Drip irrigation systems are an improvement over automatic sprinkler systems for the yard because they direct the flow of water accurately and don't produce runoff. Building your own drip irrigation system can be as inexpensive---or as expensive---as you want it to be. Whether you choose the simplest system or one with all the controls built in, be prepared to spend some time maintaining it---especially in spring, after the freeze-thaw cycles of winter.
Collect plastic drink bottles or five-gallon plastic "pickle buckets." Don't discard the lids---you'll need them, too.
Drill small holes in the bottom of the bucket or plastic bottle. Alternately, drill four or more holes in the bottle cap.
Fill the bottom of the bucket with about an inch of pea gravel that is larger than the holes in the bottom of the container. Use half an inch for bottles with holes in their bottoms. The gravel will keep containers upright.
Cut off the bottom of the bottle with holes in its cap using a matte knife or kitchen shears. Invert the bottle and bury it halfway in the soil near the plants you want to irrigate. Keep it filled with water to provide constant moisture.
Set the bucket on a few bricks to keep mold or fungus from forming on the bottom. Set plastic bottles near plants. Add water to each type of container as needed and cap with lids or cheesecloth to keep dirt and leaves from clogging the drip holes.
Install a pressure regulator if your water pressure is over 50 pounds per square inch (most municipal supplies are higher) and a backflow or anti-siphon valve to your water supply. You will connect the drip lines to the water supply through these regulating devices.
Lay a main line to carry water through the garden. Connect side lines to this main line using drip-proof plastic fittings. Lay lines no longer than 100 feet from the supply "head" or combination of main and side drip line.
Install emitters on the drip lines. These fixtures may bubble, mist or drip, depending on whether you want the irrigation above ground, at root level or as humidity. Some emitters plug directly into supply lines, while others require adapters to create the joint. Many installation kits include simple tools to punch holes and patch mistakes.
Cap the end of each drip line and secure the tubing with clips that don't pinch so it doesn't move around in the garden. Some systems use risers or stakes that elevate the tubing and emitters.
About this Author
Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.