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Drip irrigation

Filed Under: fix-it, seasonal, weekend projects, landscaping, outdoor, staying green

Drip irrigation: Drip irrigation is a great way to address a number of issues related to plant watering techniques, water use reduction programs, and environmental impact. With drip, as opposed to overhead irrigation, it is possible to get the desired moisture placed ideally close to the plant's roots without spraying it all over adjacent plantings, sidewalks and driveways, or your neighbor's car.

In its simplest form, a drip system consists of a source (typically a high-pressure tap after a water meter), a pressure reduction valve to get the supplied line pressure reduced to that suited to the system, a back-flow device to prevent contaminated water from getting into the domestic water supply, a manual valve (or electronic controller and electric valves) to operate the system, main line pipes, lateral, or branch, lines to actually distribute the water, and emitters in, or attached to, the branch lines.

Drip's principle advantage is that it allows precise application of water to the plant's roots, with minimum waste; additionally, it:

  • reduces overhead evaporation loss
  • minimizes leaf disease (e.g. black spot on roses)
  • is faster and easier to install than standard "hard pipe" irrigation; you use flexible pipe and fittings
  • cuts down on water bills by reducing total water flow through the irrigation system, thereby preserving water supplies

Naturally enough, there are some downsides (however minor) to drip. If you keep the following tips in mind, and occasionally check your system, you will enjoy your drip irrigation for a long time:

  • periodically clean the filter (usually semi-annually) or you may clog an emitter
  • keep an eye out for the critters; chipmunks, in the dry part of the season, will chew at an emitter to get the moisture--the first sign of their activities will be your very own miniature "Old Faithful" early some morning (this has happened to me on several occasions)
  • cover the lateral lines with soil or mulch, or there is a possibility that you will get solar UV radiation degradation of the tubing (I have never had this problem); you can easily keep the lines held to the ground with sod pins
  • be careful when installing plantings so that you don't cut the hidden lateral piping lines
  • use short, vertical, dead-ended lines at various places, so that you can monitor the moisture flow throughout the entire system

Certainly, you have to consider the use of drip in combination with sprinkler irrigation (for example, in turf areas), but I am very pleased with my drip system.

(photos by Bill Volk)

  • Willy

    I've heard that it's better to water plants in the mornings instead of at night. Is this true?

  • Bill Volk

    Willy--a good question. The best time to water plants (and sod) is in the morning between about 6am and 10am. They're taking water into their foliage during that time, you give them a boost, and then they get a chance to dry out. The worst time is at night, when moisture is generally available anyway, and the plants are most susceptible to water-borne disease; this is particularly true for homes in high-humidity areas of the country.

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