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Drip Irrigation System Buying Guide

A drip irrigation system is a great way to conserve water, save money and maintain the plants around your home. This Do-it-Yourself sprinkler system design project can be completed within a weekend.

About Drip Irrigation

Drip Irrigation Emitter Tubing.

Drip irrigation is a low-pressure, low-volume lawn and garden watering system that delivers water to home landscapes in a variety of methods.

Though a drip, spray or stream, a drip irrigation system keeps roots moist, but not soaked, using less water than other irrigation techniques.

You can hide much of the system under a layer of mulch as long as you keep any part that emits water on top of the mulch to prevent clogging. The system can also run on top of the soil or mulch, allowing the plants to conceal it as they grow and spread.

While drip irrigation systems use less water than underground sprinkler systems or lawn sprinklers, watering of any kind may be restricted in some areas. Learn your local water regulations before buying and installing any irrigation system.

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Benefits of a Drip Irrigation System

Drip Irrigation Tubing and Emitter.
  • Minimal evaporation and overspray as well as lower water use for lower cost and more water conservation
  • Direct connection to the hose spigot without the need to cut into the home water line
  • Supply lines that can lie on the ground or under a layer of mulch, eliminating the trenches that underground systems require
  • Flexibility as your plants grow and spread
  • Customization for containers, raised beds, vegetable rows or shrubbery
  • Exact delivery, preventing distribution of water where it's not needed or where it can encourage weed growth
  • Prevention of an overly moist environment that promotes fungal diseases
  • Gentle, precise watering that minimizes runoff and erosion
Good to Know

Some municipalities offer rebates and incentives towards the installation of drip irrigation. Check with the manufacturer, your water provider or your local government.

Drip Irrigation System Components

Drip Irrigation Micro-Sprayers.

Buy components from the same manufacturer to ensure compatibility or buy an entire-system kit and work your way up to your own customized system.

Soaker hoses are the simplest way to create drip irrigation. These garden hoses have tiny holes along its length to allow water to drip out. While cost effective initially, this option uses more water than a drip system.

Kits combine the components you need for specific applications. You can find kits to create systems for vegetable gardens, flower beds, container plants and landscape plants such as trees and shrubs. Some kits allow you to expand the system as your irrigation needs grow. Other kits provide repair parts or let you convert pop-up sprinklers to drip irrigation.

Backflow preventers or anti-siphon devices prevent the irrigation system's water from re-entering your water supply and contaminating your drinking water when the system is turned off, and a requirement in most areas.

Pressure regulators or reducers make home water pressure compatible with the drip irrigation system. Without these devices the typical home water supply has too much pressure for a drip irrigation system.

Filters prevent debris from clogging the tubing and emitters. Some pressure regulators have built-in filters.

Flexible tubing transports the water. Black or brown coloring allows the tubing to blend in with soil and mulch. Ultraviolet (UV) resistance protects the tubing from deterioration caused by the sun.

Fittings connect system components.

Stakes secure tubing and support emitters to prevent clogging by soil, debris or bugs. Some stakes have built-in emitters.

Risers elevate emitters above the tops of the plants.

Timers turn the water on and off at times you set. Timers can prevent overwatering, minimize wasted water and allow your system to function as an automatic watering system. Some can connect to home automation systems for control from a computer or smart device. Certain smart devices can even regulate watering schedules based on weather activity and provide reports on water usage, making them ideal smart home solutions.

Hole punches create insertion points in the tubing to connect emitters or smaller-diameter tubing.

Cutters make clean cuts in different size tubing. Some cutters can also function as hole punches.

Plugs securely stop up holes you punched by mistake. Plugs also allow you to move emitters without replacing the tubing.

Emitters insert into the tubing and discharge the water into the soil or onto plants. A gallons per hour (GPH) rating indicates the flow rate. The flow rate you need will vary depending on the type of plants you're watering and your soil type. Emitters have a rating for the maximum water pressure they can accept, noted in pounds per square inch (PSI). Pressure compensating emitters deliver a constant flow rate even if the water pressure varies. Turbulent flow emitters feature a design that helps prevent clogging. Drip irrigation systems can include drippers, bubblers and misters.


    Connection    Function    Best For
Drippers/Button Drippers   Attached to the end of a length of tubing or inserted directly into the main line.   Supply a steady, controlled drip to plants.  
  • Gardens
  • Lawns
Bubblers   Attached to the end of a length of tubing.   Spray a light stream in multiple directions.  
  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Flower beds
Misters   Attached to the end of a length of tubing.   Like the name implies, these emitters spray a mist to gently water your plants.  
  • Gardens
  • Ferns
  • Perennials


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Good to Know

When installing your drip irrigation system, it is helpful to allow your tubes to sit in the sun for a few hours. The heat will make them more flexible and easy to connect fittings and emitters.

Determining Flow Rate

Flow rate is measured in gallons per minute (GPM):

  1. Using your outside spigot, fill a measurable container with water.
  2. Record the time it takes to fill to a measurable level - a gallon is the easiest amount.
  3. Divide the filled container size (in gallons) by time (in seconds) it takes to fill it.
  4. Multiply it by 60 seconds.
  5. The number you get is the flow rate in GPM. Multiply that number by 60 if you need to determine gallons per hour (GPH).


Example 1

Example 2

 A 3-gallon bucket takes 15 seconds to fill .3÷15 = 0.2

 0.2x60 = 12 GPM or 720 GPH

 A 4-gallon bucket takes 30 seconds to fill .4÷30 = 0.130

 .13x60 = 7.8 GPM or 468 GPH

Operating a Drip Irrigation System

Drip Irrigation Tubing and Emitter.

Here are some tips to keep a system running smoothly:

  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and use. A drip irrigation system won't be effective or efficient without correct water pressure and tubing length. Understand how many emitters a system can support, proper spacing and if you can combine different types.
  • A stopped line or plugged emitter can shut down a drip irrigation system. Flush the lines to clear debris after installation and before you begin using the system in the spring. Flush the system and clean filters regularly, especially if your water supply contains a lot of minerals.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for draining and winterizing your system before freezing weather arrives.
  • While drip irrigation systems offer flexibility, a single system may not work for all of your plants. Separate zones let you accommodate plants with different watering needs. Lawns need a different watering method. See Watering Tips for more information.
  • Drippers with lower flow rates work well in clay soil, which drains slowly. Wider coverage of drippers, sprays and bubblers with higher flow rates is effective in sandy soil, which drains quickly.

Converting Pop-Up Sprinklers to Drip Irrigation

Sprinkler Head Converted to Drip Irrigation.

If you have an underground sprinkler system, you can configure it to support drip irrigation. Conversion kits give you the components you need to replace sprinkler heads with manifolds that distribute water to drip irrigation emitters. You can also purchase the components separately to create a customized drip irrigation zone.

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