This means that much less water is wasted, which is good for both the environment and your bank account. Many homes in Ontario prefer this method of irrigation based on those two reasons alone. However, there are also many other benefits of a drip irrigation system that are important to remember. They are typically easy to install and set-up, relatively inexpensive, and can improve overall yard health – especially in plants that are prone to disease problems when faced with heavy moisture accumulation above the root system. Before making a decision about what type of irrigation system is best for your particular needs, a little background information on drip irrigation systems and how they work is important to have.
This blog will provide an in-depth look at exactly what drip irrigation is, how the system is installed, and some advantages and disadvantages of using this method. Let’s get started!
What is drip irrigation – and how does this system work?
Drip irrigation applies water directly to the ground or soil very slowly, which results in very little water loss due to evaporation or runoff. The soil soaks up water, which is then directly taken into the root system of the plant. This explains why this type of irrigation method is so efficient – there is little to no water loss at the source and a direct line/application to the roots.
Primitive drip irrigation systems were used for thousands of years – most frequently in Asia and the Middle East. Modern drip irrigation dates back to the 1860’s, when German researchers began experimenting with clay pipes just below the surface of the soil. Finally, the first above-ground drip line in North America was pioneered in the 1960’s (Dew Hose). Today, drip irrigation systems are extremely easy to install, which helps to keep costs down while also ensuring that your yard will look its absolute best.
A drip irrigation system typically consists of 7-8 different parts. Although systems can vary slightly, almost all of them will be made up of the following :
- Isolation and control valves to control the flow of water
- Backflow preventer to prevent dirt, salmonella, bacteria etc. from being sucked back into the system
- Pressure regulator to reduce water pressure and keep it at a constant level
- Filter to clean the water and remove grains of sand, rust from pipes, snails, etc.
- Drip tubing that is laid on the surface of the ground between the plants
- Emitters that are attached to the drip tubing to regulate how fast water is released to the soil – they are usually small plastic devices that are screwed on to the drip tube
- End cap to close the system and ensure that the water stays inside the drip tube
Everything listed above is usually found in a standard drip irrigation system. However, each system will be set-up or designed differently based on particular yard size or the amount/type of vegetation that needs to be watered by the system.
The usual rule of thumb is that 1-2 emitters are required per plant (depending on the size). Of course, larger trees or shrubs may need more. The more emitters there are, the more moisture is released into the soil. They are usually placed at least 18” apart, as this distance usual provides an adequate distribution of water within the system. Drip tubes should also be staked into the ground about once every three feet to prevent them from wandering or moving around too much during day to day use.
How a Drip Irrigation System is Installed
First, the locations of all shrubs, trees, grass, flowers, and other plants that need to be water should be compiled and mapped out. Depending on the soil in your yard, different types of emitters and spacing may be used. Water tends to go straight down in sandier soil, so emitters are usually spaced closer together. Loamy soil tends to hold water a bit longer, so spacers should be spaced a little further apart. Finally, clay soil absorbs water the slowest – spacers should be around 18” to 24” apart.
The first step in the installation process is to connect the drip irrigation system to the main water source – usually a faucet, valve, or sprinkler. Once connected, it is time to attach the drip line to the system and position it properly along the ground. Holes are then punched (with proper spacing) to fit emitters that deliver the water in the system to the soil. After everything is set up and water is being properly dispersed to the desired areas, routine checking of nozzles and emitters is required to ensure that the system continues to operate smoothly.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Drip Irrigation
Apart from cutting down on water use and saving you money, drip irrigation is also inexpensive and relatively easy to install. As long as the main water source is still accessible, the system can also be moved to a different location with relative ease. It is a perfect solution for watering shrubs, trees, grass, and flowers in many different types of soil.
Drip irrigation is also a great way to disperse fertilizer directly to the roots of plants, as it can be added to the dripline and mixed into the rest of the system. It doesn’t matter if you are watering, fertilizing, or both – drip irrigation gives homeowners direct control of the entire irrigation process (amount, location, spacing, etc.). A quality drip irrigation system will also totally eliminate drift, which happens when the wind carries water from a standard sprinkler system away from the soil and into undesired areas like sidewalks or other walkways.
It also eliminates water leaching below the root system and ensures equal water distribution. Foliage doesn’t get wet in the process, which greatly decreases the chance of disease and blight. Weed control is also increased, as water is only applied to select areas which, in turn, reduces weed growth. Drip Irrigation also nicely tackles uneven surface area, as the dripline easily runs along the ground regardless of yard shape or elevation.
Finally, energy costs are also usually much cheaper, as the water pressure in a standard drip irrigation system is substantially lower compared to other irrigation methods.
The system may require a bit more maintenance than other irrigation methods, as it will likely need to be flushed out at least once per month. This is due to the fact that some water particles will still clog up the filters and emitters – the nozzles of the emitters also need to be cleaned out fairly frequently as well because of their close proximity to the ground/soil.
Drip irrigation is also likely best used in situations where there are flower beds, shrubs, or small patches of grass – a traditional large lawn may benefit more from other irrigation methods since water would need to be dispersed over a great surface area. The drip tubing can also break down over time depending on how much foot traffic is in the surrounding area and how much direct sunlight it receives.
Finally, diligent oversight is required to make sure that the irrigation continues to work optimally and is keeping your plants healthy and disease free. Plant health usually declines gradually, so checking the system often will ensure that everything continues to run smoothly.