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4 Tips for Conserving Water with Drip Irrigation

drip irrigation system

For the past few years, drip irrigation systems for residential and commercial uses have been an effective way to not only conserve water but give landscapes the deep watering they need to flourish in any climate. They have become increasingly popular on the apartment landscape – whether by requirement or voluntary implementation – and are ideal for beds and compact greenspace areas.

The irrigation concept, which has been around for years, saves water and is being required in drought-stricken communities, especially on the West Coast.  Some states, require it for all new home and business construction. Earlier this year, California Gov. Jerry Brown mandated that drip irrigation systems be installed on all new construction.

Water-saving estimates range from 20-50 percent using drip irrigation, largely because the heavy concentration of water goes directly to the plant’s roots and not down a storm drain or driveway, or evaporating in thin air. About 90 percent of the water goes into the ground, compared to 30 percent that is sprayed. The Environmental Protection Agency says drip irrigation systems can save up to 30,000 gallons of water per year, which is about three times what the average landscape consumes.

Drip irrigation system in garden

Beds, monument and small areas great for a drip watering system

A drip system is a network of flexible tubing that runs along the surface or slightly below of the area to be irrigated. Usually, the tubing is brown to blend with the landscape and contains little devices called emitters that deliver the water at prescribed flow rates. Check valves help keep water in the system for the next cycle rather than draining out.  This is especially important on slopes.

The tubing network is fastened together without being permanently affixed by PVC cement or glue that’s used in traditional irrigation systems. Generally, drip systems are inexpensive to install compared to traditional irrigation systems.

Drip irrigation works best for apartment communities for shrubs or ground cover beds, as well as monument areas and beds or lawns and beds next to driveways or sidewalks where sprays create runoff. It also eliminates rotor or nozzle malfunctions and the chances for a mini geyser that detracts from curb appeal.

In some cases, drip irrigation can be retrofitted to specific zones on existing sprinkler systems. Kits are available to convert small areas like where seasonal color is planted.

Drip systems are not practical for irrigating large lawns, which should be left to more traditional sprinkler applications.

drip irrigation system

Drip irrigation systems can provide years of effective irrigation

Drip irrigation, if cared for properly, will provide years of effective irrigation and save on costly water bills.

However, the system should be maintained like any other, especially since it’s out of sight and out of mind by nature. Users have a tendency to neglect drip systems, and eventually they fail. Also, because there is no visual evidence of irrigation, it’s easy to over water and potentially damage plant life.

Keep in mind these four tips when operating and caring for your drip irrigation system:

  1. Keep drip lines covered with mulch

A key to making a drip system last is keeping the lines covered with mulch or plant material. Tubing that’s exposed to the elements, like the sun, will eventually crack and create leaks. The spread of ground cover will naturally shield the tubing and preserve its life. Exposed areas should be covered with mulch or other material.

  1. Periodically for leaks and water coverage

Since you won’t see water being sprayed on plants, it’s a good idea to check the system to ensure it’s adequately covering the area. When the emitters are activated, a small indicator device can be installed to show that the system is on and that the zone is active (check by uncovering dirt if water is being dispensed equally). If some areas are dry and others are not, an emitter may be bad or there may be a leak in the system that is disrupting water flow.

  1. Don’t overrun the system

It’s very possible to overwater on a drip system. Consumers typically think they have to irrigate longer because water comes out slower. However, running a drip system as long as a spray system will get the job done. The difference is that the plant will get more water than if it had been supplied by spray.

  1. Keep an inventory of parts

Repairs are typically easier on drip systems than underground rotary or spray systems. Keep extra flexible tubing and barbed fittings. Most repairs can be done with new tubing and fittings.

Drip systems are a good investment for irrigating properties. If maintained properly, they can be an effective, long-term watering solution that saves money.


President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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