Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Save Water, Time and Plants With an Irrigation System

By Ron Sullivan
Friday January 19, 2007

We’re still freezing and so are our gardens (My poor red–leaf banana!) and I’m telling you it’s time to think about irrigation? Yes indeed. 

We’re entertaining a theoretically brief water pinch right now as EBMUD does aqueduct repair. Take that raised consciousness and run with it. Setting down a good irrigation plan for your garden this summer will save time, water, plants, and maybe even money in the long run. Besides, it’s more fun than Tinkertoys.  

Here’s the rub: It’s more complicated than Tinkertoys or even that Erector Set. Sure, you’re basically threading your yard with black spaghetti and adding plugs and sprinklers and pop-ups and semicircular sprayers and drip emitters and T-connectors and Y-connectors and maybe timers and/or sensors and don’t forget the end of the line; you’ll need those plug dinguses there.  

That doesn’t sound right. What’s the plural of “dingus”? Dinguses? Dingusses? Dingi? Dingodes? Hardware?  

Anyway, you’ll need not only the stuff but the skill. The trickiest thing about it all is getting the water pressure right all along the system. Slopes and distances from the head faucet and soil types can make weird differences, and the average way to discover mistakes is to lose a few plants or run up the water bill with unnoticed leaks.  

The Urban Farmer Store’s Richmond branch can help with that. Sit down and sketch your garden. You don’t need great art here, but measuring dimensions is a must. Take photos and base your sketch on those if you’re as drawing-challenged as I am. Bring it all in to the Urban Farmers and, if you buy your parts there, they’ll help you with free irrigation and lighting plans.  

Urban Farmer isn’t just an irrigation store. There’s low-wattage outdoor lighting too—pathlights, uplights to make that queen palm a star, downlights to give your place a soft air of mystery at night. We don’t have lightning bugs here, so we have to make do.  

The other side of irrigation—drainage—needs attention in our clay soils too, so get your assorted pipes and landscape cloth, your grates and channels and drains and fittings here. You can get a load of drain rock or big gravel next door at American Soil products.  

Also: ponds. UF has pond liners, pumps, tubing, filters, fountain nozzles, algae control (including those ecogroovy barley-straw bundles) UV water clarifiers, and, Joe’s favorite, “The Muck Buster” pond vacuum cleaner. The staff would be good people to consult about ponds, too.  

There’s lots of ecogroovy stuff at UF besides those water-saving irrigation systems: biodegradable paper debris bags, burlap tarps (80”X 80”, perfect size for a work-catchall tarp), and people-powered push mowers. The Richmond store carries hand tools from Hida Tools, such as Tobisho and Felco pruning shears and Silky saws.  

UF runs free classes for landscaping professionals: sprinkler design on 1/27; drip irrigation, 2/8; waterscapes, 2/22; all at 7 p.m. Register at 524-1604 or www.urbanfarmerstore.com—click on “Classes.”  


The Urban Farmer Store 

2121 San Joaquin St., Richmond 


Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 

Saturday 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. 

Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Hours change seasonally; call to confirm.  



Ron Sullivan is a former professional gardener and arborist. Her “Garden Variety” column appears every Friday in the Daily Planet’s East Bay Home & Real Estate section. Her column on East Bay trees appears every other Tuesday in the Daily Planet.