Automated drip irrigation system for a hanging basket garden

My wife and I love enjoying Chicago summers on our back porch. Two years ago we decided to buy hanging planter baskets. We were excellent at purchasing plants but did not plan ahead to ensure there was sufficient light, water, or nutrients. Any project manager with a thousand yard stare knows what happened next. Within a few weeks it was a irrecoverable garden of death. Last year I decided to try again, but not fail. I used a fully automated drip irrigation system and the results speak for themselves. Here is how I pieced it together.

You will need to assess your specific planting situation and make a plan. I realized that an automated watering solution would be the only way to ensure proper care because we frequently travel for work. We would need to find plants that could tolerate the partial shade. I also purchased potting soil instead of the cheapest topsoil. To ensure maximum growth, and mostly just because I thought it would be cool, I wanted to add fertilizers to the water.

Here is the bill of materials I used:

Of course, you will need to purchase hanging baskets and plants. Talk to your local garden center to make sure the plants you pick will work for you. I selected sweet potato vines, creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), fuschia (white and red), new guinea impatiens, ornamental grasses, wizard scarlet coleus… this may have been a bit too much. All of these plants worked well in partial shade but thrived when they received some sun.

I started my design of the irrigation system by taking a panoramic picture of where the planters would be and modeling the solution. Don’t laugh! This helped me plan tube configurations while also providing me an exact count of the number of drippers, and splitters. Red is tubing, green is a dripper, and orange is a “barbed tee” splitter.

Planter Planning
Planter Planning – 5/7/2016

The actual installation of the drip irrigation was remarkably easy. It took less than 2 hours. I used a garden hose splitter to ensure neighbors who needed access to the outdoor faucet wouldn’t accidentally disconnect my hose or turn off the water supply. I then ran the hose under the porch and secured it to the deck using some brackets. I connected the hose to the Raindrip timer. The timer is easy to program: key in the delay between waterings and the amount of time to run per watering. I found that watering 2x a day for 10-15 minutes was perfect for my 0.5 GPH drippers. Each plant would receive ~0.25 gallons of water a day which seemed about right. I ensured the waterings would occur at 6AM and 6PM. I also connected the fertilizer to the drip irrigation so that I could manually enable a “feeding” once every other week for one of the waterings. The plants loved this.

The Raindrip kit comes with many splitters, drippers, stakes, tubing, and clips to hold the tube. My intended setup needed more than it provided, but with a few additions the kit worked perfectly well with no degradation in flow. At some point, if you have too many drippers or too much tubing, you will face flow issues.

We bought way too many plants and I had a spare bag of soil when it was all completed. This year I will purchase less plants. Otherwise, I think it turned out great!

I would love to one day switch use a rain barrel system. I have not found a solution to how to accomplish this but I am extremely interested because I could find a way to fill the rain barrel with my fish tank water changes in a future project. I do not have a way to locate the rain barrel such that the drippers could be gravity fed, so I believe my only option would be to explore a way to use a pump. I do not know any pumps that can produce enough pressure for my pressure regulated drippers (10-60 psi). If you have any ideas please let me know.

Why isn’t this IoT enabled? Good question! Perhaps with some moisture sensors, relays to control a pump, and… well, maybe one day.

Initial planting
Initial planting (it was a cold spring) – 6/26/2016

The watering system works! I rarely have to check it other than the weekly manual feeding and deadheading the fuschia plant.

Growing! 7/25/2016
Growing! 7/25/2016

Okay, I may have purchased too many plants.

That is a lot of plants - 9/22/2016
That is a lot of plants – 9/22/2016



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