DIY Garden Watering System: 5 Types Garden Irrigation, Raised Beds, Potted

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | February 22, 2024

Woman looking at garden watering system methods and wonders if there is DIY garden irrigation styles for types of home gardens that include fill, soak, spray, sprinkle and drip irrigation systems.

There are many varieties of garden irrigation, or garden watering system methods that can be used for raised beds, potted plants, or whatever sort of garden you’ve created.1 Proper hydration through effective irrigation is one of the most essential ingredients of gardening, and getting your watering system balanced can be a challenge.

In fact, there are many factors that contribute to how you design a garden watering system.2

A do-it-yourself garden watering system can be both cost-effective and robust, but you will always have a better outcome with appropriate research and planning ahead of construction. In some scenarios, you can utilize naturally available water. In others, you’ll need to rely on reservoirs. There are automatic options, drip-based options, and hybridized solutions that may be necessary for a given variety of flowers, crops, or layouts.

This guide explores 5 of the most common options homeowners use to irrigate their gardens, contains instructions on creating these types of garden watering system methods, and explains which types of home gardens benefit from each style so you’ll know what you’ll need to you design your specific system.

The Most Effective Irrigation System for Your Gardening Needs

The most effective irrigation system for your gardening needs often requires seasonal management. You’ve got to stop irrigation by winter, start in spring, maintain through summer, and complete winter prep by autumn.

Graphic showing the types of garden watering systems which include Soak irrigation, Drip irrigation, Spray irrigation, Sprinkle irrigation, and Fill irrigation.

As you plan your system, you need to factor this in, as well as several baseline foundational features of your garden. Most gardeners design their watering systems around these variables:

  • Plant Kinds
  • Available Soil
  • Features of the Land
  • How Much Water is Needed
  • Associated Direct and Indirect Costs of Maintaining Water Pressure
  • Which Irrigation Systems Best Fit the Garden’s Precise Needs

Choosing an Irrigation System

Once you’ve determined the variables describing your garden, choosing an irrigation system is easier.

You’re not going to need a garden watering system that serves a 100-acre plot of land if you’ve only got 300 square feet of growing space. However, you might use a minimized version of the larger system.

Presently the USDA is helping gardeners in urban, scholastic, and community environments utilize proven techniques as perfected in wider agriculture.3 If your garden is a bit larger than what a backyard can traditionally host, but a bit smaller than a farmer’s crop, this might be the sort of option you explore.

That said, common variables to consider here include:4

  • Total Cost of the System: Factor in Acquisition, Installation, and Maintenance
  • The Length of the Season
  • Personal Mobility
  • Water Costs
  • Plant Needs
  • Subsurface Irrigation Design Possibilities
  • Factors Unique to Your Situation
  • Available Grants and Funding

Grants and funding are the least applicable in this guide. Some readers may be planning a community project, most are managing home-grown gardens.

Still, if you do need help with a garden that may be eligible for a grant, this resource provides technical assistance.5

The Benefit of an Automatic Garden Watering System

The benefit of an automatic garden watering system includes natural, hassle-free, continuous hydration. However, if you’re using an indoor system, there could be leaks that need to be addressed; imprecise design may invite incidental water damage. For automated exterior systems, it’s important to calibrate them so they follow seasonal changes.6

Frozen water can severely damage buried sprinkler infrastructure.

Photo of a canal in Vietnam which is also used as an irrigation sytem.

(Image: Stefan Fussan28)

You may have encountered this issue. If you forget to “blow out” and deactivate automated sprinkler infrastructure, frozen pipes, and broken sprinkler heads represent thousands of dollars in repair costs ahead of the next season. If you’re going to automate, be absolutely sure you know when to activate or deactivate the system, and that doing so isn’t overly complex.

The larger the plot of ground you’re hydrating, the more involved automated irrigation becomes.

The Right Watering System for Garden Health

Sometimes the right watering system for garden health is beyond your DIY capability. If you’re managing a large enough landscape, time and complication may require you to work with professional installers to save money.

Learning curves can be expensive in gardening. This won’t be the issue for all homeowners, but it’s something to consider.

