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What is drip irrigation?

Drip irrigation, the fastest-growing technique in the irrigation industry, is an alternative method of watering plants through a system of spaghetti-like tubes running from a water source to the plants. To many gardeners it is the greatest advancement in gardening since the plow. Some claim that with drip irrigation, they can obtain 50 to 80 percent faster plant growth with less disease, fewer weeds, and less water for only pennies per square foot. Let's take a look at some of its advantages.

Drip irrigation systems slowly deliver water to the plant's root system. The water is consistently, but slowly supplied so the root system has a chance to take up the water before it runs through or evaporates. Plants benefit by avoiding the shock of "drench/drought" cycle associated with conventional watering. The system also applies water into the specific zone around each plant you determine. That means the plant, not the ground, is watered. It also means that the area between plants, where weeds might grow, is left drier. Drip irrigation can therefore facilitate better weed control. Because the drip irrigation is placed on the surface, or under mulch, it can be changed easily as your plants grow or as your garden changes. This can be a real advantage over rigid "in-ground" systems. One of the best features of drip systems is that they can be installed quickly and easily with just a knife and a punch. It's then attached to the lawn sprinkler system or a hose outlet.

There are but a few basic pieces to a drip system. First are water-source hook-up components, including the fittings needed to connect your water source to one-half-inch poly-tubing and the pressure regulator required to reduce the water pressure. Second, you will need lines and connectors to form the water network, starting with half-inch poly-tubing that can run to all areas of the garden. Some of the parts include tee and elbow connectors which let you design an efficient and go-anywhere network. Quarter-inch tubing is then connected to the half-inch main supply tubing, using a hand punch and small barbed connectors. These two lines are used to supply water to a variety of watering devices.

The third and last component includes the water-emitting devices. These look like pop-it heads from which the water will drip out slowly at a rate of one-half, one, or two gallons per hour. Emitters are desirable around the base of roses or tomatoes where wetting the leaves is undesirable, because it encourages the establishment of leaf diseases. Besides the drip system, you can also use low-volume sprinklers. These are also connected to the one-quarter inch supply tubing and positioned in the bed on a stand or support. These micro sprinklers are effective in up to 20-foot diameters and are available in full, half-, and quarter-circle as well as strip patterns.

Because a drip system does not rely on large pipes, drip is a good answer for hanging baskets and window and planter boxes. It provides for a more efficient use of water and can be automated so you do not spend time dragging hoses and locating sprinklers to water landscape beds and borders in difficult-to- reach areas. The best advantage; however, is the ease with which drip irrigation can be installed.