It’s time for a reprise of the basics of drip irrigation for everyone tired of hauling hoses this summer or who wants to save on their water bill.
Imagine the twist of a flipper at your faucet or a timer automatically turning on the water. Water travels out to your garden via tubing with little emitters at each plant, or thin tubing with an emitter on the end taking it to farther plants, or through soaker hose tubing.
Eight years ago, Mark and I installed drip irrigation for our vegetables and flowers at the back of the yard, including a raised bed, hooking it up to our outside faucet.
All the plastic components are still in good shape because they are away from sunlight, mostly under mulch, especially in winter. The few holes were easy to mend. In winter we remove the mechanical parts attached to the faucet and store them inside.
Installation, including 25 emitters at the ends of 25 quarter-inch spaghetti tubes, took just over two hours.
It is best if the tubing and fittings are all from the same company, though you can use general plumbing materials to get from the typical ¾-inch-diameter home faucet to the recommended ½-inch-diameter drip tubing for home use.
Whatever brand is sold at your favorite hardware store/garden center, you should be able to find a step-by-step installation manual, such as the one for Orbit, in the store or free online.
Here is my shopping list from eight years ago (in order of installation from the faucet). Inflation could increase prices by 12%, but a check online shows prices vary widely by more than that, even for the same brand.
$3 – Vacuum breaker (3/4-inch): a simple backflow preventer keeps water in the hose or drip tubing from getting sucked back into your household water supply.
$11 – Y-connector (3/4-inch): allows you to hook up the drip system and a hose at the same time and turn them on independently.
$5 – Water pressure regulator (3/4-inch): to prevent blowing up your drip tubing when you turn the water on.
$10 – Y-filter (3/4-inch): There are other types, but all keep sediment in the water from clogging emitters.
$6 – Length of PVC pipe, cement, converter to ½-inch tubing, etc.: We had the PVC pipe extend to ground level and then attach to the drip tubing.
$0.80 – ½-inch elbow fitting: The tubing is so flexible we didn’t need more than one elbow. There are also T-fittings so that you can have the tubing branch off, down each row of vegetables or to each raised bed. The fittings are forced onto the ends of the tubing—no tool required.
$10 – ½-inch tubing (100 feet): cuts easily with pruners (make sure it isn’t the heavier tubing for underground sprinklers)
$1.50 – Bag of 10½-inch loop stakes: to hold the tubing in place.
$10 – Punch gun: makes the right size holes in the ½-inch tubing to fit the emitters or barbed couplings attaching the ¼-inch tubing.
$2 – Bag of 25¼-inch barbed couplings: to pop into the holes in the ½-inch tubing to connect the ¼-inch-diameter tubing. Each hole corresponds to a plant you want to water. These barbs are not needed if you run your ½-inch tubing right next to each plant and put an emitter in each hole.
$7 – ¼-inch tubing (100 feet): cuts easily with pruners. I used plain tubing, but there’s also tubing with holes every so many inches, or tubing of a porous material—soaker tubing.
$4 – Bag of 10 emitters (either 1 gallon per hour or 2): to pop into the holes on the ½-inch tubing. Or, if you use plain ¼-inch tubing extensions, you pop them into the ends of those tubes. You can also install little sprinklers that spray instead of emitters which only drip, but that defeats the idea of saving water by keeping it from becoming airborne and evaporating. See box for gallons per hour calculations.
$2 – Bag of “goof plugs”: in case you have punched a hole you don’t want and need to plug it.
$1.50 – Bag of 10¼-inch loop stakes: for holding the ¼-inch tubing in place.
$1 – end cap (½-inch): If you don’t have this on the far end of your ½-inch tubing, you just have a holey hose!
We already had some Teflon tape and a wrench for all the plumbing connections so I didn’t count them.
Because I set up my system for 25 plants, I had to buy multiple packages of emitters, barbs and loop stakes. My total was $90. But remember, I’m saving water.
If you’d like a timer automatically watering on a schedule, one costs an average of $40. It helps you adjust your watering more precisely. And you can always shut it off temporarily if it rains enough.