Automatic Watering From a Water Barrel




About: I enjoy taking a pile of junk and making something unusual out of it. I like wheeled vehicles, and currently own two motorcycles, two electric bikes that I've built, and an electric scooter pushed by a soc...

I am lazy.  A few years ago I got tired of having to manually water the 15-20 potted plants around our patio, so I put in an automatic drip irrigation system.  I would have liked to run the same system to the side of our house where we have 7 potted plants on and near a side porch, but unfortunately I would have to have crossed about 60 feet of pavement, and it didn't seem to be worth the effort.

So, I bought a water barrel and connected it to a downspout, and that kept me from having to carry water through the house in buckets to water these plants.  But, like I said, I'm lazy, so I decided to try my hand at automatic watering from the rain barrel.

Step 1: Materials Required

You need a water barrel, of course, or some other container to use as a water supply. 

Since my plan centered on using a fountain pump hooked to a timer, I needed a fountain pump that would be able to lift water at least 6.5 feet (since one of the plants is on a shelf).  I had an old fountain pump, but unfortunately it would only lift about 4 feet.  I found a 300-500 gph fountain pump locally, and this pump has a lift of 8.7 feet, which was more than adequate.

In addition to the pump, I used an electronic timer, about 20 feet of plastic 1/2 inch tubing, 16 feet of 1/4 inch hose, and an assortment of drip irrigation bubblers and fittings.

The tool requirement was basically something to cut the rubber hose with.  I used a shop knife, but you could also use scissors or a really mean dog....

Step 2: Install the Pump

Since the pump is submersible, installing it was easy.  I took off the inlet screen, and lowered the pump (with the 1/2 inch hose attached) to the bottom of the barrel.  I then had to make a small cutout in the inlet screen to allow room for the hose and the power cord to exit the rain barrel. 

Step 3: Install the Hoses

Most of the plants are on a side porch, so I ran the 1/2 inch tubing along a gap between the driveway and the porch, then made the turn onto the porch (photo 1). 

I terminated this hose (photo 2) by simply folding it over and tying it off with some nylon cord.  I found I had to bring the hose up higher than the water in the barrel to keep it from continuing to siphon after the pump was shut off.  Since the water barrel was full, I simply experimented until I found the right height.  You can see in photo 2 the 1/4 inch lines coming off the 1/2 inch hose -- I had to place them at this height to eliminate siphoning.

Two of the plants are outside of this porch, one is on top of the water barrel and the other is beside it.  I formed a loop in the 1/2 inch hose above the water barrel (photo 3), and attached the 1/4 inch lines to this elevated loop.

The last photo shows the final water line that goes to the plant that is mounted on the wall.

Step 4: Add the Electronic Timer

The last step was to plug in the timer, program it, and I was done!  I used an outdoor-rated electronic timer as opposed to a mechanical one so I could precisely adjust the time the water runs.  I have begun by having the water come on at 4pm each day and run for 10 minutes.  As we move into the hotter part of the summer I will probably have to lengthen this time.

Now that I'm out of the manual watering business, guess I'll have to find something else to do. 

Or,  I could just get even more lazy..........



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    8 Discussions


    Question 6 weeks ago on Step 3

    Great writeup. What is the order of items from the rain barrell? We were thinking of doing timer, backflow preventer, filter, pressure regulator, adapter, soaker hose, etc. not sure where to put pump in.


    11 months ago

    Trying this out tomorrow, though using 2 fives gallon buckets! Thanks for the upload! For extra laziness I got a pump that can dry run for 48-hours in case it goes empty and I forget to refill the buckets or it hasn't rained.


    2 years ago

    If you had used a pump with a float switch, it would have automatically cut off when the barrel got low ?. More laziness ??


    3 years ago

    could this work if I attached a hose timer to the spigot at the bottom of the rain barrel? would I still need a fountain pump?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    It depends upon how much water pressure is coming from the rain barrel.


    3 years ago

    When the barrel is empty, is there something that prevents the punp from turning on? Or does your pump do ok with no water?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I turn the pump off if the barrel gets low.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This looks great and I am going to try this next season.

    You would get better effect if you watered your plants late in the evening or early in the morning. Lower solar evaporation losses than at 4:00PM