Heading to the store for yet another sprinkler to cover those dry spots in your lawn? Hold up, my thirsty friend. What if I told you there’s a better way to quench your turf that saves water and keeps your grass greener than the neighbor’s? Enter: drip irrigation.
What Is Drip Irrigation?
Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the roots of your plants through a system of tubing and emitters. Instead of spraying water overhead like traditional sprinklers, drip irrigation applies water right where it’s needed – at the root zone. This revolutionary technology was pioneered in Israel in the 1960s and has been growing in popularity ever since.
Unlike flood irrigation that saturates entire fields or sprinkler systems that spray wastefully, drip irrigation targets each plant’s roots efficiently using just the right amount of H2O. If water conservation and precision lawn care sound appealing, read on to learn why more and more homeowners are installing drip irrigation in their landscapes.
The Benefits of Drip Irrigation for Lawns
Converting from sprinklers to a drip irrigation system offers many advantages for your lawn and garden. Here are some of the top reasons to make the switch:
Save Water and Money
Drip irrigation systems can reduce water usage by 30-70% compared to conventional sprinkler systems. By delivering water directly to the plant roots through low pressure tubing, drip irrigation minimizes evaporation, runoff, and overspray. Installing a drip system is like giving your lawn a low-flow shower instead of a wasteful bath. The targeted watering approach will keep your grass lush and cut down on your monthly water bill.
Prevent Runoff and Erosion
Have you ever seen sprinklers sending water down the sidewalk instead of saturating your lawn? That’s wasted water and a major downside of sprinklers. Drip irrigation applies water slowly and directly into the soil, preventing runoff across hard surfaces while also reducing soil erosion. The low pressure and high efficiency mean you can say goodbye to ugly rills and gullies in your yard.
Reduce Disease Problems
Overhead watering from sprinklers thoroughly soaks the leaves and stems of your plants. While your lawn needs the water, wet foliage leads to fungal diseases like dollar spot and brown patch. Drip irrigation solves this by keeping the leaves dry while precisely hydrating the roots underground. Your grass will thank you with fewer diseases and greener growth above ground.
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to lawn irrigation. With drip systems, you can customize the tubing and emitters to target specific plants or zones in your landscape. Want to water the ornamentals more than the turf? No problem. Drip irrigation lets you adjust watering schedules and layouts for ultimate flexibility. As your landscape evolves, you can modify the system to match. Sprinklers don’t offer that kind of precision.
Automated Watering Promotes Growth
Let’s be honest, it’s easy to forget to drag the sprinkler around your lawn or accidentally leave it in one spot too long. Drip irrigation takes the guesswork out of watering with pre-set timers and automated operation. Your plants receive the ideal amount of moisture on a consistent schedule, encouraging stronger roots, greener growth, and better drought resistance compared to sporadic manual watering.
Another bonus of drip irrigation is reduced energy consumption. With traditional sprinklers, high water pressure is needed to distribute water across your entire lawn. Drip irrigation operates at lower pressure, using less energy to pump water through the system. Lower water bills, lower energy bills…drip irrigation is a double money saver!
Ever notice weeds popping up in your lawn a few days after you run the sprinklers? That’s because those water-hogging weeds are stealing nutrients as they germinate and grow. With drip irrigation, water flows only to your desired plants, not to weed seeds scattered across your lawn. Cut off their water supply through strategic irrigation placement.
Types of Drip Irrigation Systems
Now that you know the benefits, let’s explore the different components that make up these high-tech irrigation systems:
The most common type of drip irrigation uses flexible polyethylene tubing with inline emitters spaced every 6-24 inches. The emitters release water through tiny holes at a low, regulated flow rate. Dripline tubing comes in various thicknesses for different flow rates and can be installed above ground or buried.
Micro-Sprays and Micro-Sprinklers
Mini spray heads and sprinklers cover larger areas like garden beds and shrub zones, delivering adjustable streams or mist. Micro-sprays distribute 2-20 gallons per hour while micro-sprinklers output higher volumes. Both provide targeted irrigation without significant evaporation.
Bubblers and Misting Heads
For individual trees or potted plants, bubblers and misting heads offer flexible watering. Bubblers flood the root zone with bubble-like streams while misters provide gentle overhead spray. Both can be adjusted to avoid runoff.
Subsurface Drip Irrigation
The dripline tubing can also be buried 6-12 inches underground and outfitted with pressure-compensating emitters to create an invisible drip system. Water soaks downward into the root zone while the soil surface remains dry.
These high-tech controllers monitor weather and soil moisture and automatically adjust your drip system’s watering schedule. Smart technology helps optimize efficiency.
Designing Your Drip Irrigation System
Converting your landscape from sprinklers to drip requires careful planning and design. Here are some key factors to consider:
Your contractor will map out turf zones, garden beds, and planting areas. Then dripline and emitters can be positioned to target each zone’s water needs. For example, thirsty annual beds need more frequent watering than established shrubs.
Know your landscape plant palette and their watering requirements. For lawns, choose dripline spacing to achieve head-to-head coverage. Trees and shrubs do well with bubblers flooding their root zones infrequently but deeply. Annuals prefer more frequent moisture.
