URBANA, IL -- With demand for water resources and concern for water conservation increasing across the U.S., drip irrigation is becoming a common method to reduce the water bill and safeguard water resources.
“Drip irrigation is a technique that allows water to slowly drip onto the soil surface or directly to the root zone using a system of piping, valves, tubing, and emitters,” explains University of Illinois Extension educator Chris Enroth.
According to Enroth, there are a number of reasons gardeners should incorporate drip irrigation into their landscapes and gardens.
Depending on the soil type and daily climate conditions, traditional watering methods can result in water running off before it penetrates the soil. Drip irrigation, on the other hand, is highly efficient. The majority – 90 to 95 percent – of the water applied in this way infiltrates the soil.
“Another benefit of drip systems is that they are highly efficient,” Enroth notes. “They usually use 30 to 50 percent less water than sprinkler irrigation.”
Other pros of drip systems include minimizing leaf wetness, which can reduce disease occurrence; the ability to direct moisture only to desirable plants, keeping weeds out of the path of irrigation; and the ability to set timers to deliver the exact amount of water desired.
“In the past, drip irrigation was a bit intimidating for homeowners,” Enroth says. “Early systems had their share of problems, ranging from clogged emitters to uneven distribution of water.”
The development of new materials has improved and simplified today’s drip irrigation systems.
“There are almost endless combinations of drip irrigation systems that can be set up for use in landscaping beds or in the vegetable garden. Many local garden centers and online retailers sell customizable drip irrigation kits that can easily be hooked up to an outdoor water spigot,” Enroth notes.
A drip system can be as simple or complex as the gardener desires. Enroth recommends drip tape for use in row crops and vegetable gardens. Single mounted drip devices called emitters are typically used to irrigate trees, shrubs, containers, and hanging baskets. Emitters are plugged in to polyethylene pipe and run to wherever water is required. Finally, drip tube is typically used in landscape beds.
Drip irrigation systems require a backflow prevention device to prevent contamination of the water source. They also operate on very low water pressure, so every system also requires a pressure reducer.
Enroth cautions, “The typical water pressure found at the spigot is 30 PSI. If a drip irrigation system is run from a water source without a pressure reducer, emitters can be damaged and a drip system’s lifespan will be shortened.”
Contact your local Extension office for resources on setting up your drip irrigation system. You can find your local office at http://web.extension.illinois.edu.