DRIP IRRIGATION IN THE GARDEN
If you’re not using drip irrigation in your garden, now’s the time to start. It’s a highly efficient way to water, so it saves you time and helps to conserve precious supplies. Studies show that well-designed drip systems use at least 30 percent and in some cases 50 percent less water than other methods of watering such as sprinkling.
WHAT IS DRIP IRRIGATION
Drip irrigation is a low-pressure, low-volume watering system that delivers water to home landscapes in various 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.
HOW DOES DRIP IRRIGATION WORK
A drip irrigation system delivers water directly to the root zone of a plant, where it seeps slowly into the soil one drop at a time. Almost no water is lost through surface runoff or evaporation, and soil particles have plenty of opportunities to absorb and hold water for plants. It also means very few nutrients leach down beyond the reach of plant roots. Furthermore, since drip irrigation delivers water directly to the plants you want to grow, less is wasted on weeds. The soil surface between the plants also remains drier, discouraging weed seeds from sprouting.
For busy gardeners, the main benefit of drip irrigation is saving both time and effort. Drip systems eliminate the need to drag around hoses and sprinklers. For systems that use a timer, gardeners need only spend a few seconds to turn the system on; the timer automatically turns it off.
Plants watered with drip systems grow more quickly and are more productive because they have adequate water. This is especially true when drip irrigation is used in conjunction with mulch. Also, plants watered by drip irrigation don’t end up with wet foliage from a sprinkler spray, and that can help prevent foliage diseases such as powdery mildew.
DESIGNING A SYSTEM
The first step in designing a drip irrigation system is deciding what you want the system to water. Is it only for your vegetable garden, or will you use drip irrigation for your entire landscape? The topography is also a consideration: If your garden is hilly, you’ll probably need to use emitters that compensate for pressure changes in the line.
Keep in mind that plants can become “addicted” to drip irrigation because roots will concentrate in the area where the water is available. When designing a drip system to carry water along the rows of a vegetable garden. The water must be spread uniformly throughout the irrigated area so root growth will be uniform. For example, if you irrigate larger plants such as trees and shrubs, place emitters on two or more sides of each plant to encourage roots to grow out in all directions. For the same reason, it’s best to use your system to provide a long, slow watering. If you turn it on for frequent, short waterings, water won’t have a chance to spread far in the soil, and consequently, the roots will form a tight, ball-like mass around the emitters.
You can design your own system, but most companies that sell drip irrigation equipment will design systems for you. Their design will come complete with a list of parts and spacing for emitters. Whatever method you choose, start by making a fairly accurate drawing of your garden to determine how many feet of tubing you’ll need.
KITS FOR BEGINNERS
A low-risk way to get started with drip irrigation is to buy a starter kit. Most companies that sell drip irrigation systems also offer kits for small and large gardens. These kits come with the essential components necessary to set up the system. Keep in mind that kits often don’t include parts such as pressure regulators, timers, backflow preventers, and line filters. Be sure to buy a kit that can be added onto, so you can expand your system over time.