What Is Drip Irrigation? (5 Reasons To Use It)


Drip irrigation, put simply, is a lifesaver for any busy gardener. Whether you have a small farm or container garden, you can successfully use drip irrigation to save water, time, and money.  

As the name implies, drip irrigation is a type of irrigation system to water crops and plants efficiently. Drip tape, T-tape, micro tape, and trickle drip – these are all names for the same irrigation, one that uses plastic tape to apply water directly where your plants need it – at the base of the plant. 

In this article, we’ll talk about some of the benefits of using drip irrigation. We’ll also go over the steps to take when installing a drip irrigation system.

Let’s get started.

5 Reasons You Should Use Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is, hands down, my favorite irrigation system, and it can be used at a small or large scale, for both annual and perennial crops.   Here are 5 good reasons to use drip irrigation:

1. Conserves Water

Drip irrigation was designed to use the least amount of water to keep a plant healthy. This practice of irrigating crops was invented in Israel in the 1950s and has since taken the agricultural world by storm.¹ 

drip irrigation 2
A drip irrigation system uses a minimal amount of water to keep plants hydrated. This conserves scarce water resources in dry climates.

Because drip irrigation is so precise, gardeners with access to lesser water sources can still effectively water their gardens. According to Penn State Extension:

“lower-volume water sources can be used because trickle irrigation may require less than half of the water needed for sprinkler irrigation.”² 

² Harper, Jason, and Jarrett, Albert, “Drip Irrigation for Vegetable Production,” PennState Extension, 23 Feb 2016, https://extension.psu.edu/drip-irrigation-for-vegetable-production.

If you’re concerned about conserving water – which we all should be, whether or not we live in drought areas – drip irrigation is the way to go. 

2. Energy Efficient

Drip irrigation is the most energy-efficient irrigation system available today. Large-scale drip irrigation systems tend to use water pumps, but due to drip tape’s design these pumps use less energy than sprinkler systems. Penn State Extension has observed that:

  • Lower operating pressures mean reduced energy costs for pumping.
  • High levels of water-use efficiency are achieved because plants can be supplied with more precise amounts of water.²
drip irrigation 4
In addition to saving water, drip irrigation systems can also save energy compared to other watering methods.

Drip irrigation can also be set up to be a carbon-neutral system with zero emissions. If you can, invest in a solar-powered water pump. Or better yet, capture your own water supply with a rain barrel uphill from your garden, and let gravity do the watering for you. 

3. Automated System

What’s one thing that no farmer or gardener has enough of? Time. Watering plants properly can take so much time out of the day, but a drip irrigation system removes this problem entirely.

timer irrigation watering
A time for a drip irrigation system can prevent over watering (and also keep your plants watered while you are away on summer vacation!)
Image courtesy of user:
cogdogblog via:
Wikimedia Commons:
https://commons.
wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2009-365-285
_Garden_Season_
Closes_(4007099430).jpg

Invest in a battery-powered timer for an automated system that consistently waters your garden, even when you’re not physically present. There are even some Bluetooth timers that you can control from your phone or computer if you need to adjust your timer settings from afar. 

4. Reduces The Chance Of Plant Disease & Discoloration

The beauty of drip tape is that water is slowly emitted throughout the day – so none of your garden beds will get flooded or soggy, which may contribute to root rot.

Since drip irrigation waters plants at their base, the foliage never even gets wet (unless it rains, of course). Plants like tomatoes – that don’t love having their foliage disturbed or getting wet – love drip irrigation. Drip irrigation reduces the risk of foliar diseases like powdery mildew. 

root rot
Drip irrigation helps you to avoid soggy soil that leads to root rot, which causes roots to turn brown and mushy.

If you’ve ever used well water to water your crops, you’re aware of how the water can turn leafy vegetables and flowers a rust-like color. Save yourself this problem by installing a drip irrigation system.

5. Reusable Parts Save You Money

Yes, drip irrigation parts are made of plastic. And while it’s important to move from plastic to more sustainable materials, drip irrigation parts are durable and reusable. If properly taken care of, you can reuse drip irrigation parts for years! 

drip irrigation 5
Drip irrigation parts are reusable. If you take care of them, you can get multiple growing seasons out of them before you need to make replacements.

Read on to learn which parts you’ll need to install drip irrigation, and how to winterize drip irrigation to ensure many seasons of use.  

Drip irrigation is an investment, but it is often a one-time investment that saves you water, time, and money in the long run.

