Yes, I watered for four hours and it wasn’t an accident

A big home remodel project destroyed my backyard drip irrigation system. While waiting for repairs, I’ve been watering by hand and soaker hose, which is not the easiest way to keep a half-acre garden thriving.

A few weeks ago, we installed the first set of new inline drip lines, starting with my citrus grove. Citrus – and my vegetable garden – need year-round irrigation, unlike any other plants in my garden.

Lemon tree in Vivian Blackstone's garden

Normally, there’s enough rain to keep the citrus going most of the winter. I might water only three or four times from November through March.

Unfortunately, this is a really dry winter.

There’s been no measurable rain for more than a month, so I’ve been monitoring the soil. I stick my fingers deep below the surface to feel for damp earth. Right after the last rain, I could feel damp soil at the surface. After a few weeks, the surface felt dry and the damp soil started below my first knuckle. Then below my second knuckle. And then I couldn’t feel damp soil at anymore.  That’s when I knew it was past time to water.

Soil moisture is the key to healthy, hydrated plants. Water enters plants through their roots, so the goal of irrigation is to thoroughly wet the soil.

historic photo of orange tree

Look at that orange tree’s roots! That’s how deep and wide irrigation water needs to reach.

There’s no point to watering leaves or stems or trunks. We water soil, so all the roots – both those on the surface and those deep – get wet.

Since drip releases water just a drop at a time, it takes a long run time to refill all the empty pores in the soil.

Yesterday, it took four hours. And not a drop was wasted.

How to irrigate citrus trees

If your garden is still irrigated by old fashioned overhead spray, it’s past time to change that out. If your garden is irrigated with the kind of drip that has individual emitters at each plant, it’s time to upgrade to the far more reliable, durable, and effective in-line drip

Netafim surrounding a young lemon tree

Netafim inline drip irrigation is the best way to water citrus and other trees.

Inline drip has emitters embedded in the line.  It doesn’t break. It doesn’t dislodge. It doesn’t clog either, and it gets water deep down to those roots.  I’m a fan of Netafim brand inline drip, though there are other brands.

Inline drip is a bit of work to install, but well worth the time and money. Once it’s in place, monitor soil moisture with your fingers or with a soil probe or by digging a hole with a trowel.

When it’s dry down to your second knuckle, it’s time to water citrus.