In all likelihood, you’ll be more than able to install your own irrigation. Plot things out logistically first to be sure. An unseen error could cost you a season. Be advised, there are quite a few common errors accompanying DIY irrigation efforts.7 A few to avoid include:

  • Sprinkler Heads That Are Too Widely Spaced
  • Neglecting Rain Sensors For Automated Systems
  • Pipes Either Too Close to the Surface or Too Far Below
  • Sprinkler Heads That Can’t Get High Enough to Be Effective
  • Cheap Components That Break Easy or Constantly Malfunction
  • Improper Budgeting, Resulting in a System Only Partially Effective

Selecting a Self Watering System or a DIY Self Watering System That Is Seasonally Appropriate

Whether selecting a self-watering system through a professional irrigation specialist or planning a DIY self-watering system, it’s important to install your array in the right season. Sometimes that means installing in the middle of summer, sometimes it doesn’t. If you already have a very small garden with a system requiring your direct involvement, you could conceivably install it between scheduled watering sessions.

If you’re putting together a new garden from the ground up, you’ll want to install it in early spring or early autumn; whichever is best for your region. In most regions, installing an entirely new irrigation system for your garden is something best done in early to mid-Autumn.8 Lawns and other flora are at ideal temperatures for the work; they’re neither too hot nor too cold.

Additionally, if some excavation is necessary, this time of year doubles as an ideal window for planting new trees on your property.

If you already have hydration infrastructure on your property, at minimum it’s important to double-check your system ahead of the coming season. Do this in early spring.9For larger systems, it’s important to check system effectiveness on a monthly basis. As you plan the installation, consider what difficulties may accompany monthly inspection. This could inform what sort of system you install.

5 Common Varieties of Irrigation to Consider

Analysis paralysis can be easy to fall into as you weigh your options. For the modern garden watering system, there are a wide variety of irrigation alternatives available. Here are the 5 most common methods appropriate for general residential and community gardens:

  1. Soak Irrigation
  2. Drip Irrigation
  3. Spray Irrigation
  4. Sprinkle Irrigation
  5. Fill Irrigation

1. Soak Irrigation

A very popular garden watering system is a family of hydration strategies that incorporate “soaker” hoses, which help you maintain plant health while using less water up to 50 percent less, in fact.10 This method of watering is good for almost any sort of garden; including those of the raised bed variety.

Photo of a plantation with soaker hose for soak irrigation.

(Image: Anjarl23)

Hoses are distributed through an area strategically. They have numerous pores (openings) along their length that slowly seep water. High pressure is not necessary.

Low-pressure seepage evenly hydrates soil, providing ample moisture to roots. Meanwhile, leaves above ground remain dry, reducing disease.11

Design Your Own Soak System

There are a variety of soaker hose systems available that come pre-designed; you simply hook them up and turn the water on when the time is right. You can also design your own system piecemeal as it suits you.12

Distribution of hoses, pressure, and the area requiring hydration are primary considerations.

First, take a moment to determine what needs watered, and the length of hose necessary to reach it. Then acquire materials: garden staples, a regular hose, a soaker hose kit, and a water timer if you want it. Some systems feature multiple soaker hoses, you may only need one; it will depend on the size of your garden.

Once you have everything together, unpack the hose and let it “breathe”. It will retain its coiled shape for a little while, and this can make installing it more of a chore. Let it sit in the sun for an hour or so after you’ve unwound it.

While it’s getting flexible, you can look over your garden and finalize your layout plan for the hose. It may help to draw a diagram in advance; go with what works best for you.

Ideally, you want the hose near the plants without touching their stems. If you can position it above root systems, that increases effectiveness. Once the hose is flexible enough to work with, place it in its proper position and use garden staples to hold it in place–don’t pierce the hose, run it under the brackets.

A soaker hose becomes less effective the longer it is. You should cap the length of the hoses you use at 25 feet. This may mean you need to cut up the hose and split the stream. Some kits include splitters, some come pre-cut. If you’re handy enough, you might be able to cut a longer hose yourself and attach it to a 3-way splitter.

Many systems are designed to be used in this way. They’ll come with hose attachment connections that can be easily coupled to the trimmed soaker hose.

When you finish installing your hoses, add hose ends to maintain pressure and reduce water loss. From there, you’re on to the troubleshooting stage. Make sure everything works as intended. If you’d like to add a timer to the water flow at this time you can, otherwise you can water your plants on a manual schedule as is convenient.

Soak Watering Applications

Soak irrigation is a flexible option to hydrate your garden, and conserves water.

If you need more than a hundred feet of hose, this can complicate installation, but DIY soak hose irrigation is fairly straightforward and quite effective.

The main difference between soak irrigation and drip (below) is the amount of water that is allowed to seek out of the hose.

