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Choose the right irrigation system for your yard

Learn the pros and cons of drip irrigation, soaker hoses, underground systems, and more to find  out what’s best for you.

Your garden needs water to be healthy and combined with today’s technology, the right irrigation system can be customized to fit your landscape and give you the exact coverage you want while saving you time, water and money.

Irrigation options

Hand watering options and portable sprinklers are the first way many homeowners water their yards. It’s friendly, easy to use, and affordable.

Less practical home irrigation systems generally fall into two categories: Low-flow systems, such as drip irrigation systems, soaker hoses, and drip tapes, consist of polyethylene tubes or tapes placed above the soil or buried slightly underground. Small holes, emitters or sprayers built into the tube or tape deliver water directly to individual plants.

High flow systems are familiar ground sprinkler systems. PVC pipes are installed in trenches in the ground where sprinkler heads or rotors are installed at intervals. This in turn sprays water through the air, causing it to “rain” over a large area.

Manual watering and portable sprinklers

Containers, windowsills, hanging planters, small garden beds and lawns can all be equipped with irrigation systems, but it is often easier to use a watering can, hose or portable sprinkler.

Portable sprinklers can target a slightly larger area than hand-watering options without the downtime or work of setting up an irrigation system, especially if they consist of only one or two lines or stations.

Element. Watering cans come in a variety of sizes. The smaller ones fit nicely in small pots or window boxes. Using a larger water bottle allows you to water more plants at once.

Both hose tip nozzles and portable sprinklers are available in a variety of options. The different settings give you more flexibility when watering different areas and plants.
Benefits. Watering by hand connects you closely to your garden. Whether it’s the first sprout or an early sign of a problem, you can keep an eye on its progress. Water can be supplied directly to the plants and root systems and initial costs are minimal.

Disadvantages. Watering by hand or installing and moving sprinklers can be labor-intensive, especially over large areas. These means are also not automated, so you’ll need a backup plan if they’re not available. Sprinklers are also less water efficient than drip systems.

Drip irrigation system

Drip irrigation systems are the standard approach for low-flow irrigation. When placed correctly, it delivers a small, steady stream of water directly to the roots of each plant included in the system. It’s also flexible, allowing it to adapt to different layouts and handle different terrains.

Drip systems are a good choice for most plants, including perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees and vegetable gardens. You can also find drip systems designed for container gardens, including hanging baskets. Underground drip systems can be installed on lawns, but they are much more expensive closer to the cost of in-ground systems and require more maintenance.

Benefits. Low-flow systems are the most water-efficient way to water garden plants. Water is delivered directly to the roots with minimal losses due to evaporation or over spraying. Not watering foliage will minimize fungal diseases, and watering off-plant areas will reduce weed growth and fertilizer runoff. The right emitter can provide water even when going uphill.

Drip systems are less expensive to install than traditional in-ground systems. It’s also less disruptive to your landscaping because there’s no need to dig trenches or run plumbing and electrical connections.

Disadvantages. Above-ground pipes can deteriorate from sunlight and can be more easily damaged by weeds, people, pets, and other animals. The lines may become clogged with dust or debris.

If your drip system components are above ground, they may need to be replaced every three to five years, depending on their location and quality. Those below the surface last longer, usually 10 to 15 years.

Element. The drip system consists of main and auxiliary tubes, emitters, and elements that regulate the system.

➢ Timer allows you to set the date and time the system runs.
➢ Control valves control the flow of water.
➢ Prevents filter clogging.
➢ A pressure regulator protects against too high-water pressure.
➢ Back flow preventers, also known as anti-siphon devices, prevent water from backing up into your home’s plumbing system and are usually required by code.
➢ Swivel adapters or screw-to-tube compression adapters connect larger dimension plumbing pipes to smaller catch lines.
➢ A fertilizer injector allows you to add fertilizer to the water.
➢ Drip lines supply water throughout the system. The tube is flexible so you can place it
precisely throughout your garden and has an end cap to stop the flow of water. Larger tubes are used for main lines. Smaller tubes are then connected to this to lead to individual plants. Connections are available with elbow and T-shaped connectors. Some lines may have emitters pre-placed, but most allow you to place the emitters exactly where you need them.
➢ Drip or button emitters are the most familiar emitters. They simply let the water fall to the ground. Using a micro bubbler allows slightly more water to bubble out of the lines, usually into the wells around the plants. A spray bottle or mister creates a light spray and is a good choice for hanging baskets. Micro sprays emit a small spray like a larger sprinkler and can water a slightly larger area such as an area with ground cover where emitters around each individual plant would be impractical. Pressure compensated emitters are used to deliver water up the slope.

Maintain. Drip systems require seasonal maintenance, including cleaning and flushing the drip tube every spring. You should also clean the filters and emitters and run the system to find any problems. Monitor components carefully throughout the growing season and correct problems such as dirt, clogs, and breakage.

Unless you live in an area with warm winters, you should disconnect timers, control valves, filters, pressure regulators, and backflow devices and move them indoors for the winter.

Soaker hose and drip tape

Soaker hoses and drip tapes are similar to drip systems but are less efficient. Like drip systems, they can be set on a timer, but require a dedicated hose and faucet. This is an excellent choice for small garden beds and vegetable patches.

