Water Management: Increasing Drip Irrigation Efficacy - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Water Management: Increasing Drip Irrigation Efficacy

As water prices rise and shortages become more commonplace, drip irrigation is often touted as an ideal way to conserve water. However, its efficient use of water depends on proper design, installation and management, just like any other irrigation system.

Benefits of Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation can be used for watering vegetables, ornamental and fruit trees, shrubs, vines and outdoor container plants. Drip irrigation can help prevent plant stress by maintaining an optimum moisture level in the soil.

It can also be installed on sloped areas or in awkward shaped areas of a property. With drip irrigation, water is distributed only where it’s needed. This helps reduce both weed growth and water loss from runoff and evaporation.

Because drip irrigation uses low water pressure, leaks are less critical. Yet they should still be monitored for issues like this. When properly designed, installed and managed, system benefits and payoffs include savings on water costs and maintenance costs for weed control and a reduced carbon footprint.

Drip irrigation can effectively water the soil even during hotter months. The system can be easily modified, expanded or moved as your customer’s landscape evolves.

Drawbacks of Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation shouldn’t be used in annual garden beds where greenery is densely planted due to coverage issues. It is not well adapted to watering solid plantings of shallow-rooted plants, such as grass and some groundcovers. There are instances of using surface or subsurface drip irrigation to water lawns, but it isn’t ideal.

While clients might think drip irrigation is just laying some tubing in landscape beds, it requires a financial investment like any other irrigation system. This higher upfront cost could cause them to balk before realizing the payoff.

If the drip irrigation is not installed below the surface, it is more at risk of damage and vandalism. Drip irrigation can also be unsuitable for herbicides or fertilizers that need sprinkler irrigation for activation.

Mistakes to Avoid

When designing a drip irrigation system, take both the type of soil and plants into account. This will affect the variety and placement of emitters.

Emitters should be placed so the water reaches the root of the plants. For new plants, emitters hold be placed over the root ball. A larger number of emitters are needed for larger plants and those with higher water needs. Conversely, plants that need less water require fewer emitters of lower flow.

These emitters have small openings that can easily become clogged. To prevent clogging, filters should be installed. Clean filters and screens periodically by hand or by built-in backflushing to make sure your drip system functions properly. Depending on water quality and filter size, flushing may be required weekly, twice a week or twice a month. Once a year, open the end of each lateral line to flush out accumulated sediment.

Most low-volume irrigation systems are designed to operate at pressures below that of the typical water supply. To keep water pressure within the design limits of the system, a pressure regulator must be installed.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.