Photo of a farm that uses drip irrigation on young plants.

(Image: Richard Allaway24)

2. Drip Irrigation

For long, evenly distributed gardens, especially those incorporating copses of trees or shrubberies, drip irrigation is a fine garden watering system. Long thin tubes are organized evenly across the area you’re keeping hydrated.

These tubes have openings that are consistently, and evenly spaced. Water drips out of them and into the soil. This prevents it from pooling, which can contribute to water loss through evaporation, or disease issues stemming from stagnation.

Most kits feature lines that are about as thick as a pencil and have holes on every foot. Installation is similar to a soak kit. You plot out your needs for the garden you’re taking care of, acquire an appropriate amount of hose, cut it in 25-foot lengths, and attach it to stream-splitting couplers that attach to your primary garden hose. This sort of irrigation is ideal for gardens that have rows and is commonly used in greenhouses. The longer and more uniform the rows, the more effective drip irrigation can be.

You’ll need some sort of fastening apparatus, many drip kits will include their own fasteners. Some don’t; check what comes with a given kit to be sure ahead of purchasing it. Some drip systems use “drip emitters”.13 Instead of evenly spaced holes in a hose, a little device is coupled to the line that drips steadily. Especially if you have plants further apart than a foot, drip emitters are worth using. Hybrid systems are also an option.

Just remember to troubleshoot, as with soak hose installation. Sometimes pressure issues may limit your irrigation design. After all is said and done, install a timer if you like.14 Otherwise, irrigate as suits your needs.

Designing a Watering Supply for Drip Irrigation

When you’re designing a watering supply for drip irrigation, you may want to strengthen it with reservoirs at intervals; especially if you have markedly wide-spaced foliage arrays. Such an approach allows you to maintain more consistent pressure and control over water use. Additionally, there are “micro” systems designed to use a small reservoir with gravity-fed lines for maximum water conservation. Such systems are often used indoors, though these can also be effective at keeping larger outdoor plants healthy.

The size of the reservoir you need will vary. You might be able to save 80 percent of water otherwise lost by carefully installing a drip irrigation system.15

So a 10-gallon tank in your kitchen could provide as much nourishment for your indoor plants as 50 gallons would otherwise. You can set up a reservoir, run lines with drip emitters that utilize gravity for pressure, and enjoy the fruit of your labor.

Garden Watering System for Raised Beds

It’s worth noting that drip irrigation is a fine watering system for raised beds, even though these aren’t always widely distributed. In fact, by some accounts, this approach happens to be the best option.16 If you’re planning to keep vegetables or flowers this way, you might want to design your garden with this sort of watering system in mind.

A DIY drip irrigation system could be a perfect solution indoors or outdoors, provides ample opportunity for unique design, and is known to conserve water.

Such systems are best for gardens that feature widely distributed foliage arrays. They can also be a fine solution for micro-gardens managed indoors, or greenhouses.

If you’re gardening with raised beds, drip irrigation is best.

3. Spray Irrigation

Spray irrigation is just what it sounds like a garden watering system that incorporates sprinklers, misters, or other mechanized water distribution infrastructure.17 The big difference between a yard sprinkler and, say, a grocery store mister, is that spray irrigation is designed to mimic rainfall, whereas sprinklers aren’t. Spray irrigation for gardens tends to be a bit more robust than grocery store misters or what you might install in your backyard.

Photo of a water spraying device primarily used for spray irrigation on farms.

(Image: Nick Birse25)

Choosing the Right Outdoor Watering System for Plants

There are agricultural operations utilizing automated sprinklers that actually move in a circle across a given crop. This isn’t cheap. Choosing the right outdoor watering system for outdoor plants may be a matter of budget. The larger the “crop”, the more it makes sense to acquire and maintain such systems.

A very lengthy arm of hydration infrastructure may stretch from a central hub, and move to describe either an arc or a circle. A lot of moving parts are involved. The more moving parts there are, the greater the potential for malfunction. Beyond acquisition and installation, careful maintenance is key.

There are also spray irrigation systems that are stationary, and hydrate crops beneath them at intervals as necessary. These require less maintenance, but may not provide all the water some plants need. Sometimes you’ll need to combine both sorts of irrigation. Both varieties are a bit beyond the residential, but not in all cases.