Identify your irrigation water source and quality. Municipal sources are typically fine for drip irrigation. Well water should be tested for particulates and minerals that could clog emitters.
Measure your water pressure to size your system components correctly. Low pressure from the source will limit tube and emitter sizes. A pump may be needed to achieve the ideal 20-40 PSI.
Divide your landscape into zones based on sun exposure, soil type, and water needs. Group plants with similar requirements into zones controlled by separate valves. This allows custom watering schedules.
In cold climates, choose dripline rated for freeze resistance. Draining lines before winter prevents burst tubes. Smart controllers automatically adjust run times to avoid irrigation freezing on plants.
Installing Your Drip System
Ready to get that drip system up and running? Here’s an overview of the installation process:
Design and Layout
A professional irrigation contractor will design and map out your system with CAD software, specifying components and positioning. Property measurements ensure optimal placement.
For subsurface drip, trenches 6-12 inches deep are dug with a mini excavator or trencher following the layout. Surface dripline gets installed atop the soil without trenching.
Your contractor will carefully lay out the dripline tubing and connect it to emission devices like inline drippers or misting heads. The emitters get placed per the design plan.
Connecting to Water Supply
The control valves are connected to the main water supply line, usually near the hose bib. A filter assembly removes particulates before the water enters the drip system.
Programming the Controller
Your irrigation controller gets programmed with the run times and schedules for each zone. Sensors like rain switches are also installed.
The final step is testing the system for leaks, proper pressure, and uniform coverage. Emitter flow rates are checked against design specifications.
Maintaining Your Drip Irrigation
A well-designed drip system requires minimal maintenance but some TLC will keep things flowing smoothly:
Flushing and Filtering
Periodically flush the lines to remove mineral deposits. Change filters regularly, checking for debris that could clog emitters. Annual system flushing when shutting down for winter is important.
Scan for clogged emitters every few weeks, especially at the end of lines. A pressure change or reduced dripping indicates a clog. Flush the lines or use a “gooseneck” tool to clear gunk.
Accidental slits or cracking from sun exposure will happen. Patch dripline with special splicing fittings or tape. Rodent damage may require replacing tubing sections.
Adjusting Watering Schedules
Your smart controller or timers should adjust schedules seasonally, but monitor lawn needs. Manually increase summer watering if stress appears. Reduce dormant season irrigation.
In cold climates, blow out lines with compressed air and drain any excess water before winter sets in. Disconnect lines if needed to prevent freeze damage. Insulate above-ground components.
What’s the Cost for Drip Irrigation?
Yes, installing a new drip irrigation system has a higher upfront investment than just adding more sprinklers. But rest assured the water savings typically pay for themselves within 2-3 years. Here’s a general estimate on costs:
- DIY drip system for small yard: $1,500 – $2,000
- Professionally installed system for 1 acre yard: $3,500 – $5,000
Ongoing maintenance costs will be comparable to a sprinkler system. Replacing damaged drip line parts as needed may be slightly higher than fixing sprinkler heads. Overall, drip irrigation offers a solid return on investment.
Overcoming Drawbacks of Drip Irrigation
While drip irrigation has lots of advantages, there are some potential drawbacks to consider:
Higher Initial Cost
No question, installing a new drip system with smart controls costs more upfront than adding a few more sprinklers to an existing system. Look at the long-term water savings to justify the investment.
If you have hard well water, mineral deposits can build up and clog emitters. Regular flushing and filter changes are key. Or use a water softener to prevent calcium/limescale accumulation.
Pesky gophers and squirrels may view your irrigation tubes as chew toys. Regular checks along the entire line will catch leaks early. Controlling rodents in your yard is also important.
Above-ground drip tubing poses a minor tripping risk, especially for elderly visitors. Burying the dripline removes this issue. Mulching over surface tubing also helps avoid snagged toes.
As with any irrigation system, drip lines require seasonal maintenance like flushing, filter changes, emitter inspection, and watering adjustments. Neglecting maintenance leads to poor performance.
Alternatives Worth Considering
While drip irrigation is ideal for water conservation, it’s not the only game in town. Here are a few other options to consider:
Oscillating and Rotary Sprinklers
These sprinklers distribute water in a set pattern with less overspray than traditional spray head sprinklers. Rotary sprinklers can also cover an adjustable arc of coverage.
A good, low-tech solution, soaker hoses seep water along their entire length. Move the hose around the lawn to achieve coverage. Can be used with an automatic timer.
Don’t dismiss the value of occasional deep hand watering with a hose and wand attachment. Adjustable wands target dry spots precisely. Hand watering offers periodic system flushing too.
Drip irrigation offers an efficient alternative to standard sprinklers for lawn and landscape watering. The ability to customize watering zones, schedules, and layouts provides precision turf hydration and water savings. If conserving water is important in your area, drip irrigation is a smart investment that typically pays for itself over time. Combine with smart controllers for maximum efficiency.
Be sure to have an irrigation professional design and install your system for optimal coverage and component sizing. And don’t neglect periodic maintenance to keep things flowing smoothly year after year. Your lawn will thank you with deep roots and vibrant green grass that makes the neighbors jealous. Ditch those inefficient sprinklers and discover the benefits of drip irrigation today!