Introduction to Drip Irrigation Systems

Introduction to Drip Irrigation Systems

Watering the garden is one of those gardening chores that surely elicits drudgery at least from time to time. Some of the options to water a garden include installing a lawn or garden sprinkler, or watering the garden the old fashioned way (with either a long rubber hose, or a simple watering can). Apart from being costly in the case of a lawn sprinkler, these watering methods tend to waste quite a lot of water, which is unwise if you are living in a dry region. If the water being delivered exceeds the soil’s rate of percolation, it results in run-off, taking nutrients plus the topsoil along with it. How about installing a drip irrigation system to meet your garden watering needs?

soaker hose for drip irrigationDrip irrigation systems basically come in two kinds, which are those above ground, and those below ground. Above ground systems drip small quantities of water into the soil, and this water then soaks into the ground. This process is regulated by a pressure controller or regulator that causes the water to be dispensed as drips, rather than in a stream or spray. If you are setting up a simple DIY system, these pressure controllers are relatively quite inexpensive – the system is quite easily setup with a pressure controller and a garden hose that has holes in it (soaker hose). An alternative to soaker hoses is to use a pipe specially designed for this, although it will lack flexibility.

The underground drip irrigation system is slightly harder to install and maintain, but it certainly will not present any unsightly aesthetics in your garden, at least not in view. Basically, it is similar to the above ground irrigation system, but you will need to dig a trench for the hose or piping, which will then be covered back up with soil (or mulch) and be hidden from view. Burying the hose/pipe underground helps to make the watering more efficient, and at the same time seem like you are not doing any watering at all!

Regardless of the type, most drip irrigation systems have a few things in common, such as:

  • Source of water
  • Tubing/piping
  • Tubing adaptors, valves, and fittings
  • Timers
  • Filter
  • Pressure regulators
  • Emitters/drippers

Unless you know how to draw water from a natural well, you most likely would draw your water from a hose bib that connects to the main pipes. If you use an irrigation timer, the hose bib keeps that timer separate from the controlling timer of the overall sprinkler system.

The main advantage of the drip irrigation system is its watering efficiency, which makes the most of your water resources by directing it to where it is needed. The watering is also more consistent, and constant. By using a drip irrigation system, your garden will be provided with water even if nobody is around to do the watering. For greenhouse gardening, drip irrigation is also one of the smart ways to water the plants.

drip irrigation components
The main components in a drip irrigation system

So which one should you choose? You need to consider several things, such as your garden layout. Is it going to change? If yes, you probably do not want to bury the system underneath the ground, because it can be a hassle to dig it up each time you change your layout. But if you don’t mind the inconvenience of doing this, then by all means opt for the underground drip irrigation system.

above ground drip irrigation system in vineyard
Above-ground drip irrigation system in a vineyard

Of course, take note of your soil characteristics, such as the texture. Texture refers to the proportion of silt, sand, and clay in the soil. How frequent your irrigation is run depends on your soil as well. Coarse textured soil (such as sandy soil) will not be able to retain as much water as fine textured soil like clayey soil. So adjust your watering schedule accordingly, taking into account the climate/weather.

Surely you must be wondering, it cannot be all good, so what are the drawbacks of drip irrigation systems? For one, drip irrigation systems water all plants the same way, without taking into account the individual plant needs. Not all plants are the same. Some plants may need more water, some less, depending on species and size, and thus drip irrigation systems cannot cater for this.

However that may be, drip irrigation systems are still some of the cheapest, most convenient, and efficient “automated” watering systems you can have for your garden. The parts needed to put together a system can easily be found in most garden stores and they are all relatively inexpensive. There are also ready-made kits with all the components included which range from complex (that can even be controlled with a smartphone) to simple ones. Once your drip irrigation system is setup, maintaining your garden will become easier and more hands-free.

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