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When you combine the words drip and water you normally think of waste, as in a leaky faucet. But when you're talking about an irrigation system, drip is a good thing. In fact, drip, trickle and bubble are all quite appropriate words to use when describing a drip irrigation system. It's easy to build a system of your own.
What's commonly known as drip irrigation is actually a combination of several types of low-pressure, low-volume water delivery systems. The correct term for these systems is microirrigation. Each microirrigation system is distinguished by a different style of emitter (the part that discharges the water). These microirrigation systems originated with commercial growers and farmers. With the ever-increasing desire and necessity of water conservation, drip irrigation is a great idea for the home gardener.
Some of these systems deliver water literally one drop at a time. This type of system is the best way to maximize your water resources and get the most from your plants. By keeping the plant's roots moist (but not to the point of saturation), you actually use less water than with conventional watering techniques. Other systems can be configured to mist and provide humidity.
Made from flexible vinyl or polyethylene pipe, drip systems are commonly installed in the subsoil in commercial agricultural applications. At home, you can hide the system with a layer of mulch. Leaving it on top of the ground is fine, especially if you're troubled by mice or voles (they sometimes seem to think of the tubing as a snack). As smaller plants mature and spread, the water supply lines are less visible. To help prevent clogging, make sure that any part that emits water remains above ground.
Shop Drip Irrigation
The list of the benefits of using drip irrigation over hand-watering applies to plants and gardeners. A drip system:
The irrigation system will only be as efficient as its components and the way they're assembled. Make sure you buy components from the same manufacturer to insure compatibility. You may want to start with a kit and work your way up to your own customized system. Here are the basic parts:
Backflow preventer — or anti-siphon device is required to prevent water from the system re-entering your water supply when the system is turned off. Backflow prevention devices are required in most areas.
Pressure regulator — or pressure reducer regulates pressure. The typical home water supply has too much pressure. If the pressure is over 50 psi (pounds per square inch), you'll need a pressure regulator.
Hose fitting — connects the tubing to the pressure regulator
Tubing — 1/2, 1/4, 3/8, 5/8 or .710, depending on the needs and manufacturer. Used for the main supply line and smaller lines for individual plants and containers. Tubing is usually made from black polyethylene. The smaller microtubes can be used in tight spaces and are easily disguised.
Fittings — there are four types:
Emitters — available with different flow rates to accommodate the needs of the plant. Located at soil level or elevated on stakes or risers. There are several types. Choose based on where you want the water to go. All are rated by their GPH (gallons per hour) delivery.
Hole punch — makes insertion points in the tubing where emitters are located
Goof plugs — securely stops up the hole you punched by mistake (or allow you to move an emitter without replacing the tubing)
Barbed adapter — connects tubing and emitters
Riser — allows emitters to be placed above the plants
Stakes — elevate and prevent clogging by soil or bugs
Pin or hook — attaches the tubing to the soil if necessary to anchor it
Timers — mechanically or electronically turns the water on and off. Timers offer a more foolproof means of control than simply turning the faucet manually.
Fine-tuning your system to your plants and soil may require a few days of observation and tinkering. Monitor the soil moisture. Adjust the watering time and placement of emitters accordingly.
Larger plants need more water and may require more than one emitter. As plants mature, they may need additional water.
When cutting tubing, use a sharp blade. Make sure the cut is square (not angled).
If you bury the lines, mark the spot where the end is located. This helps you locate it for flushing or draining.
Attach a Y-coupling to the hose bib to allow use of a regular garden hose without disconnecting the system.
Although they're not considered true microirrigation systems, soaker hoses are considered a form of drip irrigation. If you use a soaker hose, use a timer to avoid wasting water.
Maintaining sufficient pressure throughout the system is critical to success. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for the maximum length of tubing the system can accommodate, as well as the proper spacing of emitters.
A stopped line or plugged emitter can virtually shut down a microirrigation system. To maintain a clog-free irrigation system: