The best garden water systems 2020: from auto timers to self-watering planters and irrigation systems

Keep your lawn, flowerbeds, potted plants and veggie patch looking lush and bountiful with a time-saving watering system

The best garden water systems 2020
(Image credit: Hozelock)

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.

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:

Amazon

B&Q

Waitrose Garden
Thompson Morgan
Crocus
Van Meuwen
Suttons
Dobies
Harrod Horticultural
Tooled UP

 In the US:

Walmart

Sears
Home Depot
Lowe's

best garden water systems 2020: HOZELOCK SENSOR CONTROLLER PLUS

1. HOZELOCK SENSOR CONTROLLER PLUS

A top easy-to-use timer with light sensor

Reasons to buy
+Automatic watering+Saves time and effort+Comes with a light sensor
Reasons to avoid
-Requires batteries

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 and is the perfect companion for drip irrigation systems.

best garden water systems 2020: Lechuza Balconera Cottage 80

2. Lechuza Balconera Cottage 80

Handy self-watering planter for the absent minded

Reasons to buy
+Water and forget+Brings flowers to life+Includes a visible water gauge
Reasons to avoid
-It's made of plastic

• Shop Lechuza products at Amazon from £39

I was sent this 79cm long plastic rattan-patterned outdoor planter last August and 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.

best garden water systems 2020: Kärcher SensoTimer ST6 Duo Ecologic

(Image credit: Kärcher)

3. Kärcher SensoTimer ST6 Duo Ecologic

Comprehensive soil sensing water timer

Reasons to buy
+Uses two soil sensors to monitor moisture+Two-way water connector+Comprehensive programming
Reasons to avoid
-Complicated to program-Requires battery changes from time to time

•Buy the Kärcher SensoTimer ST6 Duo from Kärcher

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.

best garden water systems 2020: Vegepod Raised Garden Bed

(Image credit: Vegepod)

4. Vegepod Raised Garden Bed

A top planter for homegrown fruit and veg

Reasons to buy
+Ample space for a decent tranche of veg+Mesh cover protects the plants from pests+Built in sprinkler system
Reasons to avoid
-A faff to build-Not especially attractive

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. 

•Buy the Vegepod from Robert Dyas

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.

best garden water systems 2020: Hozelock 15 Pot Watering Kit

5. Hozelock 15 Pot Watering Kit

Best watering system for potted plants

Reasons to buy
+It drip feeds at regular intervals+Includes a mechanical timer
Reasons to avoid
-A little fiddly to set up-Can look unsightly

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.

best garden water systems 2020: Orbit B-Hyve Smart Hose Tap Timer

(Image credit: method communications)

6. Orbit B-Hyve Smart Hose Tap Timer

A full-monty system for autonomous watering

Reasons to buy
+Wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity+Numerous watering schedules+Monitors the weather
Reasons to avoid
-Too comprehensive for casual gardeners

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 Hozelock model above, which is easier to operate on a day to day basis and better suited to the casual gardener.

•Buy the B-Hyve Smart Hose Tap Timer from Water Irrigation