Simple and effective drip irrigation you can set up in an hour

I haven’t watered my container plants during the entire growing season. That includes my EarthBox veggie garden. And yet all of my plants are happy, healthy, and look spectacular. Even with the sun beating down on ‘em all day every day.

Ok – so I fibbed a bit. While it is true that I myself haven’t watered my plants in many weeks, it is not true that the plants haven’t been watered. They have been watered daily — some of them twice a day — without me lifting a finger. And the plants are much better off for it.

Like a lot of folks, I spend quite a bit of hard-earned money and well-spent love, energy, and time on container plants every year. I’ve got containers on my balcony, patio, and here and there in my garden. I work from home but still find that I can’t always water every morning and every evening.

We encounter many sad things in life. One of them is dead and dying plants in pretty pots. If you have a container garden there’s a simple, effective, and inexpensive way to keep your contained plants feeling and looking great. Read on to learn how easy setting up a drip irrigation system can be.

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Four reasons to set up drip irrigation in your container garden.

Consistent watering makes happy plants

On the occasion when I couldn’t water first thing due to an early morning call or out-of-house errand my plant friends suffered all day. A day of blazing sun is hard on any container-bound plant even if it gets an early evening drink. Drip irrigation fixes this problem. My plants are watered before I am even awake and, for those that need it, a second watering magically occurs. All this consistent watering means the plants get what they need every day. And they thrive.

No more schlepp, no more stress!

I live in the top apartment of a three story building and it’s a loooooong way down to the hose.

View from my third floor balcony – it’s a long way down!

For years I filled up a gallon watering can in my kitchen four or five times and schlepped it over to my balcony to give the container garden a good drink once a day. Then I would schlepp downstairs to water. On those occasions where I couldn’t get to watering when I knew it was needed I felt a bit stressed out. When your garden is doing great it is stress relieving not stress inducing! Drip irrigation stops the schlepping and the stressing. Install your system once, set your water timer, and let the schlepp and stress become a thing of the past.

Vacation without worry

An upcoming vacation is actually the reason why I started investigating drip irrigation. As a passionate gardener, the thought of coming back to decimated plants would pre-occupy my thoughts over many if not all days of a get-away meant to help me relax. I didn’t want to ask a friend or a neighbor to help out – watering my garden is a joy for me but for others it’s an obligation and we all have too many of those already. I tried hiring a neighborhood kid one summer only to return to half-baked plants. As he put it, he forgot. To water my garden. Which I was paying him to do. Grrrrr…. Setting up a drip irrigation system fixes all of this. Now when I return from vacation the plants are fine, maybe a little bigger than I left them. And there are a gazillion tomatoes ready to pick and eat. It’s like my tomato vine is saying, “to show my appreciation for this swell drip irrigation system I offer you this candy!” Win, win!

No more sprinkling in the night

We’ve all been there. We head out, turn on the sprinkler, come back inside, turn on Netflix, get a call from dear old mom, get the dishwasher going, feed the cat, yawn, and juuuuust as we are tucking in for the night – “Doh! I left the sprinkler running!” My friends, a drip irrigation system fixes this, too.

Drip irrigation sounds great! Any cons?

The only con I can think of is you may not interact as much with your container plants when you use a drip irrigation system and that could create issues. Watering plants by hand gives you a daily chance to nip problems in the bud, handle some quick weeding, and manage things like re-orienting a plant to give it more of a chance to thrive. Keeping potted plants alive Spring…Summer…on into Fall is a constant chore and drip irrigation may make you a bit of a lazy gardener – where your container plants are concerned. But this  doesn’t mean you are a less passionate gardener! It means you have more time for other gardening chores, and for enjoying your garden. In other words, a drip irrigation system offers you the time to become a better, more appreciative, gardener — and your entire garden will be better off for it!

Don’t hesitate – irrigate!

Ready to grow the best container garden you’ve ever had?

Here’s how I set up my irrigation system in about an hour. It keeps plants on my third floor balcony happy, and down on my ground floor patio happy, too – including my EarthBox veggie garden.

To start, I purchased a Raindrip R560DP Automatic Container and Hanging Baskets Kit. I went for this kit because it came with a water timer. The cost of the timer alone would have been around $30, so this kit, at about $38 delivered, was a no-brainer.


Just getting the water up to the third floor took about 25 feet of tubing. I ended up expanding well beyond my initial specs over time to accommodate more containers and a few in-ground plants and so I needed a lot more tubing, drip heads, and other doo-dads. The extra stuff let me irrigate containers on my balcony, plus Earthboxes in my full sun garden, plus potted plants on my brick patio. So I also purchased the Rain Bird DRIPPAILQ Drip Irrigation Repair and Expansion Kit.

NOTE: I didn’t catch this when I placed the orders, but these kits are made by two different companies: Raindrip and Rain Bird. I have not had any problem using these together, the pieces look pretty much identical and fit together just fine.

Included in the Raindrip Kit is the Raindrip Kit is the Raindrip R675CT Analog 3-Dial Water Timer . I have a couple of these and they are super simple to use and work great.  But for my super duper irrigation system I needed three nozzles — one for the third floor balcony containers, one for the ground-level containers, and one for my garden hose for general watering needs so I purchased an Orbit 3-Outlet Programmable Hose Faucet Timer which has been terrific.

Setting up my balcony drip irrigation system

For my eight balcony containers, which are rectangular with three plants in each, I used two half-gallon drip heads — {plant} + [drip head] + {plant} + [drip head] + {plant} — set to water for 10 minutes twice a day, once early morning and once early evening. These emit a half-gallon of water per hour. I figured out that the 10 minute mark was optimal by turning on the water and waiting for the containers to drip. Set it, forget it. (After putting together the balcony I had just four drip heads left in the Raindrip kit. Good thing I had my back-up Rain Bird bucket!)

Some of the happy annual plants enjoying the irrigation system I’ve installed in my balcony container garden.

Setting up my patio drip irrigation system

My Earthboxes and brick patio containers are all on the same tubing run which is about 50 feet of tubing. My Earthboxes are the first stop on this tubing run. (More about my Earthboxes here.) They each have a 2-gallon drip head. This run continues around to the other side of my yard where I have ten medium to large pots that each have a half-gallon drip head. I also have a 1-gallon drip head directed at a Jackmani clematis bringing the total number of drip heads on this run to 14. I set my water timer to run for an hour twice a day on this run. Done.

Parting thoughts about drip irrigation systems

My system took about an hour to set up and has been up and running for several years now. I’ve tweaked it here and there to accommodate new pots, different plant needs, etc. It’s made it through brutal Chicago summers, snowy Chicago winters, and continues to perform without issues. I give it a green-thumb’s up!

If you have a small garden to manage, you can get your irrigation system set up for under $40. You’ve probably spent twice that on plants. I definitely think what you get in the end – happy, healthy, always gorgeous plants – is worth the expense. And if my experience is any indicator, you’ll get many years of performance from this set-up.

Your turn!

Have experience with drip irrigation in your garden? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

2 thoughts on “Simple and effective drip irrigation you can set up in an hour”

  1. Can I confirm something? You ran the system from your outdoor faucet downstairs up to your balcony, three stories up? If that worked then I might try something similar as I don’t have an outdoor faucet on my balcony

    • Hi slyboots 74 – thanks for your question. I didn’t think it would work to run the irrigation hose up the side of my building and onto my little back deck but it sure did and I sure was happy about it. No more lugging gallons of water to the back porch. And the consistent watering means healthier, happier plants. I sure hope this works out for you too!


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