Drip Irrigation. All The Types You May Not Know About


Plant irrigation is a top concern for gardeners, farmers, and even those who want to keep their lawn in great shape. I have researched the best methods of drip irrigation to target water supply directly to the roots of the plants without water waste or soil erosion.

The three main types of drip irrigation available are porous pipe, pre-installed emitter lines, and punch-in emitters, which are efficient irrigation systems. They require strategically placed tubing with tiny holes to slowly release water and nutrients to the plants efficiently and uniformly.

Read on to learn more about each style, how exactly drip irrigation works, and the many excellent reasons this is the best system to use to help your plants thrive.

Components of the Drip Irrigation System

Before we dive into the various types of drip irrigation systems to choose from, let’s get more familiar with what, precisely, drip irrigation is.

The main point of the drip irrigation method for watering is to target water distribution by using tubing that has been pierced to allow water to drip through the small openings.

The tubes are then placed right alongside the plants that need to be watered. Water very slowly drips through these holes and into the soil, delivering moisture to the plants that need it instead of soaking an entire area.

The tubes are generally made out of polyethylene and can either be placed on the soil’s surface or buried a few inches underground.

Parts of the Drip irrigation

The parts of the drip irrigation are as follows:

Parts of the drip irrigationPurpose and function
Mainline the pipe leading from the faucet or water source
Valve automatically or manually controls the flow of water
Sub main lines that run from the valve to the drip irrigation tubing
Backflow preventer will stop any released water from running back into the main water source and causing contamination
Pressure regulator is needed if the water pressure is greater than 40 psi
FilterTo clean particles out of the water flow that could clog the emitters and tubing
Tubing adapters and fittingsare used to connect the tubing
Drip tubingsthat comes in a variety of types and sizes
emitterscontrol and release the water from the tubes;
end capsstop the flow of water from leaking out the end of the irrigation line

When a drip irrigation system is installed, it’s best to stake down or fasten the tube lines to keep them from moving out of place. Wind, rain, and even passing animals and people can accidentally displace the lines from the original site.

Water flow process within the drip irrigation

The water flow can then be controlled by manually turning on the main water source when crops need watering. Or, an automatic watering cycle can be scheduled.

The timing can be adjusted according to the types of plants being grown and the current weather conditions.

Watering in the early morning is usually the best time. There will be less evaporation before the sun and heat of the day are in full effect.

The Drip irrigation system aids with controlled watering even during rains

Having control over how much and how often plants are watered can save a lot of money. If a heavy rainfall has moistened the ground, then the automatic system can be paused, and water usage put on hold as the plants take advantage of the rainwater.

The different types of drip irrigation

Now that we understand exactly what a drip irrigation system is, let’s talk about the different types available and what each should be used for.

1) Porous Pipe Drip irrigation

The porous pipe is basically just another name for a soaker hose. Sometimes tiny holes are drilled into a pipe to achieve the same effect as the porous material. Either way, the water very slowly seeps out the openings and into the ground.

A soaker hose or porous pipe is a low-cost solution for drip irrigation that is quick and easy to set up.

All you need to do is connect the hose to the spigot and turn it on after placing the hose around the area that needs to be watered. This method is best for small areas like a flower or vegetable garden or a yard. The hose can easily be moved around to various sites that need watering.

Considerations when using the porous pipe drip irrigation method

While the hose or pipe can be buried beneath the ground, many clogs can prevent the water from flowing. It’s easier to leave it on the surface instead of digging it up on occasion for maintenance.

Disadvantages when using the porous pipe drip irrigation method

A disadvantage to using a soaker hose is that gravity makes water distribution uneven. If the ground is hilly or uneven, the elevated areas will receive less water.

2) Pre-Installed Emitter Lines Drip Irrigation

This is probably the most commonly used type of drip irrigation. Pre-installed tubing comes with the emitters already spaced out along the length of the tube.

The pre-installed emitter lines for drip irrigation are usually placed about 12 to 36 inches apart and typically use a pipe of ¼ to ½ inch in diameter.

The pressure and water distribution of pre-installed lines should be taken into consideration. Depending on the type of soil that is being watered, anywhere from ½ to two gallons of water per hour could be appropriate.

Lesser clogging instances with pre-installed emitter lines drip irrigation system

Since these lines come ready to use, they are another simple installation job. They tend to have fewer instances of clogs as well. Pre-installed emitter lines can be used in garden spaces and much larger areas such as fields.

Disadvantages when using the pre-installed emitter lines drip irrigation system

The problem with having emitters pre-installed is that there is no control over the water placement.

