Sprinklers Vs. Drip Irrigation: Which Should You Use?

When it comes to irrigating your lawn or garden, drip irrigation and sprinkler systems are two effective options that are both commonly used. But what differentiates these systems, and is one superior to the other?

Sprinkler systems are generally less expensive and more suitable for large gardens and lawns, but they’re also less water efficient. Meanwhile, drip irrigation is preferred for small lawns, flower beds, the borders of trees, and drought-tolerant plants that require deep watering.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between sprinklers and drip irrigation in terms of energy use, cost, and efficient use of water. We’ll also consider look at how exactly drip irrigation works and in which situations it’s more appropriate, so that you can decide which option is best for your home.

How Does Drip Irrigation Work?

A drip irrigation system like this one from Rain Bird (on Amazon) is designed to slowly provide water down to the roots of the trees and plants. There are tiny holes present on different parts of the tubing that allow water to seep deep down into the ground right where it is required.

Drip irrigation systems can either be placed above the ground or they can be fully buried. You can also configure them to meet different watering needs around your property.

Is Drip Irrigation More Energy Efficient Than a Sprinkler System?

Sprinkler in garden at sunset

Drip irrigation is more energy efficient than a sprinkler system. This is because drip irrigation works at a lower pressure compared to other kinds of pressurized irrigation, including sprinkler systems. As a result, it cuts down on your energy costs.

In addition to using a higher pressure, sprinkler systems won’t give plants as deep of a watering. Instead, they focus on spraying water to a large surface area. So if you want to give sufficient water to your plants, especially to the roots, then you’ll have to run the sprinklers for a longer time, which will increase your energy costs.

Is Drip Irrigation More Expensive Than Sprinklers?

Depending on your property’s layout and size, a typical sprinkler system can cost around $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot. Even though it’s cheaper than a drip irrigation system, installing a sprinkler system requires additional setup and planning, which may add to the total cost.

Meanwhile, drip irrigation is more expensive, costing around $2.50 to $4.50 per square foot. It has a higher startup cost, particularly because of the equipment required. 

Out of the different drip irrigation methods, PVC drip systems are the most affordable option, but even then, you’ll have to spend roughly $100 to get the system running. 

However, the reduced water bill after the installation often compensates for the initial higher cost. Plus, if you use metered city water, you’ll notice some savings over time since drip irrigation conserves more water compared to other ways of watering the garden or lawn.    

Which System Uses More Water?

Even though sprinkler systems are easier to use and more affordable than drip irrigation systems, they’re less water-efficient. Since they’re designed to distribute water over a large area, they use more water than is necessary by under-watering certain parts of the lawn and overwatering others.

Sprinkler systems also lead to high water wastage. Because of evaporation on hotter, windier days, up to 80% of the water used to irrigate your lawn can go to waste. This is not only a financial waste, but it’s also an environmental issue, particularly in areas with water shortages. Not to mention, losing that much water can cost you quite a lot, especially if the water costs in your area are high.

Drip irrigation is comparatively more efficient. Instead of distributing water over the whole property, it lets you direct water right where it’s needed most.

This means it only waters the target plant and not the areas between your plants, walkways, or other lawn features. So the entire amount of water used goes to a part of the lawn that requires it, reducing the water wastage.

Plus, a drip irrigation system waters the garden slowly, giving the soil sufficient time to take it in and reducing runoff. 

When Should You Use Sprinklers?

Sprinkler watering potatoes in garden

Sprinkler systems, such as this one from Eden (on Amazon) are a good choice if you want to ensure that a whole lawn receives moisture. Since they’re far-reaching, you can use sprinklers for large gardens and lawns. Plus, the tubing can be buried to protect it from being harmed by lawn mowers.

However, sprinklers aren’t the best choice for watering trees since the water won’t go deep enough into the soil. Plus, sprinklers can wash away the soil from where the roots meet the soil surface. 

When Should You Use Drip Irrigation?

There are many cases where using drip irrigation makes sense. For instance, you can use a drip irrigation system on a border of trees since it will make sure that water goes down into the soil so that trees can access it using their root system underground. 

It’s also a better option for watering flower beds since sprinklers can rain down water on your flowers and thereby damage them. Meanwhile, a drip irrigation system will provide a gradual and consistent water supply without causing soil erosion. Water won’t be lost to evaporation, and the water won’t damage the petals and delicate foliage.

Drip irrigation is also the right option for small plots that only have a few plants, and for drought-tolerant plants that require infrequent but deep watering. A small lawn or garden is also a great place for a drip irrigation system. 

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