Every yard has unique irrigation requirements. Even within your own yard, you may have multiple zones with varied needs. Some zones might be shady and cool, while others are exposed to the hot sun for most of the day. Some areas may have loose, well-aerated soil, while others have rocky, tightly compacted dirt.

The watering needs of these diverse zones are best met using different approaches. Sprinklers are suitable for large, flat, open areas, but drip irrigation systems are the most efficient and precise water-delivery method for smaller areas.

Benefits of drip irrigation

Drip irrigation systems have many advantages over traditional sprinkler systems. These include...

They use 20 to 50 percent less water than conventional pop-up sprinkler systems. Sprinklers use high pressure to disperse water over large areas. They soak everything in their path and lose water to wind, sun and runoff. Drip systems, however, deliver low volumes of water, at low pressure, directly to individual plants. They minimize water lost to wind, runoff, evaporation and overspray.

They give you better-hydrated plants with less water consumption. Because water is delivered more slowly with drip systems, plants are watered more deeply. This encourages the establishment of healthy root systems that lead to more robust plants.

Drip systems are fully customizable. They provide the most efficient watering of different plant varieties in areas of any shape or size. They are also appropriate for plants that require a specific watering schedule.

They are ideal for heavy, dense soils like clay and loam. Drip systems deliver between one and four gallons of water per hour. A typical sprinkler head delivers approximately 3 gallons per minute. At such a fast watering rate, the water never has time to percolate down to the root zone in highly compacted soils. A slower water application rate helps your plants get more of the water you're giving them.

Drip irrigation minimizes plant diseases that arise from having excess water on the foliage. Because water is delivered only to the soil around the base of the plant, drip systems help eliminate the growth of fungi on your plants. (Incidentally, drip systems also eliminate the damage that sprinklers cause to buildings, fences and hardscapes.)

They help reduce the growth of weeds between plants. Since drip systems only water the areas around your plants, weed seeds will have a hard time getting the moisture they need for germination in any other spaces. And when you add mulch, your garden should have minimal weed issues.

Tips for drip irrigation

Convert sprinklers to drip in as many areas as possible. Consider installing drip around trees, shrubs, and gardens in place of a conventional sprinkler system.

Perform proper maintenance. Check periodically to make sure all of your emitters are working as expected. Check for too much or too little watering. Check for broken or loose tubing. Clean clogged emitters and the filter. Make occasional adjustments to the placement of emitters. As your trees and plants grow, you should move emitters and add more if necessary.

Drip lines are designed to rest on top of the ground. They cannot be buried by soil or turf; however, they can be hidden by mulch. Covering with mulch has two primary benefits: Mulch helps prevent most water loss to evaporation, and maximizes the efficiency of your system. It also prolongs the life of your drip system, as leaving the lines exposed to the sun causes them to break them down more rapidly.

Group plants together based on the amount of water they need. Annual plants generally need a lot of water. Because they have intense blooms, they need a substantial amount of water but, because they have a short growing time, they never have time to develop deep roots that make them able to extract more water from deeper layers of the soil. Perennials, on the other hand, have time to grow extensive root systems, so they don’t require as much water once they become established. Mixing the two plant types will cause either drought stress of the annuals or over watering of the perennials.

Spray-to-drip rebate

If you are considering converting your sprinklers to drip irrigation, the MWDOC spray-to-drip rebate program could help reduce your costs. The current residential rebate is up to $175 per kit for up to three kits. Click here for more information.