Drip irrigation is a popular and super-efficient automatic watering system. It consists of a network of connectors, pipes and small emitters. When connected to a water source, this system then delivers a precise and steady flow of water directly to the root zones of plants. Water delivery can be further optimised with an automated timer, while the system can be easily adapted, extended, or re-used. It’s particularly suitable for vegetable rows, raised beds, borders and trees. It can also sometimes be referred to as trickle irrigation or micro irrigation. You get the idea: the emphasis is on a measured supply of water with minimal waste.
What are the Benefits of Drip Irrigation?
A drip irrigation system can save you loads of time in the garden compared to manual or traditional watering methods.
Up to 50% of water can be lost to evaporation, runoff or wind when using more traditional watering methods. Drip irrigation delivers water more efficiently to the place where your plants can absorb it best without loss, i.e. the root zone. Overall you will end up using less water, but you will be using it much more effectively.
When using sprinklers or watering cans from above, plant foliage can become overly damp and susceptible to fungal infection. Drip irrigation avoids this, as moisture comes from the soil.
When the drip irrigation system is combined with a timer, you can set your watering to come on first thing in the morning, allowing your plants to fully absorb moisture from the roots before the day gets warmer.
A system integrated with a timer will also allow you to go away on holiday without worrying about your plants or having to call in favours from the neighbours.
Drip irrigation is more consistent and reliable than hand watering. We’re all only human, and it’s not always possible to stay on top of watering duties due to other life responsibilities.
Because drip irrigation is so precise, there is much less chance of overwatering or underwatering, particularly if you group plants with similar water needs together in separate ‘zones’. These zones can then be supplied by separate dripper lines.
Delivering water directly to the root zone means that the surrounding soil won’t be watered unnecessarily. This means that weeds will have less chance to get established.
Drip irrigation systems are very adaptable: they can be re-used, moved to different parts of the garden or extended to cover new beds or rows.
Although they can seem complicated at first, they are quite easy to set up, while adapting the system for different plant groupings is pretty intuitive.
How to Install a Drip Irrigation System
A drip irrigation system will usually consist of:
Your water source, whether it’s a mains tap, rainwater harvesting barrel or other source.
An (optional) water timer is connected at this point. This is an automated way of controlling the timing of your watering.
A filter can also be added at the source. This prevents contaminants from entering the system and makes it less likely that the pipes or emitters will become clogged over time. The filter is best added in the supply pipe between the timer (if applicable) and the dripper system.
A supply pipe, which carries the water to the dripper pipe.
The dripper pipe or tube, which will be placed on the soil along beds, rows, hedges etc. This is made from a durable material and is usually about a half inch in diameter.
Small emitters or drippers are evenly spaced out on the dripper pipe (usually at a distance of around 30cm, but this can differ according to the system and plant needs). The emitters deliver a measured flow of water to the root zone of your plants.
A series of connectors and fittings are used to link the system together (such as elbow and tee connectors).
Valves allow you to optimise your system further by shutting off or altering the water flow for individual plant zones (e.g. when these plants will benefit from less water than the others). They also regulate water pressure.
An end plug fitting is used to ‘cap off’ the system.
Depending on the system you may need to install a pressure regulator to ensure that the water pressure is not too high.
With some drip irrigation systems you can use moisture sensors (for example to account for rainfall and weather patterns) or connect to a smartphone.
A dripper line needs between 1.5 and 2 bar of pressure to work. This is about the same pressure as any domestic water supply. If your pressure is below 1.5 bar you will need an inline pump.
If using a water butt or container as your water source for the system, you will more than likely not have enough pressure (unless the water butt is significantly elevated). The most common solution is to use a submersible pump to raise the pressure. Battery-powered options are available.
The Quickcrop Drip Irrigation System
We supply all the parts that you need to set up your own drip irrigation layout. We can’t recommend this system enough; it’s one that we use in our own gardens. It can be adapted to suit all kinds of garden designs and layouts, or used inside of polytunnels and greenhouses.
Installing it is relatively simple and we are always on hand to help out with any queries that you have about the system. Push-fit connectors allow for ease of assembly, while all couplers, hoses and fittings are reusable. The dripper and supply pipes are both 16mm. A stanley knife can be used to cut the pipe to fit your requirements.
A Hozelock style adaptor fitting is provided to connect the 16mm pipe to a standard garden hose connection. The supply pipe carries the water from your hose connection to dripper lines which are placed in the area you want watered. For example, if you have two raised beds you run the supply pipe to Bed 1, then attach a dripper pipe to run along the bed. You can then attach a length of supply pipe to connect to Bed 2, attach a second dripper pipe and so on.
Drip emitters on our system are spaced out at a distance of 30cm. Some pegs are also provided to secure the dripper pipe to the soil. These are recommended for corners, and used for approximately every meter of pipe.
The valve fittings are really the key to optimising the overall system. Using these, you can shut off the supply to individual dripper lines. If you have your plants grouped into separate zones according to their general watering needs, this is a very efficient method of targeted watering. You will ultimately be conserving more water and looking after your plants better at the same time.
The valve fittings are easily added to your system by loosening the ring clamp, cutting your irrigation or supply pipe and pushing each cut end into either side of the valve. They can also be added within individual beds for even more precise delivery.
We highly recommend using a Baccara water timer with your drip irrigation system. We’ve had problems with other timers in the past where water leaks into the housing, but the Baccara timer hasn’t let us down on this front: the battery operated timer is a separate unit from the valve and so you won’t run the risk of a leak damaging the electronics.
Dripper Irrigation Kits for Raised Beds
We have a selection of plans and kits for the most common raised bed sizes. They include all lines and connectors to set up your system, although timers, filters and mains supply connections are sold separately on our website.
The kits will build a dripper system adapted to the bed size, with lines spaced 30 cm apart and 15 cm from the edges of the bed. A valve is included with every plan to enable you to turn on or off individual beds (if you have multiple beds).
How To Maintain Your Drip Irrigation System
Regularly check the system for any clogs or leaks. One way of testing that everything is working as it should is by placing a bowl or small container under the emitter or dripper and leaving it there for the duration of the scheduled watering time. A typical level of output for drippers is about 2 litres per hour; the Quickcrop drip irrigation system emits 1.6 litres per hour from each dripper valve.
The filter in your drip irrigation system will help ensure that it functions optimally. It removes debris and contaminants, which in turn will reduce the risk of blockages. It’s important to check that you have the right size filter for your system. Clean the filter regularly: this is easily done and will keep the system performing optimally.
‘Flushing’ the system at the end of the growing season (or more regularly if you like) can clear mineral buildup, sediment or small particles before they become a bigger problem. This is done by removing the end cap, plugging up the emitters and running some water through the system.
Some Drip Irrigation Tips:
If you have very sandy soil, water can drain down through the soil faster than with other types. In this case it can be a good idea to have closer-spaced emitters, or (if this is not possible) increase the flow of water.
Similarly, if you have a very heavy clay soil it can be beneficial to have your emitters spaced further apart.
How long you water your beds for at a time can vary, but 30 minutes is a good ballpark figure.