Setting up a drip-irrigation system

Setting up a drip-irrigation system

If you have a yard full of nice flowers, bushes, trees and vegetable beds — especially if they're new and you don't want them to die — then it might be time for drip irrigation, a system you can install yourself for a couple hundred dollars, provided you're willing to do some homework.

There are a lot of little parts, booklets you can read and YouTube videos you can watch. But don't get overwhelmed.

"It's just glorified TinkerToys and not that hard at all," says Jim Stasek of Ashland Hardware.

For the average backyard gardener and tinkerer, the materials you'll need to run a simple watering system off your outside faucet include: a hose bib, battery-operated timer, antisiphon device, pressure regulator, special 1/2-inch or 5/8-inch hose that goes to the general area of your plants, connectors (many little plastic connectors that you poke into the side of your hose), many 1/4-inch "spaghetti" drip lines that extend off the main hose, then finally drip emitters on the ends of the spaghetti lines that deliver the water to your grateful plants.

To get the appropriate drip emitters, you first must determine whether your plants like water sprayed from above or dripped onto the soil around them. Most plants like water in the perimeter of their roots, several inches out, says Ashland gardener Austin Ferris.

The idea of drip irrigation is that you'll use about 70 percent less water than by hand-watering or using an old-fashioned sprinkler that shoots water through the sky and goes all over the place — assuming you remember to turn it on or don't just say "to heck with it, I'm tired today."

After all, says Ferris, if you're trying to hand-water your yard for five months, and you do it every other day, "that's about 120 trips to the yard when what you really want to be doing is relaxing by the lake or somewhere else."

Even if you have your drip-irrigation system professionally installed, it's still good to learn how to install new emitters for new plants and how to troubleshoot (inevitable) clogs in the tubes.

A good first step is to sketch a map of your yard and step off distances, says Ashland landscaper Andrew Markham, so you'll know how much hose to get. Note the types of plants and learn how water-hungry they are, he adds, so you know how many and which types of emitters you'll need.

Find out the pressure in your neighborhood from the city water department to see how many gallons a minute it produces. You don't want to put more emitters on the system than it can handle, or the whole thing will just dribble or stop, says Ferris.

The timer is the most expensive ($50 to $65) and complex item in the water chain, and you'll need to study the booklet and get the hang of programming it. You can get timers with up to six programs, and valves can feed and control up to six hoses.

The rest of the job is simpler. You lay out the hose, attach the spaghetti feeders, affix them to the ground with "staples" and cover it up, nice and tidy.

Then you set the timer, turn on the water and feel good knowing that your plants will get the water they need when they need it, and you won't be paying more than you need to.

Sounds simple enough. And for many people it is. For others ... not so much.

"It's more complicated thank you think," says Markham.

For the average homeowner, says Ferris, it's a fairly big learning curve and you have to be dedicated to the research and learning from mistakes.

If you've got the time and patience, go for it, he says. For others who are less hard-core about their DIY skills, it's best to get it professionally installed, he says, then have the expert teach you how to take care of it over the years.

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