Putting together a successful drip irrigation system

Drip emitterCredit: Photo by Jane Gates

With growing concerns about the shortage of water in many parts of the country, irrigation systems are changing. The demand to water plants efficiently while reducing waste and lowering escalating water bills is both  popular as well as practical.

You can build in ways to save water in your landscape like drip irrigation.  And the increasing demand for better drip irrigation systems has encouraged improvements in irrigation products and concepts. You have an ever-increasing choice of options in setting up your drip irrigation to tailor it to your individual site and preferences.

Build your own drip system with vinyl tubing and a wide array of drip connectors and drip or spray heads. Although most of the different brands still offer a selection of different spray heads, drip emitters, Y, T and elbow connectors as well as various tubing sizes and colors, most have been improved over the years for durability and flexibility. Putting together your system isn’t all that different from building your own Lego® creation and it can be just as much fun. You can design your system easily on paper first. Just sketch out all the different plants you intend to water by marking them with an ‘X’. You can even make different colored ‘X’s to indicate what kind of water distribution head you want to use at the base of each plant. The goal is to clip together your system of tube lines to use the minimum footage of line. Choose the emitter (drip or spray) head you want to use at the base of each plant. Then assemble your drip system following your drawing.

In addition to using flexible quarter inch tubing you can also use laser cut tubing with pre-drilled perforations that will spray out water as the lines fill with water pressure. Laser tubing will not require you to add drippers all along the main line.

Another choice is to bury your drip lines by using a subsurface drip irrigation system. These are specially designed tubing systems that have preinstalled emitters in the lines along with little back-flow preventers that will keep the drip holes from clogging from the soil in which they are buried.

You can design your system like branches on a tree or in a grid fashion. Recently the idea of spiraling the drip lines has become popular. This and the concept of creating a tight grid with your drip lines are intended to distribute the water in a wider, overall area since some plants are stunted when water is delivered to too restricted an area at the roots. Roots will be encouraged to spread if they reach out for water rather than stay clumped around a small patch of moisture.

Study the different systems and choose the one that will best fit your soil and planting conditions. You can even use a drip system for container gardening.  A well designed drip irrigation system will keep you from wasting water. And that will help keep your water bills lower by only delivering water where it will be most useful.