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Itís hard to believe, but you will probably need to be watering during the next few weeks. Little and often is ideal for the gardener in a rush and Joe Swift has plenty of ideas.

Forget the fear of harsh frosts in winter, midsummer is the time of year when your plants are the most vulnerable. The hot dry weather combined with the unavoidable neglect they receive from going on holiday can quickly lead to a garden disaster.

Thereís nothing worse than leaving a beautifully lush garden for just a few days only to come back to a limp, dried-up selection of plants and a yellow lawn. It may feel as if thereís been plenty of rain this summer, but a few hot days on the trot will quickly dry out your soil.

Watering should ideally be done in the morning or evening so that the leaves of a plant arenít scorched by the midday sun. There is also less evaporation. A thorough soaking pretty much every day during the summer will make your plants grow quicker, and look greener. Just a light watering on the top of the soil is not enough, and can actually do your plants more damage than not watering at all. The roots will be drawn up to the surface where they are most vulnerable to drying out, and will lead to the plant struggling to develop a strong root system.

Your friends and neighbours may promise to pop in and water the garden while youíre away, but just how reliable are they? I have experienced an awkward situation when I know my neighbours canít have watered more than once over a two-week period, but to have confronted them would only have lead to an embarrassing situation over who was telling the truth, and probably ended up ruining a friendship.

Luckily this scenario will never be repeated as I have now installed a computerized irrigation system. My plants are now guaranteed to get enough water even when Iím away. It also cuts down on time since I donít have to walk round with a hose every evening. If you really want to be a ten-minute gardener an irrigation system is an absolute essential.

There are many different DIY systems on the market that are easy to install. All you need is an outdoor tap. The computer runs on batteries, and fits straight on to the tap. It has a valve that turns on and off as programmed, say 15 minutes every day, or 30 minutes every two days - for whatever your particular plants need.

There are basically three different types of DIY irrigation systems that will run off a computer timer, and are suitable for specific types of watering.

LEAKY PIPE/SOAKER HOSE is best for soil planting areas. Itís like a hosepipe, which drips evenly along its length when the water flows through it. It can be snaked through a planting area, and either left on the surface, buried just below the top of the soil or mulched over with pretty much anything that looks good to help keep the moisture in, and to help hide it. As it drips evenly the only way to control the amount of water each plant gets is to move it closer or further away from the base of each plant. For example, coil it closely around a thirsty bamboo, but make sure not to lay it too close to plants that like drier conditions such as grasses or yuccas.

DRIP NOZZLE systems are best for container-grown plants, and therefore are great for roof terraces or courtyard gardens. A half-inch perimeter pipe is fixed all the way round the garden area at ground level. Off this main pipe you can fix (by simply pushing in) as many smaller, discreet pipes as necessary to each pot or planter. A drip nozzle pushes into the end of the pipe, and is held in place at the top of the pot with a small stake. The drip nozzles either come with a specific flow rate per hour or have a twist regulator so that the quantity of water can be adjusted for each pot.

POP UP SPRINKLERS are the only way to irrigate a lawn. When the water is flowing, the pressure forces up the sprinkler, which will spray water in a circle, or part circle as needed. These types of systems can also water planting areas, and are therefore good for small gardens with a mix of lawn and planting. Make sure to site the sprinkler/s well to avoid any dry spots. Usually only one sprinkler can be run off a single tap at any time.

A combination of all these systems can be used. Each system will need its own computer fixed to a two or three-way divider. They will need to be set at different times since the domestic water pressure is unlikely to be great enough to run any two together.

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