The Drip Irrigation System

A drip irrigation system uses a variety of interchangeable and customizable parts to fit your garden’s specific watering needs. What follows are the general parts that comprise a drip irrigation system:

  • Tape

Drip tape is the flexible plastic tubing that you run along the length of your rows or raised beds. The tape has precut holes running the length of it, where the water drips out.

drip irrigation tape t-tape
Drip tape (t-tape) is flexible plastic tubing that runs along the length of rows in your garden to bring water to individual plants.
Image courtesy of user: David Trainer via: Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drip_Irrigation_T-tape.jpg
  • Mainline

Also called “header,” mainline is the thicker tubing often intended to be a permanent part of a drip irrigation system.

  • Emitters

Only needed with mainline tubing, emitters are plastic pieces with a spout for water to drip through. 

drip irrigation drip emitter hydroponics
A drip irrigation emitter allows water to drip through to plants (here, we see an indoor drip emitter for a hydroponic system).
  • Fittings

Useful for repairing holes in drip tape, fittings connect multiple shorter pieces of drip tape into a longer, watertight piece. 

  • Caps

Caps are needed on the ends of mainlines, so that excess water won’t run out the ends. 

  • Pressure regulator

Drip tapes are semi-delicate irrigation systems and parts may break if the water pressure is too high. Use a pressure regulator in between the water hose (or spigot) and the mainline. A pressure regulator of at least 15 PSI is recommended.

drip irrigation pressure regulator parts
A pressure regulator is a crucial part of a drip irrigation system. It ensures that high water pressure does not damage the parts of the system.
Image courtesy of user:
Michael via:
Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.
wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uninstalled_drip_
irrigation_set_up.jpg
  • Timers

Timers aren’t required, but they take the guesswork (and the extra work) out of using drip irrigation.

There are even more pieces that can be incorporated into your drip irrigation system, but these are the essentials. Any store that carries drip irrigation will also have these parts in stock – which is especially handy, seeing as I always need more fittings and emitters than I bargained for! 

Where To Buy Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation may be readily available at your local supply store, and it can be ordered and picked up in-store at Lowe’s, Walmart, Rural King, and Tractor Supply. Some large seed companies and grow supply stores, like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Harris Seeds, also carry drip irrigation kits. 

drip irrigation vineyard
You can find drip irrigation system at garden centers or from various online retailers.

There are a few specialty drip irrigation companies online, including:

Drip Works Tie Downs
We bought drip irrigation supplies from DripWorks, and it worked like a charm last year!

Wherever you shop for your other gardening needs, drip irrigation shouldn’t be too hard to find.

How To Install Drip Irrigation

Installing drip irrigation may at first seem like a daunting task, but it’s a task that you’ll get the hang of after you’ve done it enough times. Familiarize yourself with these steps, and if something doesn’t work for you, try to find a new way of doing it! 

1. Measure & Sketch Out A Plan

Before you go ordering drip tape, take some measurements around your garden to determine where you need mainline or tape (and how much of each). Count your connections, and count how many trees, shrubs, and perennials you have that will need a permanent setup (don’t bother counting how many annuals you have). 

drip irrigation system
It helps to have a plan before you install a drip irrigation system. The plan doesn’t have to be too fancy, but remember; measure twice, cut once!

2. Order Supplies

Check your local garden supply store to see if they have any drip tape supplies in stock, or order online from the suggested companies above.

drip irrigation melon plant
Try to estimate how much hose, drip tape, and other equipment you will need before making a drip irrigation purchase.

If you’re on the border about how much to buy, buy a little more than you think you’ll need. It’s far better to have too much drip irrigation than to be just a little bit short on your projects. 

3. Cut The Mainline To Size

Once you have all the needed drip irrigation parts, choose a day to get it all done (you can space the chore out over a few different days, but I prefer to get it all done at once). Try to choose a day with little to no wind – wind and rain certainly complicate this project, so save yourself the frustration and plan for a pretty spring day. 

Drip Works Drip Hose 100 feet
Once you know how long the mainline needs to be, cut it to the right size before laying it out.

Run the mainline the width of your garden or raised beds. Make sure that your garden hose will reach the mainline, or bring your mainline all the way to your water source. Either way, cap the downhill end of the mainline to stop excess water from running out. 

4. Lay Out The Drip Tape

Drip tape is typically sold on spools, so recruit a partner to help you if you can. If you’re forced to go it alone, bring two chairs out to the garden and run a metal pole or broom handle through the tape spool so that it unrolls nicely. 

Drip Works Drip Tape Roll 1000 feet
Cut pieces of drip tape from the spool and lay it out along your garden rows as needed.

Next, put the spool of drip tape up and walk the length of your raised beds. Flip the drip tape so that the emitter side (the side with a stripe and small holes) is face-up – this helps prevent the emitters from getting clogged with dirt and debris.

