Need Vacation Watering Suggestions

I am going on vacation for two weeks and need some suggestions for automatic watering systems. I’ve got about 50 plants.

The basic suggestions:

  • soaker hose coiled on the surface of each pot
  • place trees that are more likely to dry out in more sheltered areas
  • if the system allows it, create different stations so trees with similar water needs get the right amount of water
  • most importantly, pay someone to come and make sure the system is working every day and possibly have them water by hand at least once a week

A lot of ornamental-tree nurseries in SoCal use “Spot-Spitters” (kinda like miniature sprinkler heads… these use 1/8" tubing, unlike the big-box-store drip-systems’ 1/4" tubing).

Spot-Spitters are more known/used by nursery professionals and available online or at irrigation/landscaping-supply stores (not avail/sold at big-box-stores/home depot).

I was planning to lace up my entire garden/yard around the house with a Spot-Spitters setup; but, I got way too many plants in nursery pots and my collection keep growing, changing, evolving.

I’ve noticed many bonsai people/clubs in SoCal are using Spot-Spitters now too.

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Good point about the spot spitters - I used them for a long time. Some pros and cons:

Pro - easier to pick up or move trees (no need to disconnect); easy to plug in
Con - gets the trunk wet; requires drilling into bench for small trees; often results in uneven watering; subject to wind; results in lots of small water lines

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tim 111 degrees today here in el dorado hills ca i am looking for solutions as well. always comes back to a person checking in and i would say at least every other day and wrap pots with tinfoil

I am no bonsai expert but have a couple years in now and have experimented endlessly with irrigation. I travel for work (pre -covid) so effective reliable irrigation is a must all year long. I echo a lot of what Jonas is saying but here’s what I’ve learned and am settling on based on observations of others, advice from other chat rooms, etc.

For bonsai soil -
1/4" soaker hose coiled on the soil surface with bonsai wire holding it out into an even coil.
Connect the soaker hose to a short piece of 1/4" tubing then to a quick connect coupling, then as much 1/4" tubing as needed back to the main line. This allows you to quickly disconnect the tree from the irrigation system and rotate it, change positions, bring it in to work on etc. with minimal effort. ! attached a picture of a slender mendecino cypress i am working on that shows the coil and quick connect coupling. I will get the coil off the trunk when i get it back outside.

Battery powered hose type timers are incredibly reliable for a while but you should watch batteries closely and set up some redundancy for long term use. Something will fail eventually.

Things that work, but are problematic: Anything that requires a stake into bonsai soil is tough to keep secure. Drip emitters into bonsai soil do not get even coverage. Anything that makes it difficult to move trees around (securing to bench, securing to pot, hoses all over the place)! will sap motivation to do small things to trees. Overhead watering with micro sprayers is the easiest to set up but problems with getting foliage wet are well known so I never went to far with that other than with very small pots and seedlings/ cuttings. However the collection at Lake Merrit has overhead watering, so maybe its fine.

The #1 key is to watch closely and try to get everything needing water at the same time and make frequent adjustments on your timers based on weather. This is difficult. I have it going 3 times per day right now for the current heat wave, up from 2/day last week. It gets down to 1/ 3days in the winter.
Each watering is 3 minutes with pressure regulated to 25 psi.

Obviously this is inferior to watching each tree every day and giving it exactly what it needs but I must travel for work and we all must vacation and take trips to the mountains to visit god’s bonsai!

I would want to set everything up and watch it for a couple weeks before leaving it for a two week vacation. There will be a lot of initial adjustments and tweaking.

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Another option… I extended every existing planter-area/garden sprinkler with 18" pvc/sprinkler extensions so the sprinkler-nozzles are now above my tall 1-5-15gal nursery pots (I mostly use nursery pots).

Yes, a waste of water; but it gets the job done and was much easier than installing an entire new drip/spot-spitter system. It also uses my existing sprinkler-valves/timer (so no need to fuss with that either). I can also move around the pots, add plants/pots, etc. with ease.

It’s not as efficient as drip… and I still hand water for really thorough watering. But, it’s good for some decent moisture and also timed/consistent.
And, it’s much better than what it was before - just ground-level sprinklers, spraying into the ground for only in-ground garden plants.

If you see some bonsai nurseries and also people’s bonsai gardens, they also do this I’ve noticed - very tall sprinkler extensions (sometimes in conjunction with separate drip systems too).

I too travel out of the country for weeks at a time; pre covid and hopefully in the not to distant future again. I have a wide range of watering needs from 30" grow bags to seedlings and Akadama APL 1:1:1 in 24" to 5" pots. I use a lawn sprinkler valve timer with the basic features of 4-8 valves and 2-3 programs. I have used several brands and as long as you can remember the differences in programing instructions straight, you are ok. In the early AM I run an overhead impact sprinkler to water everything to the minimum needs level for Nursery stock, high water retention soil mixes etc… On a seperate valve that goes off at 2PM. I run a Jain Octa Bubbler system. https://jainsusa.com/store/octa-bubbler/The system heads take the main line 1/2 or 3/4 inch feed lines (I use black pvc pipe if you need something more flexible I cut up garden hose and use hose clamps and fittings) down to 0-8 small lines. From the splitter head 1/4" lines you can attach anything you want, soaker hose of various sizes, mini spray, drippers. The best feature of the Octa Bubbler is , inside the head (splitter) are 8 interchangeable orifices that control the flow of each line individually to 20, 10, 6 or 2 GPH (gallons per hour) . I shoot for maximum need 30 minutes at 10 GPM, so 5 gallons for 24" dia training pots with APL so if a tree needs more I can switch to a 20 GPH orifice. for smaller pots/ lower water requirements, I wse the 6 and 2 GPH orifices . WE get enough rain and high humidity where I live that over watering is more a problem than under watering. If you live in a dry aria there is no reason you could not run the Octa Bubbler timmer a second or even third time. I have a friend that has a camera on his trees which he can watch to see if his sprinklers are running at the proper time when he is traveling. I am working on a more elaborate system ( purchased )with computerized features that include watering adjustments based on rainfall sensors, and NOAA rainfall readings from the closest airport. Now that everything is digital and WiFi the cost is way down as you can use your computer or phone as the brains and only need valves and on/off hardware. If you are an overachiever take a look at Hunter and Underhill sprinkler systems.

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Lol, Tim, did we forget to mention that you will never get to leave your trees and go on vacation? All kidding aside, this is the first summer that I haven’t gone on a vacation and I have tried to do more hand watering than ever before. But because we have high temperatures in July and August, I need to rely on my irrigation system too. Do you belong to a Bonsai club because if you do you’re in luck! Our club members offer to check each other’s trees to make sure that the irrigation is working while we are on vacation. So when I do leave for vacation, I carefully plan locations that will be just right for watering, and move trees around. Some go in full shade for that two weeks as a precaution. I think that any valuable tree that I could take to a Bonsai friend’s house would be give me piece of mind. But I only have a couple of those so that’s easy for me to say.

I’ve got about 50 trees, some of them quite large, so dropping them off at a friend’s would be difficult. I used to have family close by, but we are all going on the trip this summer. I’ve actually decided to go the “spitter” route. We’ll see how that works.

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If you can… please show us your setup and pics of your Spitters. I’m still quite interested in those.