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Drip Irrigation System Buying Guide

A drip irrigation system lets you make the most of your water to maintain the plants around your home.

About Drip Irrigation

Drip Irrigation Emitter Tubing.

Drip irrigation is a low-pressure, low-volume watering system that delivers water to home landscapes in a variety of methods, including dripping, spraying and streams.

By keeping the roots moist but not soaked, you use 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. You can also run the system on top of the soil or mulch, allowing the plants to conceal it as they grow and spread.

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Why Use a Drip Irrigation System?

Drip Irrigation Tubing and Emitter.
  • Minimal evaporation and overspray as well as lower water use than a traditional underground sprinkler system
  • 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
Caution

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.

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.

Backflow preventers or anti-siphon devices prevent water from the irrigation system from re-entering your water supply when the system is turned off. Backflow prevention is 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.

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, micro sprays and misters.

Fittings connect system components or terminate the system.

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 automatically. Some can connect to home automation systems for control from a computer or smart device.

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.

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.

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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