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How to Build a Drip Irrigation System

Learn how easy it is to install a drip irrigation water system in the garden using only a hose, install kit, tubing and a drip line. Drip irrigation is a low-pressure water system that keeps roots moist but doesn’t soak the soil.

A greenhouse with small plants and drip irrigation.

Rather than a steady stream of water spraying over an extended area, a drip irrigation system provides constant drips to specific areas. It uses less water than other irrigation systems, which saves energy and money. 

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Drip irrigation laid out in a greenhouse.

Why I Love Drip Irrigation

Years ago, my family and I set out to learn how much food we could grow in 100 days, and I was so pleased to find we could grow 75% of our food needs in that time. 

Over the years, we have continued 100-day challenges and implemented many time-saving tips. Whether they are genius gardening hacks, DIY pig waterers, building a chicken tractor or setting up mobile electric fencing, projects that improve the efficiency of a farm are critical.

Our greenhouse is large and hot. It takes a long time to water all the vegetables by hand. To improve that process, we installed a drip irrigation system to automate the watering. 

Small plants with drip irrigation run beside them.

What is Drip Irrigation?

Drip irrigation is also called trickle irrigation. It’s a watering system where water runs through a system of hoses and drip tape and comes out next to each plant through tiny holes called emitters.

Since the moisture is applied directly to the roots of each plant, the plant is kept at an optimal moisture level, improving its productivity.

Drip tape tied off at the end.

Benefits of Drip Irrigation

Drip Irrigation is a highly efficient way to deliver water to your crops. The water moves from a water source through a supply line and finally into the drip tape. Watering in this way has many advantages.

  • Decrease Labor – With a drip irrigation system, there’s no need to drag around hoses or watering cans to keep your garden watered.
  • Conserves Water – A drip irrigation system delivers water to the plant’s roots so each plant gets the water it needs to grow correctly. Drip irrigation uses smaller amounts of water and has far less evaporation.
  • Targeted Watering – Drip irrigation allows you to lay your water drip lines down exactly where you want them to be, preventing a lot of overspray from traditional sprinkler systems. A drip system won’t require you to level the garden space.
  • Prevents Soil Erosion – Because the water is applied directly to the soil at the root level, there is no soil erosion that overhead watering devices like sprinkler heads can cause.
  • Energy Saver – Because drip irrigation uses lower pressure levels than other types of irrigation, your energy costs will be considerably lower.
  • Prevents Disease – Drip irrigation systems minimize the water contact with the plant’s leaves, stems and fruit, which helps to control plant diseases.

Determining the Flow Rate 

Before installing a drip irrigation system, you’ll need to know the flow rate from your water source. To find the flow rate, measure the flow rate by how many gallons per minute (GPM) come from your water source.

Fill a measurable container with water using your intended water source. A gallon jug works well. Record the amount of time it takes to fill the container. Divide the container size (in gallons) by the amount of time it takes to fill it (in seconds). 

This number will be your GPM flow rate. If your drip irrigation system requires gallons per hour (GPH), multiply that number by 60.

A handful of soil.

Best Soil Type

Drip irrigation works well for most soil types. If your garden is clay soil, apply the water slowly, or ponding will occur on top of the ground. For sandy soil, use a higher discharge rate on the emitters to ensure adequate watering.

Supplies Needed

Drip irrigation systems are superior to traditional watering because the water goes next to the plants instead of on the plants. The system delivers water to only the intended plants and not any nearby weeds.

  • Water Supply – You will need a nearby water supply to connect the irrigation kit. Pro-Tip: If you are using an outdoor water spigot, use a splitter to have your hose attached to one side and the drip irrigation system hooked to the other.
  • Irrigation Kit – I like the Junior Master Gardener Kit from Grower’s Solution. Built to water up to ten rows 50 feet long. It includes the supply line, drip tape, pressure compensating emitters, shut-off valves, hole punch and repair couplers.
  • Back Flow Preventer – Use backflow preventers to prevent the irrigation system’s water from backflowing into your drinking water to contaminate your water supply.
  • Pressure Regulator – Use pressure regulators to reduce the water pressure from your water supply line. Most home water supplies will have too much pressure for a drip irrigation system.
  • Hose Thread Adapter – Use a hose thread adapter to convert your garden hose thread to the drip hose. Use Teflon tape at every connection to keep all attachments from leaking.
  • Timer – Use a timer to control watering schedules. Timers will prevent you from forgetting to do it and avoid overwatering. Smart device systems can even regulate the schedule based on weather activity.
  • Rubber Mallet – Use for pounding in anchor pins to hold your supply line and drip tape in places.
  • Anchor Pins – Use anchor pins to keep your drip tape in place.
  • End Line Valve – Use an end line valve to stop the water flow at the end of a line.
  • Goof Plugs – Have goof plugs on hand if you need to plug holes in the drip tubing.

Install a Drip Irrigation System

There are many drip irrigation systems on the market, including different types for flower beds, vegetable gardens, container plants and shrubs or trees. Some kits allow expansion packs while others do not, so carefully read when purchasing a system.

It’s crucial to buy all your components from the same manufacturer to ensure that all the pieces will work together.

  1. Decide on an outdoor water source.
  2. Attach the splitter if you want to continue to use this water source with a hose.
  3. If you’re using a timer, attach it to the splitter.
  4. Next, attach the backflow preventer to the timer.
  5. Attach the pressure regulator.
  6. Use a hose thread adapter to convert your system to the supply line hose size.
  7. Run the drip irrigation hose to the garden area.
  8. Run the drip lines off the supply hose and place them alongside the rows of plants.
  9. Using the hose barb, make a hole in the drip line near the base of each plant.
  10. Use an end valve at the end of a line to stop the water flow.
A man moving portable fencing for farm animals.

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Hi, I'm Justin

I share from a love of teaching and the sustainable movement. Here, you’ll find exhaustive permaculture articles, plentiful photos, cinematic educational films and business tips and tricks.

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