system start somewhere in the middle of your containers (rather than the end). That way you can run the watering line in 2 directions which seems to help with the pressure.
Then plan out where you will put the hose so that it connects all of your outdoor planters.
How Much Hose Will You Need?
Then you will need to measure where your hose will run to determine how much you will need.
This isn’t just the measurement between all of your containers, but also the extra amounts you’ll need to get the water emitters to the top of the containers:
- For tall planters, the hose will need to run up the height of the container.
- If you have hanging plants, you will need to run the hose up whatever structure they are hanging from and down the hanging basket chains.
- Similarly for window boxes, the hose will need to run up to the box (and potentially back down if you have other containers to water).
The instructions on the kit say one watering system can run between 75 and 100 feet long. If you need more of the small hose than that, you’ll probably need to hook up more than one kit.
How Many Water Emitters Will You Need?
To figure out how many water emitters you’re going to need, the instructions with the kit say to use the size of your container.
However, I found it works better to base the number of emitters on the number of plants you have in the container.
For me, using one emitter for every 2 or 3 plants (depending on how close together they are planted) seemed to work the best. The water doesn’t flow very far from the emitter so if there is a lot of space between the plants, the soil will probably not get wet enough to keep all of the plants looking healthy.
How Many Tee Connectors Will You Need?
You’ll need a splitter every time the hose changes direction, plus extras if your container has lots of plants in it.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t actually take the time to figure this number out exactly. I just ordered the extra pack of 50* since it wasn’t very expensive 🙂
However, if you do want to be more specific, here’s where you’re going to need tee connectors:
- any time you want the hose to go in two different directions
- one for every container
- for round or square containers that have more than one water emitter, you’ll need 1 less tee connectors than emitters (eg. 1 tee connector for 2 emitters, 2 tee connectors for 3 emitters, etc.)
- for window boxes, you will need one tee connector for every water emitter
2 | Attach The Hose Connector
Now that you’ve got your plan in place, the first step is to hook your watering system up to the tap.
To start, attach the water timer to the tap.
We’ll learn how to set it later.
Then screw on the hose end that comes with the automatic watering system.
If the 1/4″ hose is not already attached to the host connector, push it into the open end.
3 | Run The Hose
The next step to setting up your automatic watering system is to run the hose.
It is helpful if you can leave the hose out in the sun for a while before you start. This helps to soften it up and makes it easier to work with.
Then run the hose so that it passes close to each of the containers you want to water.
Make sure not to pull it too tight. You may need some slack to attach the off-shoot hoses that go to the containers.
For hanging baskets, run the hose up the side and across the top of whatever the basket is hanging from. Then run it down through the chains of the basket to get to the plants. This prevents the hose from being too obvious.
To keep the hose in the right position, use a hammer to nail cable guides into the side of your deck, railing or posts.
How To Run The Hose In Two Directions
If you need to split the hose so that it runs in two directions, you’ll need to follow these steps:
1. Use scissors to cut off the hose where you want it to split into the two different directions.
In my case, this was right below the hose connector. But you can do this anywhere that you need to split the line.
2. Push a tee connector into the end of the hose so that the two free ends are pointing in the direction you want the hose to go.
Make sure the tee connector is pushed all the way into the end of the hose.
If you find it hard to get the connector to go in, try soaking the end of the hose in hot water for a few minutes.
3. Connect the additional pieces of hose to the open connector ends.
You’ll end up with a hose that goes in two different directions.
4 | Run The Off-Shoot Hose To The Planters
Now that you have the general layout of your outdoor plant automatic watering system, you’ll want to go back and add the off-shoot hoses to the containers.
Use scissors to cut off the hose where the line to the planter needs to go.
Insert a tee connector into the hose where you just cut it off.
Use one of the straight across ends as opposed to the perpendicular end. (That’s where the hose to the planter will go).
Continue the hose to the next planter by inserting the opposite end of the tee connector into the other end of the hose.
Then attach a long enough piece of hose to reach into the container.
If you haven’t put the dirt in the containers yet, you can hide the hose by running it up through the drainage hole of the pot. Just make sure to make the hose long enough that it won’t be buried when you fill up the planter.
5 | Attach The Water Emitters
Single Plant Containers
If your container only has one plant in it, you only need one water emitter.
So you can attach it directly to the end of the hose you just ran into the container.
Make sure to insert the barbed pointy end into the hose. If you install the water emitter the other way around, they won’t work…ask me how I know 🙂
If the hose doesn’t want to stay where you want it, use one of the stakes to hold it in place.
Multiple Plant Containers
For containers with multiple plants, you’ll need to add a tee connector at the end of the hose. This will allow you to add additional short pieces of hoses that you can add water emitters to.
Then position them in the container so that all of the plants will get watered. I find that using 1 water emitter for 2 plants works well.
If you need more than 2 water emitters for your planter, you can add more tee connectors to the ends of the short hoses to split them even further.
For window boxes, you’ll want to run a hose along the back of the box and then have hose off-shoots that stick into the box.
I found that placing the water emitters every 6 to 8 inches works best, but that will depend on how densely your window boxes are planted.
6 | Set The Water Timer
Since different water timers have different ways of setting them up, yours may work differently than the one I have.
But many of them have a similar set up to this one.
The first time that you set it is the time that it will run every day. So you’ll need to keep that in mind if you have a particular time of day that you want it to run.
To start, set all of the dials to Reset.
Then change the Frequency dial to how often you want the water to run (in hours). Because it is so hot here and planters dry out really quickly, I run mine every 12 hours. But for most people every 24 hours should be fine.
Then set the Run Time, which is how long you want the water to run. I chose 30 minutes for mine.
But setting these times is a bit of trial and error. Monitor how well the watering is going the first few times that it runs. Then you can increase or decrease the frequency and run time as necessary.
7 | Test Your Automatic Watering System
Use the Manual water dial on your water timer to start the water running right away.
Then check all of the water emitters to make sure they are all working.
Also check that all of the plants seem to be getting watered. Re-position any of the hoses as necessary.
What If The Connectors Are Leaking?
If the connectors are leaking, this is often caused by too much water pressure coming from your house.
Installing a pressure regulator* should help by decreasing the water pressure from the hose.
It should be installed between the water timer and your automatic watering system…not between the tap and the timer (many timers won’t turn on if the water pressure is too low.)
What If Little or No Water Comes Out Of The Emitters?
There are a few possible issues that can cause the water not to flow:
- The water isn’t getting through to your automatic watering system. Test this by disconnecting the hose connector from the timer. You should see water coming from the bottom of the timer. If not, there is either a problem with the timer or something further up the line.
- Check that the water emitters are installed the correct way. The colored side with the pointed end should be the side that is pushed into the end of the hose.
- The water pressure may be too high. If this is the case, you’ll need to install a pressure regulator* (same procedure as above for when the connectors are leaking).
Well, there you have it…everything I’ve learned about installing an automatic watering system to keep your outdoor plants watered while you’re on vacation. Hopefully, it will help you keep your planters well watered, too!
Other Gardening Ideas You Might Like
- How To Install A DIY Soaker Hose System (For A Greener Garden) – this will help keep the rest of your garden watered while on vacation.
- 10 Best Blue Plants For Containers In The Shade
- Red, White and Blue Flower Pot Combinations
Have comments or questions on how to keep outdoor plants watered while on vacation? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on July 12, 2019 but was updated with new content on November 20, 2021.