Water is a critical resource in today’s world, which makes its efficient use one of the primary tenets of a sustainable home. So, when it comes to watering your yard or garden, how can you make the best use of limited water supplies? Is drip irrigation the way to go?
Compared to sprinklers, a drip irrigation system reduces water usage by 20-50%. These systems provide targeted fertilizer and water application at the root zone and considerable energy savings. For large setups, regular inspection is needed to catch clogged irrigation tubes.
The drip irrigation system can help you save water and maintain healthier plants and trees since minerals and nutrients are sent directly to the plant roots with the help of emitters and drip tubes. Let’s look at the water conservation process in detail and find out whether there are any disadvantages to this innovative system.
What Is Drip Irrigation?
Drip irrigation, also known as micro or low-volume irrigation, consists of a network of low-volume emitters and plastic tubing typically connected a nearby hose bibb. These tubes are placed systematically to reach every part of the target area so that water is delivered slowly, frequently, and accurately to the plant’s root zone.
This method doesn’t saturate the soil with water but keeps the root zone moist. As a result, plants are able to maintain a perfect balance between air and water. It also helps the plants and grass to grow more quickly and in a healthier manner.
And it can be big or small: some drip irrigation systems involve large amounts of hoses and poking holes, while smaller low pressure options can be run across a backyard flower bed using a simple pressure-reducer from a hose. So, start thinking about what scale drip irrigation you’re considering as you continue to learn more.
How Does Drip Irrigation Conserve Water?
A drip irrigation system is more efficient compared to a sprinkler system, as it uses 20-50% less water. The drip irrigation tubes deliver water straight into the ground, which ensures no or very little evaporation, drift, or run-off. As a result, you can conserve large volumes of water annually.
Generally, a lawn needs almost one inch of water per week to thrive. This means that for every square foot, you’ll need a little more than a half gallon of water (0.6 gallons).
Traditional methods of irrigation are only 60% effective, which means that you’ll need almost 40% more irrigation water, bringing the amount of water needed for every square foot to 0.84 gallons.
Let’s try to understand this with the help of an example. A lawn with an area of approximately 7,500 square feet needs almost 6,300 gallons of water in a week. If the water costs $2 per 1,000 gallons, the average cost of watering this lawn every week will be around $13.
This means that in a year, a lawn of this size will need 327,600 gallons of water, which will cost almost $650. On the other hand, if the same lawn was irrigated with the help of a drip irrigation system, it would cost around $5 per week.
With the installation of a drip irrigation system, the homeowner is our example could save almost $400 every year. And can you guess how much water per year will be saved? Around 164,000 gallons!
Does Drip Irrigation Use Less Energy Than Other Methods?
New advancements are continually being made in the design of drip irrigation systems to make them more cost-effective and efficient. A breakthrough that has not only decreased the cost of these irrigation systems but also reduced the energy used by these systems is the optimization of drippers.
Drippers in most conventional irrigation systems are operated at a pressure of almost 1 bar (a metric unit of pressure). Maintaining this volume of pressure requires energy, which increases the cost of running drip irrigation systems.
The dimensions of the drippers have been altered to produce an optimal flow rate while the pressure is as low as 0.15 bar. The drip irrigation system now uses significantly less pressure to pump the same amount of water, which ensures lower energy bills.
It should also be mentioned that a drip irrigation system provides a focused application of water to the base of the plant. This requires less pressure (8 – 20 psi) whereas other higher pressure alternatives such as sprinkler systems need more pressure (40-70 psi), which makes them more costly to run.
Are There Disadvantages to Drip Irrigation?
A drip irrigation system ensures that water reaches plant roots, which helps save water. It can be installed both under or above the soil surface to effectively provide the plants with what they need. However, this system does have a few disadvantages that we can’t forget:
- Lengthy Installation Process: The drip irrigation installation process needs a considerable amount of time. Sometimes you may even need to get court approval to install this system on some land.
- Damage From Sunlight: Heat from the sun can affect the drip irrigation tubes. They can be damaged due to excessive heat and sunlight.
- Clogged Tubes: Sometimes the drip irrigation tubes become clogged, which disrupts the flow of water to the plants. This could result in dehydration of the roots.
- Improper Installation: If the drip irrigation system isn’t installed properly, then it’ll be a waste of time, money, and water.
- Degraded Plastic: Sometimes the plastic degrades due to sunlight. This could not only affect the fertility of the soil but the fertilizers as well.
What Are the Different Types of Drip Irrigation?
There are five different types of drip irrigation. You can use a combination of these options in any application; however, it’s best to remember that these methods may have different watering cycles.
That’s why it’s generally recommended to operate different methods independently and on separate circuits, either with the help of a multi-station timer (on Amazon) or manually.
Point Source Drip
Drip emitters (on Amazon) are the most precise option available. They deliver water slowly and directly to the root zone of the plants. Drip emitters are ideal for trees, hanging baskets, shrubs, etc. Their low application rate means that they have a longer watering cycle.
Bubblers (on Amazon) are known for short watering cycles and high discharge rates. They are best suited for trees and shrubs. Bubblers come in handy when you want to replace your conventional sprinklers with low-volume systems as they are capable of operating at high pressures.
Micro-spray nozzles (on Amazon) are perfect for when you’re aiming for low-volume overhead irrigation. This type of irrigation is gaining popularity nowadays due to its water efficiency and low cost. It delivers water in a mist-like pattern and is best for ground covers and for plants that need less humidity like the ferns.
One of the fastest growing types of irrigation, the dripline (on Amazon) is best for watering vegetable gardens, hedges, closely spaced plants, etc. Its easy-to-install feature also makes it suitable for rings for large pots and planter boxes. Other applications include loops around large trees and containers.
Misters (on Amazon) are generally used in the inverted position to spray downwards, which makes them suitable for watering hanging baskets. The growing use of misters is to provide outdoor cooling. The mist evaporates immediately, which considerably reduces the air temperature.