It is possible to build a garden watering system that doesn't cost a lot using easy to find PVC parts and basic DIY skills and tools. We take you through all the steps in this tutorial to create an easy, inexpensive automatic irrigation system for gardens with raised beds (or regular beds). You will LOVE not having to worry about watering all the time!
This article is sponsored by Gilmour whose watering tools I use and love. Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
One thing I've longed for in our previous vegetable gardens has been an automatic watering system, one that didn't require dragging hoses everywhere, looked good, and could be almost a set-it-and-forget-it thing.
I cannot tell you how many times Brian and I would be laying in bed and I'd be thinking, "Did I turn the water off?" Then we'd hear the tell-tale tick of the well pump and one of us would have to go out and turn it off (I'm going to let you imagine what that conversation was like...).
There's a lot to do in creating a garden from scratch and we did it a little at a time - a bed there when it was time to plant lettuce, another here for tomatoes. We had to run a water line to the new garden, take care of weeds, plant - you know the drill. For some reason, a watering system just seemed like too much to think about.
The problem was, once we got the foundation laid - including gravel paths - we didn't want to think about tearing it all up for a garden irrigation system. It just seemed easier to use hoses - I'd simply drag two hoses to the soaker hoses in the beds, hook them up, let them run a few hours, and move to other beds. How hard is that, really?
Except I'd forget to turn them off. Or we'd leave for vacation and the complicated system of dragging hoses, waiting a few hours, and dragging more around wasn't something I could ask anyone to do (granted, the garden always survived a couple weeks when I watered well before leaving).
And the late-night water check really got old after a few years. We knew we didn't want that to be an issue with our farmhouse's new vegetable garden. Clearly it was time to plan an automatic plant watering system at the same time we were building the foundation of our new low-maintenance, raised bed garden.
For us the key elements of a watering system needed to be:
- Simple to build and set up
- Simple to use
- Easy to repair when needed
- Adjustable (able to regulate which beds were watered or not)
- Look good and not be too obtrusive
I'm excited to share (beyond excited?) the simple irrigation system we built using basic PVC pipe pieces and tools, easy-to-find watering supplies, normal DIY skills and a couple weekends of time (for the 12 beds we have) that has already made gardening SO much easier.
It's been working great since we installed it and we're sharing all the steps (including a video) so you can replicate this in your garden, too. And if it's smaller than ours, it will take even less time and money!
Easy DIY Garden Watering System
The first step is to measure your garden, so you can draw a rough map of it (hopefully, you'll already have done this as part of starting a vegetable garden the easy way and you can pull it from your free Garden Notebook Journal).
Based on your garden set-up, diagram where you want your water lines to go, like we did in the plan you see above. For ours, we just wanted a main line that fed an arm with a soaker hose attachment to each bed. Really simple.
Note: You may notice in the plan that there is also a second section of the garden with another main line and beds - we'll add those as the beds are completed just like we did here.
The main things you'll need are PVC pipe and fittings, supplies to cut and attach pipe, water timer (I used a Gilmour Dual Electronic Water Timer with a programmable start time, frequency and duration of watering from 1 to 360 minutes), soaker hoses (I've found that Gilmour soaker hoses last better than other brands), on/off valves, and hose male and female ends.
Sit down with your plan to figure out the plastic PVC piping and parts you will need. Starting at your water source, calculate a rough estimate of how many feet of 3/4-inch PVC pipe it will take. Write that total down on a piece of paper - or just use the printable shopping list provided below! We needed about 80 feet for ours.
Again starting at your water source, add up all the PVC fittings you'll need. Total up right angle turns, 3-way "T" junctions, 4-way cross junctions. Remember you'll need regular right angle turns at the bed to go up from the buried pipe and right angle threaded end pieces you'll need for all your beds to easily connect the standard on/off hose valves to the plastic piping. Add these to your list.
Finally, add up the number of on/off valves you'll need. These will allow you to send water to only the beds you want.
Bonus! We've created a free printable supplies list below that lists everything you need with areas to fill in the amounts for your set-up!
