Drip irrigation systems can appear complicated and technical when reading about backflow preventers, vacuum breakers, flow restrictors and other components you may know nothing about. Or you can keep it simple by purchasing and assembling a few basic parts that will go together quickly and that will also save you time and money when your plants need water.
Drip Irrigation Explained
Drip irrigation is a system of watering plants that delivers a slow, steady supply of water to the soil around the base of your plants. You can purchase kits at garden supply stores that simplify the process of learning about the various components, or with a little research, you can design your own system.
Benefits of Drip Irrigation
When you water your plants with a drip system, you will be giving them the moisture they need, where they need it: at their root zone. When you water parts of your yard or garden with sprinklers, the water goes everywhere, including onto sidewalks, driveways, garden paths and weedy areas, creating waste and sometimes mud. You can control how much water your plants receive by setting up your drip system with different size emitters, which are the system's delivery mechanism. You can use a small emitter, such as one that delivers 1/2 gallon of water per hour, at the base of small plants, such as herbs; for larger plants, such as trees, you can provide more than one emitter that delivers 3 gallons of water per hour, or more.
Basic Components of a Drip System
The main hose of a drip system is a sturdy 1/2-inch black polyvinyl plastic; you connect it to a faucet with a hose connector and then stretch it the length of the area you want to water. You can then insert lengths of a smaller 1/4-inch hose by punching holes into the 1/2-inch line with a special drip system hole punch. Connectors are plastic pieces you'll insert into one end of your 1/4 inch hose and the larger main hose. Emitters are the plastic pieces that you can install wherever your plants exist, placing them onto your 1/4-inch hose or punching a hole directly into your 1/2-inch hose if a plant is close to it. End caps are plastic parts that you insert at the end of each hose; they come in different sizes for the two different sized hoses, preventing water from leaking out the end of the hose.
A few simple tools are all you'll need to set up your drip irrigation system, starting with a sharp pair of garden clippers to cut your hoses to size. A special hole punch is mandatory for making holes that will not leak in your 1/2-inch hose. You might want to purchase metal stakes, sometimes called "ground staples," to secure your hoses to the ground. Alternatively, you can weigh the hoses down with rocks or bricks; in time you can remove them when the hoses become more pliable and settle onto the ground.
Using Your Drip System
You will need to learn how often and how long to run your drip system. As a general rule, water smaller plants and new seedlings twice a week for one hour each time, giving them 1/2 to 1 gallon of water with each watering. Water larger plants, such as fruit trees, once each week, giving them 3 gallons of water or more each time you run your system. The size of your emitters will help to guide you in deciding how long to run your system: if you install 3 gallon per hour emitters around trees, run your system for one hour once a week. If you have chosen smaller emitters, such as 1 gallon per hour, run your system for up to three hours. Water all plants more often during very hot, dry weather and curtail your watering when rain occurs.