The best drip irrigation system is the one that gets water to the plants in a sufficient way. No matter what plants are being grown, they all need sunlight and water to grow vigorously. They come by sunlight pretty naturally – as long as they are grown in the appropriate areas – but water can be a little trickier in certain places. Some areas of the country receive plenty of rainfall to water gardens sufficiently; other areas need supplemental irrigation to make their gardens grow.
While a simple watering can is all you need to give your garden the water it needs, there are other irrigation options available that deliver water more efficiently. After their initial setup they will also significantly cut down on the time it takes you to water your plants; some setups can be even put on a timer/programmer so they come on automatically.
Do It Yourself or Hire Someone?
With most projects, the first decision you have to make is if you’re up to tackling the project yourself or whether you are going to hire it out. If you choose to hire it out take some time and research landscape contractors/sprinkler companies in your area to find someone well qualified and highly recommended. Doing it yourself is a feasible project but it will take some planning and more than likely a few unanticipated trips to the hardware store.
When it comes to designing an irrigation system for your garden it’s best if you start by drawing out the layout of your plants and the garden space. This will make it much easier to decide what kind of system will work best for your needs. It will also allow you to see the sprinkler system configuration on paper, allowing for a more precise estimate of the supplies you will need to purchase.
Above Ground Sprinkler System
Spray or rotor irrigation setups are the systems most people think of first, when contemplating home systems. This is the type where the heads pop up out of the ground and spray water either in a fixed pattern or a rotating stream. The two systems work really well for lawn irrigation but not so much for vegetable gardens and container plants. In gardens or container plantings it’s best to utilize drip/trickle irrigation.
Best Drip Irrigation System
Drip irrigation is exactly what its name implies: water is slowly delivered/dripped to plants through specialized tubes or hoses that have bubblers, emitters, or micro-sprayers attached. This puts water closer to the root system and greatly reduces evaporation. Drip irrigation can reduce overall water usage by 30-50% if implemented correctly.
The simplest way to set up a drip irrigation system in your garden is to lay soaker hoses by the base of all your plants. Soaker hoses ooze water through tiny holes the entire length of the hose, providing moisture slowly to plants. This minimizes evaporation, runoff, and overspray compared to other irrigation methods. Soaker hoses work best for small garden plots on fairly level ground. To get the most benefit from a soaker hose system stretch the hoses straight and then lay them about 2-3” from the stems of vegetables planted in rows.
If plants are not planted in straight rows, wind the soaker hose in and out between them and wrap the hose entirely around the perimeter of plants that have higher water needs. After positioning the soaker hose use wire pins to hold the hose in place. If you want to further increase water efficiency, cover the soaker hoses with a couple inches of mulch to prevent more water loss. A timer can be added to the system to turn the water on/off on scheduled intervals.
A slightly more complicated drip system uses tubing and special nozzles/hardware. This has a higher price tag than soaker hoses but can be customized more to your garden, and the needs of your plants. A system like this can be installed by a homeowner but many opt to have it professionally installed. Irrigation tubing – either solid of perforated – is laid through your entire garden and then the appropriate hardware can be installed to deliver water.
Perforated hose works well in garden areas where the plants are evenly spaced; solid hose works well when you are configuring a variety of water needs and plants are not evenly spaced. Dripper heads can then be run directly to the base of plants and deliver a variable rate of water. Micro-sprayer cans be purchased in a variety of spray angles/patterns and volumes to cover a larger range of area. The benefit to a system like this is the flexibility it gives a homeowner, allowing you to tailor water delivery to specific areas and plants.
Installing irrigation systems in your garden is a great way to cut down on labor and increase water use efficiency. Instead of dragging hoses from area to area, or lugging a heavy watering can around, it’s much easier to turn on a hose and run a system that is set up specifically for your garden.
Drip irrigation systems are the most effective for vegetable and container gardens and can be as simple as laying soaker hoses around the base of plants. If you’re looking for a more complex system then one can easily be tailored to your garden. You can also decide to go full hydroponics, where there is no soil and use only use water.