The best watering system may be less useful this summer, as you probably won't be venturing too far on holiday. However, that doesn't mean they are of no use. It’s all very well spending ages walking around your garden with a hose or watering can but if you really want to keep your lawn and flowerbeds looking lush and bountiful with as little effort as possible, the best watering systems will take the guesswork out of it. They will refresh your lawn while you get on with enjoying a barbecue or pizza oven.
• One of the first things you’ll need is a decent hosepipe which, as luck would have it, we have written about in our best hose roundup.
Right, now you’re back with us, the next thing you’ll need is an automatic water-scheduling controller or even a full-blown irrigation system with a confluence of water pipes to feed the borders and seedlings.
Potted plants are usually the first things to wilt on a hot summer’s day so fitting a drip irrigation system is also a damn good idea. Or perhaps invest in a self-watering or water regulating planter.
There are loads of different types of automatic watering systems and self-watering planters on the market but, to save you the head-scratching, we’ve scoured the web for the best automated systems for those you can’t be bothered to unravel a hose.
- Best lawn sprinklers 2020
- Best garden hoses 2020
- Best garden hose guns 2020
- Best cordless lawn mowers 2020
Watering systems running dry in shops?
Some of our favourite gardening products not surprisingly keep selling out at the moment as everyone plans for the summer ahead. If you find a product we've recommended isn't available via the provided retail link, try these retailers who usually stock some very good alternatives.
In the UK:
In the US:
If you’re looking for something more sophisticated than a simple twist timer like the Gardena reviewed below, then consider this cracking fully-auto battery-powered entry from Amazon player OMORC. For the price (under £25), it offers loads of handy automation like daily timers (every day to odd days), length of watering, plus a rain delay button which you need to manually tap if precipitation is on the horizon. It also has a child lock so youngsters can’t screw things up.
The big LCD screen is a major plus here because it’s so thoughtfully laid out and easy to understand without so much as a glance at the manual. The battery remaining icon is a big bonus too and, speaking of batteries, you’ll need to buy a couple of AAs because it doesn’t come with any. Like most water timers, the OMORC comes with two sizes of outdoor tap connector plus a selection of different rubber washers.
This is an ideal system to use when going away for a period of time. Just make sure it’s all connected to your sprinkler or irrigation system and rest in the knowledge that you won’t come home to an arid landscape. An excellent value timer that isn’t an Amazon top seller for nothing.
One of the worst things about a sprinkler system is that it’s all too easy to forget to turn the damn thing off. You set it off at 6pm and carry on with life as usual, only noticing at bedtime that the sprinkler’s still running. This is not only a gross waste of precious water but if you have a water meter fitted, you’ll likely receive a whopping bill from the water supplier for your absent-mindedness. Your flowers won’t be too happy either.
What you need is a dead simple spring-loaded timer like this brilliant model from Gardena. Simply screw it onto the outdoor tap (it comes with two sizes of tap connector), push and clip the hose to the unit’s outlet and turn the dial (rather like an old fashioned cooking timer) to anywhere between five and 120 minutes. Boom, the sprinkler springs to life and stops roughly at the time you set. If using a hose gun for an undefined period of time, simply turn the dial to continuous and water will flow for as long as you have your finger on the trigger.
No batteries involved with this little baby, just a simple twist is all that’s required. In fact, it’s so easy my cat uses it to scare away the neighbourhood toms.
This new ecological irrigation pump from Bosch is a brilliant watering solution for those with a water butt on their land. Instead of having to faff about with watering cans, the GardenPump 18 uses cordless technology to pump water from the butt through your hosepipe to a water gun or sprinkler.
Simply mount the battery control unit to a wall or wooden post next to the butt, feed in the supplied suction hose with pump attached and loop the hose guide over the lip of the butt. Now grab a pre-charged Bosch 18v 2.5aH battery from your tool shed – or purchase one online – and clip it into the control unit. The whole shebang is now ready to plug in a hose and get watering without increasing your already extortionate water bill.
Against all odds, this cordless pump pushes out about 10 litres of water a minute and produces a spray with a very decent reach; not a dribble as you might expect. The Bosch GardenPump 18 works efficiently with hoses up to 25m in length.
