Ad hoc Irrigation System

Most folks don’t realize that Montana has regions known as high cold desert.   We live in one of those areas.

A desert is a dry, region of little rainfall, extreme temperatures, and sparse vegetation. The nearest town to us, which gets more moisture than we do, gets an official annual average moisture of 12.78 inches.  To put this in perspective Tucson gets an average 11.59 inches of rain annually.  Our extreme temperatures are not hot, but cold with wide swings daily.  We have acreage and it naturally has bunch grass and a couple of scrub junipers.

In the ten years we have lived here we have tried to grow more trees than we can count.   Most of those trees we have transplanted  have never made it through the first year.    We have bought local nursery grown and dug trees from the wild.   Neither has a better chance of success.   By necessity, we have created an ad hoc irrigation system that gives trees a leg up that first year.    Here is how this system works.

For each tree or bush that you transplant you need some thing that holds water.   I have used old cat litter buckets, 5 gallon pails, and wastebaskets from shredders that have long since died.   Be creative, don’t spend money on these “buckets,”  scavenge them from your friends, Craig’s list, and painters.

Once you have found your buckets you need to drill two small holes in one end or side of each bucket.   This holes need to be very small, less than 1/16th of a inch.   This sounds small, but you want a slow dribble so that the moisture in the bucket all works it way into the soil around your transplants.    You can always add more holes or make larger holes, but you can’t undo holes you have drilled.   Progress slowly with your drill.

Put your buckets next to your transplants.   Move your bucket around your transplants each time you fill them to encourage root growth in all directions.    When you fill your transplant bucket you can add root stimulation powder or fertilizer as needed, but don’t over fertilize the first year.   You want to encourage root growth that first year not top growth.   How often you fill the buckets depends on your local moisture.   You want to encourage good deep root growth.  It is a bit of guess-work or gut instinct as to how often you fill your buckets.  You may need to put a rock in the bottom of the your buckets to hold them in place in windy areas.

I like this system because it concentrates the water where it is needed.   It is an inexpensive system that anyone can do with a hose.   The idea of running a sprinkler  a.k.a. our well nonstop for an hour to get 1/2 inch of moisture, offends my sensibility.   One of the upsides of this method is that if you suddenly find your area in an unusual dry period, you can pull those buckets out and give any plant on your property a slow drink of moisture.  Hope that this system helps others with transplants.

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2 comments on “Ad hoc Irrigation System

  1. This is a great idea. We’ve just planted an orchard on really sandy soil and although I’m sure we get plenty more rain than you, we do get dry spells when watering’s necessary. This should work well for us, thanks for sharing the tip!

  2. This is a great idea. We’ve just planted an orchard in really sandy soil and although I’m sure we get plenty more rainfall than you there are dry spells, and this system is so simple and sounds like it will be effective. Thanks for the tip!

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