If the emitters are too far apart, the plants may not get enough water to be healthy.

Too close together, and soil could be oversaturated, leading to a whole host of other problems, like mold and rot.

3) Punch-In Emitters Drip Irrigation

The final type of line is the highly customizable punch-in emitter line option. This method requires more work upfront because each hole needs to be hand punched and emitter placed individually.

There are options to punch and attach the emitter in several steps or purchase a self-piercing emitter version. Any mistakes can easily be plugged in closed.

Considerations when using the Punch-In Emitters Drip Irrigation

While punch-in emitters can be time-consuming to set up, they deliver the best water placement and disbursement. Full control is given to you to space them emitters far apart or close together to suit the soil conditions and needs of the plants.

If too much water is being used, some of the holes can be filled in to result in dryer soil conditions.

These three methods are the only true drip irrigation methods of watering plants and crops. Other similar water delivery methods use a mist sprinkler system, but the water placement is not targeted, and there is much more waste.

Pros and Cons of Drip Irrigation

I have discovered that the advantages of drip irrigation far outweigh the negatives. It’s a highly efficient and useful system, as you too will soon learn.

The pros to using Drip irrigation

Below are the specific factors that make drip irrigation an efficient and money-saving way to irrigate your plants and gardens.

Drip irrigation delivers water where it is needed

First of all, this method of irrigating crops and plants delivers the water directly to where it is needed. This means less wasted water through evaporation, run-off, and saturating soil where there are no plants.

Water usage can be reduced by up to 50% when using drip irrigation.

This is a huge difference! The controlled use of water will deter weeds from growing between the rows since they won’t be getting any water.

Reduction of manual labor when using drip irrigation

Further, manual labor is reduced and resources saved because the drip irrigation system can be installed on uneven land, preventing the need to level the surface before planting and setting up.

Fields also don’t need to be uniformly shaped since the tubing is easily placed in any configuration and pattern that is needed.

Optimal moisture levels are easily obtained through drip irrigation

More frequent watering on a targeted system keeps the soil at the optimal moisture level for the plants to thrive, resulting in a higher crop yield.

The soil is also protected from erosion by the over-use of water sprayed heavily when using drip irrigation.

Watering at ground level or using sub-irrigation also prevents the frequent water pooling on the leaves and stems of the plants. Oversaturation in this way can lead to a higher risk of disease or attracting harmful insects that may feed on the crops or cause the quality of the yield to drop.

Drip irrigation promotes seed germination

The precise delivery of water has other advantages for overall plant health.

This irrigation method improves seed germination so more plants grow and money isn’t wasted on re-seeding the ground.

You may add in the fertilizer through drip irrigation

Yet another benefit is that fertilizer treatments can be added to the water to deliver nutrients right to the plant roots where they are needed the most. This prevents the desired nutrients from being leached away in the soil, and the fertilizer stays where it is meant to go instead of getting into groundwater sources.

Cons to drip irrigation

Having listed out the benefits, we will now be talking about the possible maintenance, cost, and general considerations and disadvantages when using the drip irrigation system.

Drip irrigation may be pricey to install

The main con to a drip irrigation system is that it can be a bit pricey to install, especially when a large area of ground needs to be covered. The labor to get everything ready also takes a good deal of time.

Leaks may also happen when using Drip Irrigation

There is also the risk of leaks in the tubing that insects and rodents cause.

Unfortunately, that is just something that happens, and not much can do to prevent it aside from taking proactive measures to keep your fields free of pests and doing regular checks to make sure none have taken up residence.

Even a mower that gets too close can nick the tubes and cause leaks and problems with water delivery.

Clogging take place when using Drip irrigation

The tubes and emitters can also become clogged, requiring regular maintenance to inspect the lines for problems. Removing the tubing during the winter and months when they are not in use helps prevent damage and clogs.

Even with these drawbacks, drip irrigation can save a lot of time and money once it is in place. The lower pressure of these water delivery systems results in decreased energy bills. Targeted use of water and nutrient treatments also contributes to lowered costs.

Conclusion on Drip Irrigation and its types

With a method like drip irrigation, much of manual work, planning, and worry is taken away and guesswork reduced. A more sophisticated watering system means better solutions to problems and healthier plants. Researchers have also tried to make a more efficient version, specifically having fixed water suction and testing out on tomato plants (source).

With that said, whether you are an avid gardener, the owner and operator of a plant nursery, or a farmer that tends to many fields full of crops, a drip irrigation system can make the difference between sparse plants and failed crops, and a sea of vibrant green plant life that is supported and encouraged to grow in the best way possible.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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