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UF Hack: Water Deep Roots With Recycled Bottles

Quench your plants’ thirst in the heat of summer with this homemade irrigation system.

by Elizabeth AdamsJanuary 18, 2016
PHOTO: Photo by Elizabeth Troutman Adams

While growers on the Pacific Coast continue to struggle through a tenacious drought, the farmers and gardeners around the country are reminded not to take water for granted. As temperatures continue to rise during the summer months, water restrictions and rain shortages lead to new challenges in urban gardening. Acting as a good steward of water resources and quenching the thirst of heat-exhausted plants can be tricky when rain refuses to fall.

To further complicate the matter, popular garden vegetables, such as tomatoes and squash, will stretch their root systems deeper into the earth as the summer trudges on. Clay soils, which spread moisture horizontally on the top layers of soil, will cause additional barriers to reaching deep roots by hand-watering alone. Fortunately, there is a creative trick to ensure your water supply is reaching those digging roots, which will need just as much water as the shallower roots. And you won’t need to invest in a pricey or complicated irrigation system.

Using an electric drill or screwdriver, poke dime-sized holes into the base of a narrow plastic water bottle. Find a flat surface where you can hold the water bottle, or insert a block of Styrofoam into the bottle to help stabilize it as you drill or poke. Identify vacant spots in your garden between deeply rooted crops, such as pumpkins, tomatoes, squash and parsnips, where root systems are growing deepest. Dig holes in those spots, then place the water bottle in the soil, filling in around the area where the base of the bottle is in the earth, just as you would do if you were planting a new vegetable start. Only the opening of the bottle should be exposed above the soil bed. To overcome soil density, place the water bottle in an area of soil where rain water tends to float or puddle at the surface.

Fill the water bottle with water, and watch as water is filtered down to the root systems of the adjacent plants. When you need to conserve water, just fill the bottles. The wider the opening of the bottle, the better. Water will fill the bottle, providing a direct route to the important growing roots at the lowest point of the soil. These cost-effective homemade tools will help you use water wisely in the heat of summer.

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