For backyard greenhouses, you might incorporate a spray system on a smaller scale. Especially if your greenhouse has an earthen floor, this can help evenly hydrate subterranean root arrays by maintaining consistently moist soil. The amount of scale reduction here tends to put such interior irrigation solutions in the “misting” category.18

Spray Irrigation Uses

Spray irrigation is a better option for larger gardens, and tends to be used in an agricultural setting; however, it may have some application in community gardens, or in greenhouses.

It’s also a fine way to maintain produce and vertical gardens on a smaller scale.

A sprinkle device using for sprinkle irrigation system.

(Image: JJ Harrison26)

4. Sprinkle Irrigation

One of the most easily recognizable and simple garden watering systems is sprinkle irrigation. In fact, this sort of irrigation has become a classic fixture of national culture. Sprinklers are immediately identifiable with summertime fun. When it gets hot, families commonly cool down by running through the quickly-spinning streams of water coming from some 3-armed spinning thing in the center of a yard.

Sprinkle irrigation technically includes simple systems like these. However, there are also much more robust systems incorporating subterranean infrastructure. Lines need to be buried at a certain length, depending on where you live and how impacting winter is. Some lines need to have ample pressure. The distribution of water requires strategic implementation.

Many a homeowner has a dead spot in their lawn owing to a sprinkler that just doesn’t reach as far as it needs to. Even golf courses can have this issue.

In a nutshell, timers are attached to your property’s water supply. At intervals, as you determine, the water is let into the system. Water pressure pops up the sprinkler heads, they distribute an arc of water where grass, trees, or other plants need it. Even smaller sprinklers can be put on a timer, but the more complex your system becomes, the harder it will be to automate. Some systems should be installed prior to landscaping.

Sometimes an Automatic Plant Waterer Is the Best Way

Especially in commercial environments, an automatic plant waterer like a sprinkler system is one of the best options. Time lost manually watering plants may outweigh conserved water. Also, not all sprinkler systems are as strong as what you might find on farmland, or maintaining the velvet green of a golf course.

Small sprinklers can be purchased for a few dollars and may only require a half hour or so in terms of installation. It can be helpful to anchor hoses using garden staples, as outlined in the “soaker” section. Timers on your hose will make it easy to irrigate a small garden with a sprinkler.

Self-Watering DIY Sprinkler System May Be All You Need

The smaller your garden, the easier it is to automate. A small self-watering DIY sprinkler system may be all you need, and it may be something you can install in a matter of minutes.

A small lawn or garden may only require one sprinkler attached to a hose with a water release timer.

Sprinkler systems are straightforward and effective, however, they can waste water, and the larger the land you’re irrigating, the more complex such systems become. It’s very important to assure sprinklers will reach far enough, and that lines are buried at the proper depth. Sometimes switching out sprinkler heads can correct an issue of reach, but that’s not always the case, and in such scenarios, costs abound.

Also, you need to be aware of pipes freezing in winter climates. It’s easy to forget you have a sprinkler system if you automate it, and let it continue to run through the hot season. If you don’t blow out the lines before winter comes, and turn the system off, frozen pipes will be costly come spring. Be sure you’re aware of possibilities like these.19

5. Fill Irrigation

Fill irrigation incorporates water reservoirs, but generally doesn’t incorporate gravity-fed drip lines. Basically, you can find containers designed to self-water plants. Fill irrigation is primarily for indoor use, but can be effective in greenhouses, and may have some outdoor applications; especially when you’re trying to help burgeoning plants take root.

Photo of a farmer filling the tank of water for irrigation.

(Image: Vrinda Khushu27)

With full irrigation, the plant’s container has a reservoir allowing water to be soaked up into the soil. Hydration comes from the ground up. Provided you keep the reservoir filled, your plant remains hydrated. This is a great option if you’re seeking to conserve water. Spraying your plants might not be as effective, though it will depend on the situation.

If you’re in a hot climate, fill irrigation can be a wise move. Going this route helps maintain soil moisture. Also, if you’re going to be away for a while, you might want to explore fill irrigation options to keep plants hydrated without having to turn on water while you’re gone.

Designing A Reliable Garden Watering System for Potted Plants

When you’re exploring DIY alternatives in designing a reliable watering system for potted plants, you may want to think about potential water issues from indoor hose distribution. Some in-home greenhouses irrigate using hoses on a timer. What would happen should the end cap on a hose break, and nobody be there? Well, the indoor plants might get their water; but then, so would the home’s infrastructure.

