Save Water and Time in the Garden With These Inexpensive Tools

The clouds have come, but the moisture hasn’t. Even the monsoons are late this year.

We are on the verge of ending the longest period without rain in years. And we’ve been spending a lot of time watering, so the rain can’t come soon enough for us, our grass, or our well. I’ve also been busy testing several watering-related products for Gardening Products Review  and that made me think about how to save time when watering.

All of this testing and watering more plants more often has made me reflect on how to make watering more efficient for us, the planet and other homeowners. Here’s part 1 of my list of favorite watering tools, starting with the least expensive, the kinds of tools available at home improvement stores.

quick connector between hose and soaker
A quick connector helps to easily change between watering tools. This one is between a hose from our faucet and a soaker hose.

Quick connectors. We use lots of quick connectors for switching between soaker hoses, sprayers, sprinklers or other watering tools. By screwing a male end into all your watering tools, you can quickly change out and connect several watering tools to the female end of your hose. So, for example, you can quickly switch from spraying off the patio to soaking a garden bed. And once you screw in the connectors, you don’t have to keep screwing on hoses, etc., which never seem to thread right when you’re in a hurry!

metal hose splitter
You can put a splitter directly on the faucet or even between hoses. Both connections have controllers so you can use one and close the other.

Splitters. Look for splitters, or manifolds that split one faucet into two or more outlets, depending on your needs. Solid metal splitters hold up better than plastic ones, but most have hard plastic controls so you can turn water on or off to your drip system or garden hose. This way, you can have one open faucet at all times for filling pails or rinsing a tool and still have a garden hose connected to water your new shrub. We have one on the ground about halfway from our orchard faucet to the other end, then split two hoses off of it to water our fruit trees.

Soaker hoses work slowly, like a turtle.

Soaker hose. If used correctly, soaker hoses are stars of the inexpensive watering tool department. You can get them for less than $20 at most home improvement stores. The solid rubber hoses have multiple tiny holes so water drips out of all sides. Just be sure to keep pressure low, or you’ll waste water sending fine sprays up in the air.

soaker hose gladiola bed
Here’s a soaker hose wrapped around some plants that require more water than nature usually delivers.

Regulators. My final favorite, inexpensive watering tool is an in-hose “regulator” or shut-off valve. This might not be a necessity for people with smaller gardens or yards, but we have faucets located hundreds of feet from where we garden. I like the exercise, but I don’t like wasting water while I go all the way back to the source to lower the pressure (5 times until I get it right). With these awesome little tools, you can lower the pressure on a dripper or sprinkler near where it’s running. We place ours between the last hose and the one before it.

Even if distance is not a big issue, these come in handy between your hose and soaker hose, which can spew water like a sprinkler if the pressure is too high. And pressure can vary so much. Alternatively, invest in a water wand or similar attachment that has a flow control switch on the handle to drip water when it’s turned down.

A water wand like this one from Dramm is a must-have for when you need to hand-water garden areas.

Free tip: Regularly check hoses and drippers for leaks. Hoses are expensive, and they tend to dry out in our desert sun. They also get ruined from being left outside in winter, when water can freeze in the hose, expanding it. So, the first tip is to drain and roll up hoses in winter if you don’t use them and temperatures dip below freezing. And a good hose repair kit is perfect for handy people to fix leaks instead of replacing entire hoses when that’s the best option.

PVC sprinkler connection with quick connector
My husband made a mini-sprinkler for watering new grass seed out of a neighbor’s unwanted PVC pipe and a few sprinkler heads. Notice the male quick connector on the end.


Product Review: Cate’s Garden Premium Bypass Pruning Shears

I can’t get by without a couple of good bypass pruners and loppers around my garden. So I was thrilled when Cate’s Garden offered to send me a free sample of their Premium Bypass Pruning Shears to try.

First, a word about bypass pruners. Bypass pruners are garden shears that have blades resembling scissors — when you make a cut, the blades pass one another through the stem or branch, which makes a cleaner, smoother cut than do blades that simply meet at a point in the middle. This might sound trivial, but it helps minimize damage to the soft, healthy tissue of an actively growing, fresh plant. I use bypass pruners and loppers for almost everything, except the hardest, dead branches.

Using Cate's bypass pruners to cut a fresh rose
Bypass pruners are best for trimming, deadheading and cutting fresh flowers because they do less damage to stems and branches.

Cate’s bypass shears are attractive, while also being slightly industrial looking. But that appeals to me, because I like to feel I work hard for my plants! Part of the reason they look industrial is their material. The blades are made of high carbon, and the pruners are coated in hard chrome to help minimize rusting. The other reason is the angled shape. But Cate’s Garden designed them that way for performance and ergonomics, not for appearance.

By angling the blade about 45 degrees, the designers made it easier to reach into plants and a little easier on gardeners’ wrists. Since my wrists take such a beating all day long either at the computer, in the garden or pulling weeds, I like that feature. And I tested it by reaching through my garden fence to trim a hard-to-reach tomato branches. I was able to squeeze the pruners nearly closed, open  them up, and make my cut, then squeeze them back through the tiny square. I also deadheaded my blanket flowers. If you have read any of my past posts, you know that required a lot of cuts. No pain or fatigue when using these pruners.

Cate's Garden bypass pruners
Cate’s Garden bypass pruners. The carbon blades look sleek and cut smoothly.

And that leads me to my other favorite feature — the closing, or lock, mechanism. Cate’s calls it a lever snap, and it’s made from forged aluminum. I call it brilliant. I think some tool manufacturers worry more about the look of the tool, or the color of the button that you push to lock your pruners closed. But those buttons stick with wear and a major irritant with pruners I’ve used in the past is when they lock on me when I make cuts. The lever on Cate’s Garden pruners was out of my way, and didn’t lock accidentally when I made about 100 cuts on those thin Gaillardia stems. Still, the pruners are easy to lock with one hand if your other hand is full.

Cate's premium bypass shears
Her’s a view of the pruners fully open, showing their spring, blade and locking mechanisms.

The only concern I had with the pruners when I took them out of the box was that the handle seemed to spread too far for my small hands. But once I used the pruners, I found that wasn’t a problem. They didn’t force my hand open, but were smooth enough to adjust to how I held them without resistance. And that’s a good thing, because as soon as I expressed my concern, my husband tried to claim them as his own. I don’t think so!

Read more about Cate’s bypass pruners, and the story of this small company, on their website.