On Day #52, we talked about how important it is to be hands-on with your sprinkler system and not just set it and forget it. Now, we're upping the game and shifting our focus to an irrigation system that's not just more environmentally friendly but also more efficient at delivering the water exactly where the plants need it. Today is all about drip irrigation and why you should opt for it in your flower and veggie beds over spray.
What are the benefits of drip irrigation and which spaces are most suitable to it?
Sprinkler systems are great for large areas of lawn and spaces where running tubing isn't feasible, but when you have flower or veggie beds, drip irrigation is by far the preferable choice for several different reasons.
Saves water: studies have shown that drip systems use 30% to 50% less water than standard systems such as sprinklers (which spray water into the air leading to significant evaporation).
Improves plant growth: smaller amounts of water applied over a longer amount of time provide much better growing conditions than the large amount of water over a short period of time that you get with sprinklers.
Prevents soil erosion: because of the slow water delivery, soil has enough time to absorb the moisture, which prevents erosion and nutrient runoff.
Helps control fungal diseases: many plants don't like to have wet foliage, which can lead to disease and bacteria spreading. Since drip delivers the water directly to the soil, foliage doesn't get wet.
What exactly is drip irrigation and what do you need to install one?
Drip irrigation is simple and per the name, functions by dripping small quantities of water slowly onto the soil over longer periods of time. Unlike sprinkler or spray systems which deliver large amounts of water over large (and often imprecise) areas, drip tubes sit on top of the soil and deliver the water directly where it's needed.
A drip irrigation system is comprised of a few different parts:
Unperforated plastic tubing: most of the time your water source won't be directly next to the bed you want to water, so an unperforated tube is needed to transport the water from the spigot to the irrigation area. Most of the time, this tubing is buried underground for aesthetic reasons, so the plastic has to be hard enough to withstand the weight of the soil on top of it.
Perforated plastic tubing: this is the portion of the tubing with holes in it to allow water to drip out. Flow rates for these tubes typically range from 0.4 gallons per hour (GPH) to 0.9 GPH. We purchased the Landscape Products 0.6GPH drip tubing. The product is expected to last 25+ years and has an excellent environmental stress crack resistance. We also liked that it was a brown color, which protects the tubing from the harmful effects of the sun and allows it to blend well into our planting areas.
Couplings, elbows, and tees: these are the insert pieces that allow you to connect the pieces of tubing together and build the pattern that you need.
Steel garden staples: you insert these stakes on top of the drip every one to two feet in order to secure them in place.
Automatic hose faucet timer: we purchased the Orbit 1 Dial 2 Outlet hose Faucet Timer because we wanted to operate two separate drip zones off the same spigot, but there are tons of great faucet timers to choose from.
An optional but highly recommended tool to save yourself time and lots of frustration: plastic tube cutters. You'll be making lots of cuts to the drip tubing and these make it so easy!
Because the volume of water delivery is dependent on the hose type you have, the water pressure at your house, and how far away you are from the spigot, you can always test your setup first to determine how far apart you want to place your hoses. We typically space them a little less than a foot apart, and that has worked well.
Tip: to avoid unnecessary maintenance, we recommend staying away from the drip irrigation kits that have the mini spray drippers like this one. We've worked with them before and have found that all those extra plastic pieces are typically made cheaply and break easily. Having the water drip directly out of the tube works perfectly fine.
We'll post a video in the future to show y'all exactly how we install a drip irrigation system and all the steps along the way, but hopefully this will get you started in the right direction. We promise, it's much easier than it may seem!