What is Drip Irrigation?

Drip Irrigation Watering Systems: How They Work

What is it?
The term drip irrigation refers to a technique of watering, which involves minimal water usage and precise placement of this water, directly on where the plant or landscaping can benefit the most. Originally developed to irrigate plants and foliage in arid climates, where water is at a premium, drip irrigation has developed into a method of water conservation in all climates and situations. As water supplies diminish and the use of clean water is being rationed due to low water tables and precipitation, the use of drip irrigation will gain popularity as well as become a necessity if plantings and landscaped areas require watering.

Drip heads
The actual term is based upon the name of the mechanism that distributes the water onto the plant, from the distribution system, the drip head. Drip heads are designed to provide certain amounts of water normally identified by gallons per hour. The reference is obvious, a drip head identified as a one, distributes one gallon of water per hour to the flower or plant that the drip head is positioned above.

Tubing / Distribution System
The distribution system is normally, flexible piping, constructed of synthetic material that allows the routing of this distribution system throughout the garden, greenhouse, or landscaped area. The distribution system consists of various different sizes of tubing, and dependent upon the manufacturer, can be as large as one inch, or as small as one eighth of an inch in diameter.

Climate or temperature
The majority of time, a drip irrigation system is used, either within a heated environment, or a climate that does not subject the distribution system to freezing. Remember that in colder climates, tubing that is too small, will simply freeze up in the winter. Of course, the colder the climate, the more the negative aspect of freezing needs to be considered, and the larger the distribution system must be. In addition, other methods of freeze protection can be used, such as continued flow, water will not freeze if it is constantly moving, or thermostatically controlled monitors, that will stop the flow of water, once the temperature drops below freezing.

Connections to the system
Most drip irrigation systems are designed to allow the various connections of drip heads, distribution tubing, as well as other accessories developed for the system, to be connected and attached via special connection accessories. These accessories are designed to fit into the products being connected, usually simple with pressure. In some larger systems where the water pressure is higher, special connection bands and fittings are designed to further strengthen the connections between the distribution system and the accessories, such as the drip heads.

Low pressure flows
Drip irrigation systems are designed to operate with low pressure in the lines.   This low pressure is created by the use of pressure regulators installed immediately off the primary water source. For example, if the primary line water pressure is forty pounds, the distribution system may only be designed for much less pressure, such as ten pounds. This references the actual pressure within the distribution lines themselves. A pressure reducing valve, located at the outflow of the primary water source is installed to reduce the pressure down-stream of the primary water source. This reduced pressure will allow the use of smaller distribution tubing as well as smaller and more delicate drip heads and accessories.   The use of small and delicate equipment to service small and delicate foliage and plants allows, the immediate distribution of the water directly to the plant itself without any harm to the plant.

Spray heads
The majority of drip irrigation systems also have various types of accessories specifically designed for the system. These accessories could be special spray heads that allow a focused spray of water, or even a full circular spray of water, for placement over ground cover or special applications. The ability to mount the circular spray heads on posts allowing the spray head to be located over the top of the planting bed, allows the distribution of water over larger areas. Of course this type of spray head application requires a larger quantity of water, and does not exactly distribute the water to the precise areas of the plant, but over the entire circumference, emanating from the center of the head itself.

Usage with reclaimed water
Drip irrigation is a wonderful type of irrigation system for use with grey water, or water that has been stored from other sources, other than the home or business’s primary water supply. Grey water systems can consist of water that was used in the home for washing and then recycled and accumulated in storage containers, collected rain water, or water that has run off of the impervious areas around the property. Grey water systems will require their own means of pressurization, such as a gas or electric pump, to distribute the water from the collection point into the distribution lines of the drip irrigation system.

The use of drip irrigation is extremely popular in greenhouse applications, or special planting facilities to maximize the effect of a minimum amount of water distributed to the plants. The newly created business of marijuana growers, will be using the drip irrigations systems to maximize the use of their available water for the plants. Drip irrigation is being developed and advanced especially due to the environmental concerns for water usage as well as the need to stimulate growth in areas of the world, that do not have a substantial amount of water.

Summary of benefits of drip irrigation:

  • Maximum use of a minimum of water. The ability to use a small amount of water distributed to exactly the location needed by the plant or landscaping.
  • Ease of installation. The ability to simply roll out the distribution tubing throughout the area of irrigation, without the need for primary piping or sophisticated plumbing systems.
  • Ability to simply tap into the distribution system at any point. The systems use a type of pliers that punches the distribution system at any point requiring water. The punch creates a hole in the side of the distribution piping, allowing the insertion of an expanded fitting into the hole with only pressure. This allows an easy punching of the primary distribution lines, wherever the need for water is required.
  • The small and delicate accessories are capable of water distribution immediately at the bottom of plants and foliage, allowing the dripping of water into the root system without evaporation or waste.
  • The ability to be totally creative in the distribution of the water, to wherever the need is within the garden, or covering all of the landscaping.
  • The small pressures that are used within the systems. This light pressurization of the system allows minimal leakage, as well as minimal water loss if there are leaks or openings within the system.
  • The ability to use grey water systems that accumulate rain water, or other miscellaneous additional water, generated around the home.
  • Inexpensive nature of the entire system. The tubing, accessories, heads, etc. are all minimal expense, and can be found in most hardware stores or simply on line.
  • The ability for the amateur gardener to install a basic system that allows the proper distribution of water, as well as the ability to creatively install a totally custom system.

The use of a drip irrigation system is both economical, water saving and fun. I have personally had the fun of installing several installations as well as the ability to creatively and customize each individual system. The installation allows a very satisfying and rewarding experience, without a lot of back breaking work.

Before you decide to hire a professional sprinkler company, or a specialty landscaper, look into the possibility of an inexpensive drip irrigation system, you might not only save substantial money but add to your personal repertoire of “ do it yourself “ activities around the home.

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