For outright eco-friendly convenience this efficient garden gadget takes some beating. It’s not too pricey either.
If you take your gardening duties seriously enough to stick to a strict twice-a-day watering regime, you’ll save a lot of time and effort by fitting an automated water scheduling system like this model from Hozelock. It will also assuage the pain of returning from holiday only to find that your lush Garden of Eden has turned into a desertscape of Karoo proportions.
To use, simply bung in a couple of AA batteries, attach the unit to your tap and plug the hose into the other side. The controller is fitted with a daylight sensor that automatically opens the taps at dawn and dusk, keeping your lawn, flowerbeds or greenhouse plants in tip-top condition. You can easily set the number of days required and even how long you want the watering session to last, from two to 60 minutes. And if you ever need to use the hose outside of the scheduled periods, just tap the grey Water Now button and squirt.
This convenient garden nanny works well with any standard hosepipe/sprinkler combo. Nevertheless, despite the fact it has a light sensor fitted, it's not quite up the mark set by the excellent OMORC reviewed above.
Rainfall alone is rarely enough to sate the appetite of the average pot plant which can dry out in a matter of hours if left unattended in the midsummer sun. The trouble is, few of us ever remember to grab the watering can, only realising this mistake when the geraniums start taking on the appearance of a pressed flower from grandma’s Dickens collection.
Well here comes Gardena to the rescue with a competent but slightly eccentric contraption comprised of a bucket of water, a solar-powered pump, some irrigation tubes and a pile of pressure-compensation drippers. You can pretty much guess how it works. Simply fill the bucket with water (preferably with a lid on top to slow evaporation), feed the provided tube to up to 20 pots at a time and attach the drippers. Now connect it all to the solar pump and choose one of 14 pre-defined watering programs.
Voila, water is automatically drawn from the bucket and drip fed to every pot on the patio without you so much as lifting a finger.
This writer was sent this 79cm long plastic rattan-patterned outdoor planter last August and I promptly planted five pansies in it. I also planted another ten pansies in some standard pots. Three or four weeks later, the flowers in the Lechuza Balconera had exploded to five times their initial size, almost obscuring the planter in a festoon of pretty petals. By contrast, the same flowers in the other pots looked much smaller and far less happy, despite having been watered on a regular basis. More surprisingly, come December, the Lechuza flowers were still in full bloom while all the others had wilted away. So how does the Lechuza do it?
In a nutshell, it uses sub-irrigation (basically a reservoir of water beneath a suspended soil basket) to keep plants permanently moist, seemingly for weeks at a time. It also comes with a visible gauge that tells you when to put more water into the base using the handy built-in funnel. A pair of brackets is included for mounting it on a balcony railing.
Lechuza produces a massive range of both outdoor and indoor planters in numerous sizes and styles. Given that potted plants (especially indoor ones) are so often forgotten about, a system like this really does make a big difference. Highly recommended.
If you’re a horticultural connoisseur and are a bit tech savvy, consider installing this effective water management system from Kärcher.
The SensoTimer package is comprised of two spiked 9v battery-powered sensors that measure soil moisture and a 9v battery-powered control box that screws onto any outdoor tap. Unlike the majority of self-timers, this one comes with two hose outlets that can water two different sections of the garden at different times. All you need to do is install an irrigation system or sprinkler (any brand will do), and the system will take care of all your watering needs.
Crucially, Kärcher has elected to avoid wi-fi communication between the sensor and the base unit because, well, we all know how unreliable wi-fi is. Instead, the system uses rock-steady radio waves to send signals every 30 minutes from the soil sensor to the base. If the sensor detects a drop in soil moisture, it sends a command to the base station which in turn opens either one outlet or both depending on how you programmed it. Although it’s admittedly complex to program – there are lots of different parameters to choose from – at least the front of the base station can be removed for easier access.
If you’re on the hunt for a comprehensive irrigation controller that will keep your garden in tip-top condition while you sit back and relax, then put this one high on your list of contenders. A single water outlet version is also available.