Element. The soaker hose is slightly larger than standard drip tubing and has evenly spaced holes along one side. One end is connected to the hose and the other end is closed. Drip tape is a thin, single tape with emitters set at different intervals. Designed as a temporary standalone solution.

Advantages. If you don’t want to water by hand but aren’t ready to use a drip or underground system, this is a good compromise. They use more water than drip systems, but not as much as underground high-flow systems.

Disadvantages. Designed for straight rows without allowing for curves or bends between plants. Pre-set holes may not match the plants and may encourage weed growth. They also don’t last long.

Underground sprinkler system

The familiar ground sprinkler system is a prime example of a high-flow irrigation system for home gardens and is most often used on lawns or large areas with low ground cover. Pipes are installedin the trench and the system is connected to plumbing and electrical lines. An attached controller
or timer turns the system on and off at preset intervals.

Advantages. Ground sprinkler systems are designed to water large areas, especially lawns. Sprinkler head options allow you to target more or less water flow. Once installed, the system should last up to 20 years or more.

Disadvantages. Underground sprinkler systems waste more water than drip irrigation systems. Because sprinkler heads spray water into the air rather than directly onto plants, the water is lost to evaporation before it reaches the ground. Overspray may cause you to lose more water. This is because the large arc of water makes it more difficult to fine-tune the spray. Widespread watering promotes weed growth and fertilizer runoff.

The layout of the above ground system is robust with pipes running straight or at right angles. These systems also do not perform well on slopes and are more expensive to install than other types. You’ll need professional help to lay out the system and connect it to your home’s sewer and electrical lines.

Element. The ground system consists of a timer or control system, PVC pipes carrying water, and sprinkler heads. Plumbing is standardized, but you can find a variety of options for timers or controllers, from relatively simple ones for each zone’s days of the week and run times to those that use smart technology.

Maintain. Above-ground systems require regular maintenance. Flush the entire system and check overall functionality in the spring and fall. Repair broken sprinkler heads and valves and adjust

spray heads. Look for signs of damaged pipes, such as unexpectedly wet areas or higher-than-expected water bills.

The system should be turned off when winter temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This includes shutting off the water supply, insulating drain pipes and above-ground components. We recommend calling a professional to help you with this.

Choose the irrigation system that’s right for you

The right watering system will depend on the size and layout of your garden, the plants you grow, and how vigorously you want to water them. You can use one approach or mix them up to get the best combination for your garden.

➢ If space is limited or rainfall is limited, hand watering options or portable sprinklers are suitable. Watering by hand is also a good idea. This is especially true for containers on patios, porches, and decks where drip systems are difficult or unsightly to install.
➢ Drip irrigation is usually the best option for most homeowners. They are much more water efficient than other options and are less likely to cause pests, diseases, weeds and water or underwater problems. Offers the most flexibility in terms of layout and watering method.

They are also less expensive than underground irrigation systems. A ground irrigation
system can also be modified to accommodate a drip irrigation system.

➢ Soakers and drip tape can be a good solution for small, relatively flat areas that sometimes need a little extra water.
➢ In-ground systems are suitable for lawns or large ground covers. Other considerations when choosing an irrigation system Technology. With a smart watering system, a controller or timer uses technology to automatically adjust your watering schedule to match weather and soil conditions. Your plants can get the moisture they need when they need it, and you can save on water and utility bills when you don’t.

To get the most out of your system, consider integrating some or all of the following: If it is raining or has recently rained, the rain sensor will ignore the settings. Smart features and Wi-Fi connectivity allow you to monitor and program the system from your phone or computer.

If you have an existing irrigation system, the only part you will need to adjust is the controller or timer. There are two basic options: additional sensors and weather-based systems. You can also find weather stations that combine both features with other data to get more accurate information.

Whom to hire? A simple drip system can be a DIY project. Individual parts or kits can be found at home supply stores. For more complex installations with multiple areas, a landscaping professional familiar with drip systems can help you determine where the lines are needed, the correct watering rate and what type of emitter is best for your space.

Contact a landscaping professional to install an in-ground system. This is labor intensive and requires expertise in specifying different watering zones to maximize efficiency. You will also need a professional to handle plumbing and electrical connections.

When should I do it? Drip systems can be added at any time and above-ground systems can be added when ground work is available. Spring is a good choice because you can get the system in place before spring and summer growth makes working around the plants more difficult. 

Fall is also a good choice for preparing your garden for winter and the next growing season.

Find irrigation system installers near you on (Add Company Name).
How long will it take? Most systems can be installed in one day, but complex systems, especially underground sprinklers, may take a little longer.

Permits and regulations. Always check if a building permit is required. An in-ground irrigation system will probably require one. Many places require a permit for drip systems. If you’re working with a professional, ask about local requirements and whether that part of the job they’ll handle. If you belong to a homeowners association, check to see what requirements or restrictions it imposes.

Expense. Costs will vary depending on where you live and the complexity of the installation. It costs between $400 and $800 to have a drip system installed by a professional. The average cost to install an above-ground system is approximately $2,500 to $3,000.

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