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Drip Irrigation for the Yard and Garden

Drip Irrigation for the Yard and Garden

FS030E
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R. Peters, Extension Specialist/Associate Scientist, Washington State University Prosser IAREC
This publication discusses how to set up a drip irrigation system for a small yard or garden space.
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This publication provides an overview of drip irrigation systems, including the benefits and costs, the various components, and the basics of design and operation of such systems.

Drip irrigation has many advantages over sprinklers. The application efficiency of sprinklers varies widely, but is typically about 70%. This means that while 70% of the water that leaves the sprinkler nozzle ends up in the soil for potential use by plants, 30% is lost to wind drift and evaporation. Drip irrigation is 90–95% efficient. The 5–10% water loss comes from water evaporation from the small soil surface area that gets wet.

Another benefit is that because only a small surface area gets wet, fewer weed seeds germinate. Drip irrigation also allows a plant’s leaves to stay dry, reducing the risk of plant diseases that thrive in wet conditions. Drip irrigation typically allows a much higher degree of control over the soil water content. And, unlike flood irrigation or sprinkler irrigation, drip systems are suitable to any soil type or slope. A drip system can also simplify irrigation management since once it is set up, irrigating via drip is simply a matter of opening a valve.

Drip irrigation does have drawbacks. It costs more per unit of irrigated area to set up than any of the other irrigation system alternatives, and the potential for plugging of drip emitters can be a major concern. To achieve slow application rates, the water must travel through a very small orifice (opening). Consequently, tiny bits of dirt or organic material in the water will plug the drip emitters. When that happens, the plants around that particular emitter may get no water at all.

Drip Irrigation System Components

The following are components of typical drip irrigation systems. Starting at the water source (typically a spigot), a drip system (Figure 1) consists of (1) a control valve to turn the water on and off; (2) a backflow prevention/anti-siphon device; (3) a pressure regulator; (4) a filter or filtration system; (5) air- and vacuum-release valves; (6) a main line, submains, and laterals; (7) drip emitters; and (8) a flush mechanism. Not all components are required in every landscape or garden situation and the functions of some components may be combined into a single device. All of these components can be found at an irrigation supply store or many hardware stores.

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Issued by Washington State University Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in furtherance of the Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Extension programs and policies are consistent with federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination regarding race, sex, religion, age, color, creed, and national or ethnic origin; physical, mental, or sensory disability; marital status or sexual orientation; and status as a Vietnam-era or disabled veteran. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local WSU Extension office. Trade names have been used to simplify information; no endorsement is intended.