We've made the shopping part really easy for you with the printable list below that includes other supplies you'll need like tools and sand, as well:
Simply click the above image or link, download to your computer, print and fill in (or cross off items you already have) the list and go shopping at your nearest home store!
DIY Watering System Video
We also made a video you can watch on this page that details all the steps and below that you'll find all the steps in photos - use one or both to help you build a watering system in your own garden!
Garden Irrigation System Steps & Tips
1. With all your supplies at hand, dig the trenches where your pipe will lay.
Before digging, remember to check for any water and electrical lines and adjust your planed route if needed. Next stretch a line a foot or two above where your main trench should go. This will help you dig in a straight line.
Using an adz or pick, dig your main trench. It should be 3 to 4 inches deep, so you may need to use a narrow spade or other tool to get it to that depth. It doesn't need to be very wide. (Note: you should blow out the line at the end of every season to remove water before freezing; also if you live in areas where the ground freezes, you may want to lay your pipe deeper.)
Now dig the side trenches based on your plan. We wanted our feeder pipes to be positioned at one of the corners of the beds so that the soaker hoses could more easily be circled in the bed (versus starting in the middle of a bed). This is what I'd recommend if you're doing beds like ours - if they're bigger, adjust as you see fit.
2. Toss some sand into the bottom of your trench.
This is especially important if you're laying the pipe in a rocky area like ours where a sharp rock could eventually poke a hole in your line.
3. Lay the PVC Pipe.
We screwed a wood block below our spigot so there would be something sturdy for the pipe to attach to. Starting at the spigot, we left a little piece going up so that we could come back and do the attachment to the water last.
The assembly process is pretty simple - you cut the pieces as you go and glue in place.
- Set a piece of pipe in your trench and with a pencil mark where to cut it. The pipe slides about an inch into the fittings, so allow for that. Note: In addition to being tough, PVC is flexible, so you don't have to be absolutely perfect in your measurements. However, you do want to be as accurate as possible.
- Put the purple primer on both parts to be attached. This will dry right away.
- Then smear the glue on the two parts to be attached. This will also dry right away so quickly attach them, sliding them completely together, and twisting a little if they need aligning.
That's it. The beginning of your garden watering system is in place and you're ready for the next piece. Continue marking, cutting, priming and gluing all down your proposed line.
TIP #1: Lay your pieces to be glued on a little patch of cardboard or wood, so you don't get sand or dirt sticking to the primer.
TIP #2: Stick a little wad of paper or cloth into the end of the pipe waiting to be glued. This will keep sand, dirt, and rocks from getting into your system.
Raised Bed Feeder Pipes
Attach your corners and junctions going off the main line and up beds in the same way. When attaching a side line to one of your beds, first glue on the right angle turn that will go up the side of the bed and then attach it to the main line.
Cut a piece to go up the side of the bed and glue it to the right angle turn. Then glue a threaded right angle to that and you've got your raised bed feeder pipe set.
As soon as you've finished a pipe going into a bed, attach it to the side of the bed to hold it firm with a metal u-bracket, screws and a drill. This will protect the pieces you've just glued from breaking apart as you continue adding pipe.
You can see in the photo above that we placed these brackets towards the top of the beds to provide the most stability when turning hose valves on and off.
TIP: If you have a bed that can't be screwed into, like our round rock bed above, use a piece of rebar right next to the bed to attach your pipe to.
4. Attach On/Off Valves
Once all the PVC pieces are glued and secured in place along your lines and up your beds, screw on the on/off valves and turn them all to the off.
In the photo above, you can see our whole watering system finished, with feeders attached to each bed and valves in place.
We're almost done, but don't bury your pipe yet. You need to see if it leaks.
5. Connect Your Pipes to Water Timer & Spigot
Back at the water source, connect your Gilmour timer to the spigot. Connect the backflow control valve to the outflow on the timer. Now you can see what it will take to connect your PVC pipe to the water source. We made the final connection using a mini-hose found at the hardware store.
6. Set Timer & Test for Leaks
With your watering system all hooked up, set the timer to the watering frequency and time you'd like. For the best results, you'll want to water your beds longer and less frequent for a deep watering that encourages deep root growth. My suggestion is:
- 3-4 hours soaking (Depending on the amount that comes out of your hoses - more beds = less flow, so you'll need a good 3-4 hour soak, fewer beds will only need 2 hours). Watch how it waters in the first day and adjust as needed.
