A drip irrigation system, or microdrip, is my absolute favorite method of watering my raised garden beds. It is efficient since it only delivers water to the plants of my choosing. Microdrip saves money since it uses less water. These systems are also very easy to put in with an inexpensive timing system. For other watering systems, check out this post on all watering methods, but I wouldn’t recommend anything over microdrip. To learn how to install your own drip irrigation system, continue reading.
Drip Irrigation System Benefits and Problems
Drip Irrigation Benefits
A drip irrigation system offers huge benefits to the backyard gardener. They are, for the most part, inexpensive. Since they are infinitely customizable, you can make this type of irrigation system as inexpensive or as expensive as you want to make them. These systems save you a ton of water since they only deliver water to the plants that you want. I can’t stress this too much. You don’t water the large area around the plant but you water the plant itself. Since you save the water with every watering, that adds up to a lot of saved money over the course of a growing season.
A drip irrigation system is able to be customized to your exact needs so they work with almost any type of planting system. For 5 common plantings that work very well with drip irrigation, check out my free PDF in the library! This means that if you want the tomato garden of your dreams, your watering system can account for that. If you want to instead grow enough lettuce to feed an army, your watering system can account for that as well. Microdrip systems are incredibly fun to set up because you really feel like you have ownership over the entire thing.
Drip Irrigation Problems
Due to the level of complexity these systems can attain, you tend to develop quite a horde of supplies that you need to have a way to store. I have found that this Dewalt tool organizer useful since all the little compartments hold my pieces and parts quite nicely. A good drip irrigation system relies on a few key parts being available to you. If your local hardware store is out of the tubing you need or the bubbler for your system, you can’t really make do with a secondary option.
Drip Irrigation System Requirements
PSI Regulator, Backflow Preventor, and Hose Converter
There are three major pieces required at the host spigot for every drip irrigation system. Fortunately, to make it easy, these three pieces can be purchased as a set, which is awesome! Just buy the set because it’s so much easier than buying each piece separately. The first part required which is an anti-siphon and filter. These systems can be brought down by a small piece of dirt and the filter will help to prevent that. The anti-siphon will keep anything from your system from backing up into the water system as a whole.
The second part necessary for a drip irrigation system is a connector that changes the pressure to between 25 and 35 PSI. This is a lower pressure than most hose spigots put out but is it the appropriate pressure for all microdrip systems. All of the flow amounts specified by your drippers are dependent on having the correct pressure to begin with.
The last major piece converts the hose thread to the 1/2″ poly tubing that microdrip systems run on. This 1/2″ poly tubing is the backbone of all microdrip systems and it is the main distribution line for your system.
There are a few tools that make the installation a hell of a lot easier. I would highly suggest a clipper for the tubing, I use this one and love it, so that you can easily cut the tubing to the right length. Scissors would work but not as easily or as well.
A hole punch helps to make holes in the distribution tubing in order to attach connectors and watering heads. Again, you could probably figure out how to make a hole without one but it’s a lot easier with one.
I would recommend, though you can be brave and go without, is a pack of hole plugs. Not only that, but a large pack of hole plugs. Everybody makes mistakes and I promise that you will at some point poke a hole where you don’t want one. Beyond that though, one day you’ll want to change your drip irrigation system and you will need to plug a hole then anyway.
Drip Irrigation System Tubing
Tubing and Hold Downs
Grab a roll of 1/2″ poly tubing, which is the large distribution tubing, and a roll of 1/4″ line tubing to connect your watering points to the distribution tubing. Make sure to get a package of ends for your distribution tubing. Hold downs for both sizes of tubing are also good to have around. If I’m being honest, a rock works well too but the hold downs make it so much easier!
There is a specific type of 1/4″ tubing that is a soaker tubing. These come in two varieties, one that looks and feels just like a classic soaker hose and one that functions by soaking water out of laser cut slits. I prefer the laser cut tubing because it holds up well and works great.
Stakes, Watering Heads, and Connectors
I like to keep an array of stakes available for the different types of watering points I like to set up. Stakes help to stabilize the tubing and the watering heads so that everything is secure within your garden bed. For a really clean installation, you need tubing tees and elbows. I’ve seen many people get by with just the stakes and tubing but I prefer it with the connectors. I also like to keep an array of watering bubblers, drippers, and sprayers around in case of different needs from one plant to another. Bubblers are sometimes more appropriate but drippers are necessary for many plants. Continue reading for more information on the different types of watering heads available.
Drip Irrigation Watering Heads
For those who want several watering heads off of one sprinkler riser, I give you the manifold! These are basically intersections for a drip irrigation system. They connect to underground sprinkler systems to make your existing system a drip system. There are anywhere from two to ten ports coming off of it that the 1/4″ tubing can connect to. This is a quick and inexpensive way to attach many watering heads to a centralized distribution point.
Flag Emitters and Drippers
For small, specific areas, you need to use a flag emitter or line dripper. These drip irrigation system pieces come in three distinct amounts of watering ability. These come in varieties that produce as little as 1/2 gallon per hour (GPH) drippers to 2 GPH drippers. For watering needs beyond these varieties, it usually isn’t in stock at your local hardware store but it is still possible to find.
Drippers usually come in both in-line and end of line types and it is important to get the correct type. The in-line type require 1/4″ tubing on either side of the dripper; they are made to be in the middle of the line. The end of line drippers will not have a barb on either side so you won’t be able to connect tubing to extend your watering line.
Bubblers are my favorite drip irrigation system watering heads. The guy who taught me these systems called them “shrubblers” since they’re perfect for shrubs. They’re also really fun to set up and watch work. Bubblers are basically like small lawn sprinklers and they can be set to put out anywhere from 0-10 GPH usually. They either poke into the 1/2″ poly tubing directly or you can put them on a stake and run 1/4″ tubing to them. I have used both and I tend to prefer the ones that stick into the 1/2″ distribution line. I found them easier to install and they seemed to function better as well.
Preparing For Your Drip Irrigation System
Heading to the Hardware Store
You will also need to pick up various items from the drip system set up in your local hardware store. For the most successful trip to the hardware store, you’ll want to be ready to tell a sales person what you are trying to accomplish both in terms of layout and plants you are growing. If you are trying to DIY your setup, grab some things without thinking.
Planning Your Drip Irrigation System Layout
I highly recommend that you work on laying out your drip irrigation system before you actually start cutting tubing. For additional information on each type of watering head, I would recommend going to the Rainbird website since they have a great selection of drip irrigation options. To help you do your own layout, I have made a simple layout for you to use in order to download and work with. You will be able to custom design your entire system to have an incredibly successful garden season.
Drip irrigation systems are the best options to get a custom designed system for your yard. They allow you to water each plant individually and keep the weeds down by not watering the entire area. With an investment of roughly $100 you can have your own customer basic drip irrigation system on a timer. If you are ready to spend a little bit more, an advanced system will cost $200-$300 for several garden beds and numerous plants with several different zones of watering. Don’t hesitate to try out these watering systems. You will never go back to basic again!