If you fancy the idea of growing your own fruit and veg but don’t have the space or the patience to maintain the plot and keep the plants protected against the elements, then this clever self-watering micro greenhouse from Australia could just be what you’re looking for. The whole package arrives in a large box and requires assembly which is quite time intensive and even a little tricky (thankfully, there are quite a few online instruction videos which we highly recommend watching).
The Vegepod is available in three sizes: small, medium and large. We received the small version which turned out to be bigger (39 x 20 inches) and taller (40 inches) – and a bit uglier – than we expected but still a perfect size for a small patio or balcony. It’s certainly big enough for a clutch of carrot plants and some lettuces, and tall enough to accommodate small tomato plants.
The Vegepod is comprised of a deep plastic trough with a growing depth of around 10 inches, a drainage section below, an integrated sprinkler that attaches to your garden hose, and a taught nylon net cover that lets just the right amount sunlight through while at the same time protecting the plants from pests. The optional stand is definitely worth getting if you can stretch the budget by another £49.
For best results, the manufacturer recommends filling the Vegepod with four 25-litre bags of good quality potting mix and one bag of cow manure. For even better results, replace one bag of potting mix with a bag of perlite which lightens the soil while retaining plenty of moisture.
The Vegepod isn’t some magical self-sustainability solution – it’s far too small for that – but it’s still a brilliantly novel way to grow a few of your own organic vegetables on your patio or balcony and then be able to boast about it.
Incidentally, if the standard Vegepod is too big for your needs, consider the patio-friendly VegeBag (available direct from Vegepod), a simple circular net container that opens like a pop-up tent. Simply fill the bottom area with soil, plant your crops and zip up the top to keep pests at bay. Available in two sizes (small 45x65cm and large 60x76cm), these protective mini grow pods are perfect for tomatoes, herbs and root vegetables. However, you have to attach an irrigation system or water the plants yourself.
If you want to take your pot watering to a new level, consider installing a drip irrigation system like this dandy 15 pot kit from Hozelock. Potted plants need regular watering because the small amount of moisture in the pots evaporates extremely quickly on hot days. It’s also all too easy to overlook them when doing general watering duties, especially if some pots are located in a separate area of the property.
This watering kit is comprised of a mechanical timer that you attach to the nearest outdoor tap, a pressure reducer, 15 metres of 4mm micro tubing, 14 T-shaped connectors and 15 drippers with stakes. It’s pretty painless to set up though it does require puncturing the tubing and fitting the connectors so that the water can be equally divided between all the pots. It’s also best to have your pots group fairly closely together or the tubing will look unsightly and possibly be a tripping hazard.
Once you’ve set the timer, you can sit back and relax in the knowledge that everything will be drip-fed with regular amounts of water. Your plants will thank you for it, and so will your neighbour who completely forgot to water the pots last time you put him in charge while you were away.
This comprehensive wi-fi and Bluetooth hose tap timer from the US of A features a wide variety of automatic watering schedules and is just the ticket for committed gardeners hellbent on keeping their grounds permanently irrigated. It’s basically a bells-and-whistles version of the Hozelock Sensor Controller model above and not too similar in function to the much more expensive Gardena Smart System below.
The Orbit B-Hyve package is comprised of a battery-powered UK-specific tap controller and a plug-in wi-fi hub that doesn’t need to be attached by a cable to your router. Simply plug the hub into a power outlet within wi-fi range of the tap controller and the router, launch the extremely comprehensive accompanying app (iOS and Android) and follow the setup instructions. It can also be controlled via Bluetooth when your wi-fi is offline.
The B-Hyve app features a plethora of timed watering schedules and also includes live local weather updates through the Smart WeatherSense service. Hence, if you have the sprinkler timed to switch on at a certain time of day and rain is on the horizon, it will delay that particular schedule so the garden isn’t given a double dose. You can also use the tap manually by pressing the button on the controller for a few elongated seconds.
The B-Hyve is ultimately geared towards reducing water consumption without impacting on the health of the garden. In that respect it works extremely well indeed. However, unless you’re a passionate gardenista who is familiar with soil and plant types and other complex horticultural stats, we’d advise opting for the more simplified Gardena or OMORC models above, which are easier to operate on a day to day basis and better suited to the casual gardener.