Beginner Drip Irrigation

Many of my past garden failures have been due to neglect. Usually at some point that coincides with the deep, humid heat of summer I get a little less enthusiastic about sweating in the sun and a lot more enthusiastic about sipping sangria in the shade. Want to know the number one task I neglect? Watering.  So it only makes sense that I would look at drip irrigation.

I never set up a sprinkler because I feel bad for wasting the water, but to hand water well you are going to be standing outside for a long time hose in hand. Luckily Western North Carolina gets large amounts of rainfall so watering is usually only necessary to get seeds started and in the deep summer. Which of course is the time I am least interested in standing around with a a garden hose.

Enter the idea for drip irrigation. The idea is to set up a series of little tubes that emit water at the base of the plant. That way water isn’t wasted on evaporation and is targeted exactly where it needs to go. Added bonus? No more watering the weeds in between your rows. After a lot of research I went with a very simple system that can be easily adapted with additional add-ons and/or retrofitted to use a rain barrel. That way as I find out our actual watering needs I won’t need to buy an entirely new system to make adjustments.

From my research I found out that most drip irrigation systems are pretty simple and made up of a few parts:

  1. Filter
  2. Pressure Regulator
  3. Main Line
  4. Items that emit water
  5. Misc. items to attach lines together

That’s pretty much the sum of the parts. The filter is necessary to keep the small driplines from clogging with sediment. The pressure regulator keeps the water from pouring out of the lines instead of dripping. The main line runs the water throughout the garden while the items that emit water attach to the mainline to, well, drip the water.

I got my items from Drip Works, which made it very simple by offering a basic kit with add-on kits to customize you irrigation for your space. I would caution you some of the add-on kits are more expensive than if you buy your pieces separately. Some of this is due to the fact you may not need exactly what was in the kit. So I got my ‘Heart of the Garden’ kit and just ordered my other pieces separately.

I really suggest watching their videos and checking out other drip irrigation sellers online to get an idea of what the market has to offer. Depending on what you are purchasing the prices can really fluctuate.

Drip Irrigation in Box
Our order

I will give you an idea of how our system is set up. The filter and pressure regulator go right at the main water hookup, which, in our case is just an outdoor faucet around the corner of the house. I made one miscalculation as to how low the filter and pressure regulator would make the hookup to the mainline and the curve is not so pretty. While it works I’ll probably need to order another small part to make my mainline sit flush along the porch.

Drip Irrigation home setup
McClain helping me unroll the mainline. It is much easier to lay out if you warm it in the sun first.

After the main line is hooked to the filter then it goes along the porch under mulch across the whole garden. I inserted a couple of elbows to make it around the corners as the main line is not very flexible so any place that makes a sharp turn is going to need them. Because the actual dripline can only run a certain amount of feet from the mainline and maintain pressure, I needed to run the lines not only across the garden but to the end of it. So that required two tees in the middle and I ran a main line down the center of each bed. The main line is the thick hose running down the center.

Example of the line spliced with a tee.

The final step was to hook up the drip line and space it around the beds to get water to the plants. This is where any system can get really complicated. There are microsprayers, single plant emitters, etc etc etc. I went with some basic drip line with openings ever 6 inches. Due to the fact I live on a giant pile of clay which really holds onto moisture, I’m not going to have to lay out a ton of lines. The water should spread out from the drip points. I put in the bare minimum I calculated I needed but bought extra so that I could tweak the system. One BIG suggestion if you are putting in a bunch of single emitters or a lot of lines in buy the extra insertion tool. I didn’t and my hands hurt badly. I had to have help with the final hook-ups.

Anyway here is the start of our drip irrigation season. I’m interested to see the changes I will need to make as I go. Anyone else use drip irrigation and can already point out my mistakes?

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