Cut the drip tape at the end of the bed, but leave about eight inches extra. Walk back to the spool and go again. I like to run a drip line in between two rows of plants so that the two rows share the water, but you can also run a line for every row.  

5. Use A Hole Punch To Make Holes In The Mainline 

Use a hole punch to make holes in the mainline where the drip tape will attach. Try not to make the holes too big or you’ll have a leak. If you mis-punched a hole, use a goof plug to plug the hole and punch another one. 

6. Connect Tapes Together With Fittings

Now that you have all of your drip tape laid out and holes in the mainline punched, use the fittings to attach the tape to the mainline. They should snap in nicely, with little to no water leak.

7. Fold The Ends

Now it’s time to seal the ends of the drip tape. Find an end, and cut a two-inch section off of it. Take the new end and fold it over on itself several times, pinching the tape tight. Slip the two-inch piece over the end to cap the line and repeat for each line of drip tape.

drip irrigation
When you get to the end of a row, fold the drip tape and seal it with a cap to avoid wasting water.

8. Secure Mainline & Tape With Landscape Staples

Battening down drip irrigation isn’t always necessary – once water fills the lines it will hold them down, and when the plants mature, their foliage will keep the drip lines from flying away. 

drip irrigation vineyard
Use landscape staples (drive both ends into the ground on opposite sides of the mainline drip tape) to secure your drip irrigation system.

I do like to take the extra step of securing drip irrigation, both mainline and tape, with landscape staples – the kind used to pin down landscape fabric. You can use other items too – just take care not to pinch the drip lines into the ground so much that water can’t flow through them.

9. Install A Pressure Regulator

If you have decent water pressure you’ll want to install a pressure regulator. Regulators can be inexpensive, and they decrease pressure going into drip irrigation, which, if left alone, could be damaged by high water pressure.

A pressure of 15 PSI is recommended for most home gardeners. However, if you are working with more drip irrigation or a commercial water source, you might need a different size regulator. 

10. Turn On The Water & Check For Any Leaks

The most important step of this process is the final walk-through. Turn on your water source and watch your drip irrigation system closely.

Drip Works Y Hose Splitter
Turn on the water to check for any leaks. A Y hose-splitter if you want a different watering schedule for two parts of the garden.

Walk the length of your mainline and each garden bed to make sure that your irrigation isn’t leaking profusely (there will always be some small leaks). If your drip tape lines are blowing away from the mainline, it’s a sign that the water pressure is too high or your lines weren’t connected correctly.

Turn the water off and reconnect the lines, making sure to really tighten the fittings. If you’re still having leaks, try a stronger pressure regulator.

drip irrigation lines banana plants
Look for leaks in the tape or mainline (especially where they connect). Re-connect them or seal them to avoid wasting water.

If your drip tape has holes or a bad leak, mark the spot and turn the water off. Come back with a pair of scissors and a drip tape connector piece.

Cut out the tear or hole in the drip tape, and throw that piece away. Connect the two new ends with the connector, and your drip tape is good as new! 

How To Store & Winterize Drip Irrigation

Many gardeners reuse drip irrigation year after year with no problem. Mainline, especially if it’s buried, can be left out through the winter.

Drip tape, as it’s a little more delicate, will need to be picked up and stored for the winter – or it might get chewed on by animals or damaged by freezing temperatures. I like to use the spools that drip tape comes on to store the tape over the winter, but you can also fold drip tape and tie it in bundles.

drip irrigation emitter
Store your drip irrigation equipment with care and you can reuse it for years to come.

Either way, you’ll want to squeegee as much water as possible out of the lines before storing them, or you’ll be in for a mess. 

Be sure to mark how long each piece of drip tape is, or otherwise mark how it fits with your garden beds, to save you the frustration of matching drip tape to raised beds next season.  

Conclusion

Drip irrigation is a godsend for the gardener who’s stretched a little too thin – which is most all of us, isn’t it? Invest in a quality drip irrigation system today to save water, time, and money in the long run. 

I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information. 

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, please check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here. Enjoy! 

~Jonathon

Resources

¹ Frankel, Daniel, “Drip Irrigation: Israel’s Ingenious Invention,” Hasbara Fellowships, 11 May 2021, https://hasbarafellowships.org/drip-irrigation-israels-ingenious-invention/#:~:text=Simcha%20Blass%20is%20known%20as,it%20small%20amounts%20of%20water.

² Harper, Jason, and Jarrett, Albert, “Drip Irrigation for Vegetable Production,” PennState Extension, 23 Feb 2016, https://extension.psu.edu/drip-irrigation-for-vegetable-production.

About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.

Sarah C.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

Recent Posts