Drip irrigation

Emitters, connectors and sprinkler heads for drip systems

Weird weather has abounded all over the country and it may continue to do so. With uncertain weather why not make your garden as water-efficient as possible? Consider adding a drip irrigation system.  It will save you money, be good for the ecology and it can even be fun to put together a drip irrigation system. Plus, if you do it right you will help your plants thrive.

Drip systems have been around for years. They make excellent companions to low-volume sprinkler heads, soaker hoses and weather-based irrigation controllers for getting the biggest bang out of your buck in landscape water consumption.  The down side is that hard water can clog dripper heads with minerals and rabbits can chew through tubing like licorice sticks. Regular inspections are necessary to make sure a drip system remains efficient and in good condition. The good news is that repair is simple and inexpensive.

Drip systems can even be fun to put together. The basic concept is to put together all the little parts of your drip irrigation network – rather like assembling a Lego set – to create an efficient delivery of water to the root area of each plant exactly where it is needed. No water is wasted elsewhere. You can even add a timer on your system so it will turn on and off without you having to remember.

Start off by sketching out the area where you want to build your drip system. Make an ‘X’ at each point where there is a plant you want to water. Then simply connect the dots with the least number of lines possible to design an efficient layout. The main lines should be constructed of ½ inch vinyl tubing off of which you can run smaller, ¼ inch tubing.  You can bend your tubing or use ell or tee connectors for sharp bends or for splitting lines. You can also choose to set drippers in-line so water will drip all along the tubing or you can create branches with drippers or mini-sprinkler heads plugged into the ends at the base of each plant. There are different styles of water delivery heads like drippers and sprinklers. You can plug in which ever one will be best for the plant you are watering. In other words, you can use a variety of different little delivery systems on the same line.

Other options are laser drilled tubing with tiny holes precut, tubing with drip emitters already built into the line, or soaker hoses. Soaker hoses, usually made of recycled rubber, ‘sweat’ water slowly into the soil. The latter are useful with larger growing plants like shrubs and trees that are deep-rooted. You let them drip water over a matter of hours so water can seep deep down into the soil without washing away. There are even subsurface systems that contain little backflows before each emitter so soil does not clog the opening. These systems are buried just below the surface of the ground making them invisible and less appealing to the rabbits. You do need to be careful not to break them, however, when digging or weeding since the hidden soft tubing will be easily cut with the thin edge of an energetically wielded garden tool.

The most efficient landscape systems are made up of a variety of different water delivery systems. Most trees and woody shrubs grow strongest with the slow, deep and not-too-frequent watering of mushroom bubblers, moats or watering tubes. Most vegetable gardens need regular water that penetrates but also moistens the ground surface, a job that can be accomplished with an arrangement of sprinklers, soaker hoses and drip lines.

Cabbage head

This red cabbage grew well with a drip network.

Ground cover plantings and lawns usually grow best with low-volume sprinklers that deliver even, leaf-washing, gentle water. Drought-tolerant plants, cacti and many succulents need the soil surface to drain quickly and can benefit by drip systems. You can adapt different systems to many purposes or combine systems in a single area. Success will be a matter of giving the right plant the right amount of water delivered to the whole root system.

Have fun putting together your own irrigation design for your vegetable garden, your flower garden or even to thread between potted plants. It’s a project that will not only save water, but can be fun for getting the whole family involved.

Container strawberry

A drip line is buried under the straw in this strawberry container. (See lower right corner.)