Drip Irrigation Systems Tips and Tricks
Use the right system – Drip irrigation systems do not suit all garden layouts. So, the first question you might be asking yourself is whether to use a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system. The answer depends on how sophisticated you want your irrigation to be. Drip irrigation systems are more suited to complicated garden layouts. If you have a very simple garden with a simple layout, then a soaker hose is probably the perfect solution. If you decide to use a soaker hose, all you need to do is to unroll it, connect it to the faucet, and turn on the water.
Choose the right emitters – The first step when designing drip irrigation system is to decide what type of emitters will be needed and where they will be placed. There are many different emitters out there. Bubblers disperse higher amounts of water in a circular pattern. They are typically used to water large plants such as shrubs and trees. Drippers produce large droplets or fine streams of water and are usually placed just above the ground. They typically have a variety of different nozzles that determine their watering pattern and the size of the area they will water. They should be placed in separate zones because they use the greatest amount of water. Similar to a soaker hose, emitter tubing is tubing that has emitters built into it and is useful for plants that are spaced close together.
Space your emitters appropriately – Once you have decided on the emitters that you will use in your system, lay them out in the garden as close to their final position as possible. Do not make the mistake of placing the emitters too far apart. Improper placement of the emitters, installing them too far apart, or not installing enough, may result in your plants not getting the proper amount of water they need to thrive. Different plants require different amounts of water. You will also need to take into consideration the type of soil in your garden. Clay or loam soils do not absorb water as readily as sandy soil. So normally you will want to use more emitters in sandy soil to compensate for the fact that the soil will absorb the water.
Select the correct emitter sizes – Drip irrigation systems require the correct sizing of emitter during their planning stages. Emitters are color-coded by their flow rate, but color codes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so take care if you are building a system using components made by different manufacturers. For example, a medium sized tree may require four one gallon per hour (GPH) emitters placed two feet from the trunk. A perennial flower may require two 0.5 GPH emitters placed at the base. Using two gives you backup so that if one fails the plant will still receive the water it needs. A one foot shrub typically will require two, one GPH emitters. You may find that you will need to change the location and number of emitters as your plants grow. Normally, emitter placement on perennials is permanent, but trees and shrubs require emitters to be moved away from the trunk as plants grow. Larger plants require a greater number of emitters because they have larger and more extensive root systems.
Order additional fittings – The next step is to connect the emitters to piping, which involves cutting tubes to the proper lengths and connecting them to the emitters. The only tip I want to pass along is to buy a wide variety of different types of connectors – more than you will ultimately need. That way you will have the right parts when you figure out exactly what parts you will need. It is sometimes difficult to determine this in advance. Buying too many connectors means that when you are done you only need to make one trip to the store to return what you did not use.
Avoid after installation accidents – Be sure to tie the tubing down to prevent accidental damage to your system or to people visiting your garden. The tubing used in drip systems is designed to blend into the soil and can be a tripping hazard. Covering the tubing with mulch and it fastening down with anchor pins every two to three feet will not only keep your drip system and visitors safe, but will also make the system more effective.
Use the right pipe size – Be sure to keep your lines within the recommended limits. Typically you should not exceed 200 feet of tubing in a single zone. The diameter of the tubing determines the maximum flow. Use one-half-inch tubing on small to medium installations. On larger gardens, invest in three-quarter inch tubing and invest in high-quality fittings. Good fittings will last a long time.
Plan your lines – Give some thought to how you will place your lines in your garden. Try to avoid straight runs and allow for expansion and contraction. Don’t let your tubing kink, as they weaken the tubing and restrict water flow. Finally, you may want to consider using a few “Y” connectors to provide the ability for hand watering.
Consider a backflow preventer – Drip irrigation systems can be connected to a municipal water supply, a well, or a pump that supplies water from a pond or lake. If you are connecting to a municipal system, check with your local water authority to find out if you will need to install a backflow preventer. Next you will need to install a pressure regulator. Finally, play it safe and install a filter to prevent your emitters from getting clogged.
Get the right filter – Drip irrigation systems require adequate filtration. Even the cleanest municipal water contains sediment that can clog your system. You can obtain filters to remove algae, sand and other materials. Filtering is especially required when using water from ponds and wells. Filters are usually classified by mesh count. Filters with high mesh counts will trap small particles. On a system that is using municipal water, use a filter with a filter count of 150 to 200.
Automate your system – While it is not necessary, you can install valves that can be controlled remotely on your system. The valves contain a solenoid that will either turn the water on or off. These valves will make your installation a little more difficult as you will have to supply power (typically low-voltage) to the valves. You can use the valves to control which emitters are receiving water so that you can fine tune your irrigation. You can install a timer to turn your system on and off automatically. Installing valves and timers allow you to create a system that will run itself.
Maintain regularly – I am sure you have heard the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Regular maintenance of your drip system will keep the system working efficiently and effectively for many years. Be sure to change your filters on a regular basis, especially if you are using pond or well water, and check and clean the emitters. Should your system break or you make changes, flush the system before using it again to help remove any particles that might cause a clog. If you live in a cold climate, be sure to winterize your system before the first freeze.
Don’t worry, keep watering – One of the best features of drip irrigation systems is that they are adaptable and can be easily changed after they are installed. So do not worry about installing the perfect system. Create a system that seems to make sense for your needs. Try your new drip irrigation system out for a while and then make any necessary adjustments. Over time, you will find that drip irrigations systems are popular for a reason, and that yours will turn into a good investment.
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