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How to Use Drip Irrigation to Water Your Garden

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 27, 2020 • 4 min read

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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

The method you choose to water your plants can be the key to achieving a lush, healthy garden. Sprinklers are certainly easier to use than a standard watering can, but they’re imprecise. If you're looking for the most efficient and controlled method of watering your garden, consider using drip irrigation.

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What Is Drip Irrigation?

Drip irrigation is a system of tubing that directs small quantities of water precisely where it’s needed, preventing the water waste associated with sprinkler systems. Drip systems minimize water runoff, evaporation, and wind drift by delivering a slow, uniform stream of water either above the soil surface or directly to the root zone. This irrigation method is the ideal way to water plants and crops in locations where water is scarce. Drip irrigation is common in large-scale agricultural settings, but home garden drip irrigation systems are also popular and relatively inexpensive.

How Does a Drip Irrigation System Work?

There are six main components of a drip irrigation system.

  1. Valve: A drip kit irrigation valve controls the flow of water. You can equip a water valve with an automatic timer and pre-program your watering times.
  2. Filter: The filter on a drip irrigation kit prevents debris from clogging the tubing.
  3. Pressure regulator: The water pressure of the typical home water supply is too high for a drip irrigation system. The pressure regulator both decreases the water pressure and provides a constant low-pressure flow, even if your home water supply's pressure fluctuates.
  4. Backflow preventer: This device prevents water in your irrigation system—which may become filled with dirt and bacteria from the soil—from getting sucked back into your drinking water supply when your drip system is turned off.
  5. Dripline: This flexible drip tubing transports water from the valve to your plants. Also known as a distribution line, the dripline connects to the pressure regulator via a tubing adapter. Black or brown drip line is common, as it blends in with soil and mulch.
  6. Emitters: Also known as drippers, drip irrigation emitters are small plastic devices that connect to the tubing to discharge water into the soil. Emitters are rated based on their gallons per hour (GPH) flow rate and the maximum water pressure they can handle in pounds per square inch (PSI). As a general rule, most plants require one or two emitters to receive the proper amount of water.
  7. End cap: Also known as a flush valve, an end cap prevents water from running out the end of a drip line. Remove the end cap at least once a year to flush out any sediment or algae that has built up inside the tubing. Once the water runs clear, the tubing has been properly flushed, and you can reapply the cap.
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8 Advantages of Drip Irrigation

There are many advantages to converting your garden to a drip irrigation system.

  1. Water conservation: Since drip irrigation systems control water flow efficiently and use 30 to 50 percent less water than sprinkler systems.
  2. Adaptability: Drip irrigation systems are useful in a variety of settings—from small vegetable gardens to large farms—and for all soil types. You can easily move or expand the reach of drip emitters and drip lines to irrigate additional plants.
  3. Consistent water flow: You can use water emitters that are pressure compensated, meaning they provide a consistent flow rate even when the water has to flow uphill.
  4. Improved plant growth: The slow, consistent flow rate of a drip system provides ideal plant growing conditions. It allows water to soak deeply into the soil and more easily reach plant roots.
  5. Weed control: The precision of a localized water delivery system means less water is available for weeds to grow between plants.
  6. Minimized pollution and territorial damage: Since there's no water runoff with a drip irrigation system, fertilizer pollution is less likely to be washed into natural water sources. And unlike lawn sprinklers, drip systems don’t cause the deterioration of surrounding fences, house siding, and pavement.
  7. Time efficiency: You can automate drip systems with a programmable timer so they stick to a hands-off watering schedule.
  8. Minimized risk of plant fungus: Fungal diseases often occur when plants have wet leaves. Drip irrigation reduces the chance of fungal infection by delivering water directly into the soil without spraying water onto the leaves.

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What Is a Soaker Hose?

A soaker hose is simply a garden hose with tiny holes in the tubing that allow water to trickle out into the soil. While not a proper drip irrigation system, a soaker hose is an easy way for home gardeners to achieve a similar effect. Only use soaker hoses on flat land because any slope will force the water to one side of the hose. Soaker hoses are a more cost-effective option than proper drip systems, but they use more water and aren't as effective.

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Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass All-Access Pass and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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