- 5-7 day frequency (Depending on weather - in mild warm weather once a week is fine, up to every 4-5 days in the hottest weather, again monitoring your plants.)
To test your watering system:
- Select the faucet button on your watering timer and choose 5 minutes or so to bypass your set up and water will begin flowing.
- Inspect your pipes for leaks.
- Go to each valve and turn it on and off just to make sure water is coming out.
7. Adjust Water Line Pipes
Once everything checks out leak-wise, make sure your pipe is deep enough in the ground. It should be a little below ground level. You can dig out a little under any sections that need it.
8. Cover Pipe
Now you can cover the PVC pipe water line with sand up to ground level.
Sand is the best for this, since it won't hold any rock to puncture the pipe and it's easy to get though in the future if a repair needs to be made. If you have fine dirt, you can also use that, though sand is usually recommended.
9. Lay Path Material
Now you can add your path material, which hopefully is a weed control layer, over the top of the sand.
For this garden we are using cardboard and wood chips on the paths for the easiest maintenance (in my past two gardens, gravel has just grown a lot of weeds since it's hard to keep dirt and compost out of it in a vegetable garden).
The gravel you can see in the pictures was already in place when we bought the property and laid with no plastic or weed block underneath and so has a ton of weeds already. I'm just layering cardboard and the chips right over the top, which I'll refresh each year as needed.
UPDATE: We created a video to show how to lay the cardboard and woodchips and the difference between free and purchased chips. CLICK HERE to watch.
10. Attach Soaker Hoses, Cutting if Needed
Finally, attach the soaker hoses to the on-off valves for each raised bed. Snake the hose around the perimeter of the bed and then towards the center. You can adjust more as you see the water outline the first time you water.
TIP: Before starting your system, lay out all your soaker hoses in the sun for a few days so that they are easier to maneuver around the beds.
Cutting 50-foot Soaker Hoses
We had a mixture of 25-foot and 50-foot soaker hoses and our beds need only 25-foot lengths. To get 25-foot length soakers for our 8-foot beds out of the 50-foot soaker hoses we had, we cut them in half and used a male or female repair kit as needed for the cut ends.
Do this if you can't find 25-foot soakers and your beds are 10-feet long or less (you may want to use the 50-ft length in longer beds).
UPDATE: We shot another video sharing how to cut soaker hoses to size plus tips - CLICK HERE to watch.
11. Run Your Completed Garden Watering System
Use the faucet button to bypass the timer and run your system again for a few minutes or longer, checking all the soakers and valves. We needed to tighten some and adjust some of our repairs. This is also when you can arrange your soaker hoses as you see how the water is running.
Why use soaker hoses with shut-off valves?
One of the reasons I wanted this easy garden watering system instead of a typical drip system is to quickly adjust the flow to each bed or turn it completely off if I wanted. I also like hoses versus drip because it waters most of the bed, not just at the base of the plants I have planted that year, allowing me to rotate the crops in the beds easily.
When will I turn off the water to a bed?
Obviously when there's nothing planted, but also when the tomatoes are ripening and the plants need less water. I think this will also be handy when I've got a newly planted bed for fall and it needs more - I can shut off other beds and use the faucet button to bypass the timer and water every few days while the seeds get established.
We are LOVING this system so far! We put it to the test after installing by leaving on a two week vacation and not only did the plants grow and thrive, our daughter was ecstatic to be relieved of watering the garden while she house sat.
Ha! It's not just good for the plants and you, it can be good for your relationships, too!
I want to know if you have a garden watering system you love OR if you use this tutorial to create your own automatic watering system, so be sure to tag me @anoregoncottage - I'd love to see what you've done.
Disclosure: I received product and/or compensation for this post. As always, the opinions, thoughts, and projects are all mine and I will NEVER promote something I don't love and think you will find helpful - promise! This article also contains affiliate links which earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price. For more info, you can read AOC's entire disclosure page here.
Make This Year's Garden A Success!