Alternatively, using fill irrigation on potted plants simplifies things. All that would be necessary is replenishing reservoirs when they’re low, then turning off the water and trusting plants to stay healthy while you’re gone. You can hybridize the system by installing hoses to fill reservoirs. You simply fill them manually as the need arises. With many fill irrigation systems, the need to replenish reservoirs will be infrequent.

The Bottom Line?

Fill irrigation is ideal for hot climates, or gardens requiring water while owners are away. It tends to be best for potted plants, as larger gardens won’t be able to benefit in quite the same way. This makes it a preferred method for smaller gardens kept indoors, or greenhouses.

How To Design a Garden Watering System for Plants

As you gather information regarding how to design a self-watering system for plants, you’ll naturally encounter strategies you wouldn’t otherwise. Often, a given garden watering system incorporates multiple irrigation approaches. You might use drip irrigation on the raised beds in your greenhouse, and spray irrigation for the vertical garden in your living room.20

Sprinklers could be ideal for your vegetable garden or your lawn. Soak irrigation is a fine option for flower gardens, especially intimate affairs making a circuit surrounding a home. Fill irrigation will help you keep potted plants in remote areas of the house healthy, or plants in hot climates from succumbing to dehydration.

Getting Started

However you use such irrigation, you want to start out by determining what you have, what you need, and what your goals are.

Some gardens won’t require much water; if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, the only irrigation you may need is for indoor foliage. If you’re living in Phoenix, AZ, you’ll need to be much more strategic. It’s important to know the zone where you’re seeking to design your irrigation system, this plant hardiness map can help provide a starting point.21

When you know what you can expect from your local climate, the next move is to plot out how much local water outdoor plants will need. Indoor plants will be entirely dependent on you.

Conserving Water Use

When you have an idea, the next step is identifying ways of maximizing water use and minimizing waste. Simply pacing the lawn with a finger at the end of a hose is going to waste a lot of water. A drip array on a timer will be much more exact. However, some plants won’t be reachable with such an array, and you’ll need to get creative.

Determine the watering needs for each plant in each “zone” of your property, then explore multiple irrigation techniques to determine which is best. From there, you can plot out the equipment necessary. Consult your budget to see which alternative irrigation options might be substituted to match what you can afford.

Building the Irrigation System

From there, acquire the proper materials, and aim for an early autumn installation.

Once you’ve finished, troubleshoot the systems you’ve installed, set up timers as necessary, and either leave empty systems dormant for the coming spring or set yourself reminders to disable systems that might be subject to freezing (as buried sprinkler systems often are).

Designing Irrigation Systems That Reliably Nourish Your Garden

To design irrigation systems that reliably nourish your garden, there are numerous variables that require consideration. The more variables you can identify and understand, the more efficiently your watering system will hydrate your garden. Determine the size of your garden, your budget, your climate, and the strengths or weaknesses of irrigation methods.

This helps to identify which will be most effective for you. It’s helpful to seek consultation as you determine the best approach here.

For most homeowners, an effective garden watering system can be achieved without too much difficulty.

Frequently Asked Questions About Garden Watering System Types

Which Garden Irrigation System Fits The Garden Sprinkler, or the Water Drip?

To determine which garden irrigation system fits best, you’ll want to know the individual needs of each plant. A properly designed water drip system may be desirable to a sprinkler, as water is retained in the soil and doesn’t get wasted, or expose foliage to potential disease. However, a large enough garden may have gaps in coverage. For gardens with orderly rows, water drip systems work well; but there’s an event horizon in terms of size. You’ll want to start evaluating whether to switch as your garden grows.

What Is a Drip Irrigation System?

A drip irrigation system uses a gravity-fed design or low pressure to very slowly distribute water in a garden at specific points. Drip systems are best for neat rows that have plants separated from one another.

What Are Plant Watering Globes?

A plant watering bulb, or globe, is a kind of fill irrigation. Imagine a tear dropper or a funnel with a globe on the end.22 You fill the globe with water and stick it into the soil of a particular plant. Gravity then draws the water into the ground, limited only by the extent of saturation the soil can endure. Plant watering globes can evenly distribute water indoors or outdoors.



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23By Anjarl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, <>

24By Richard Allaway – Drip irrigation in the gardens outside Zagora, Morocco., CC BY 2.0, <>

25By Nick Birse – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, <>

26By JJ Harrison ( you enjoy my work, and would like to see more, please subscribe to my profile on Facebook. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, <>

27By Vrinda Khushu – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, <>

28By Stefan Fussan – Own work – My images are also available on MyPortfolio, CC BY-SA 3.0, <>