Welcome to our April edition. From January to the present, we have been covering in detail irrigation-maintenance concerns. I find it worthwhile to review these topics with you, to make it easier for you to find the needed information without a lot of research on your part. I know many of you keep Home Improvement & Remodeling Magazine as a reference and I hope, as a reader, you have also found these articles beneficial and keep them as reference guides. I am writing to everyone with these articles, whether you do it yourself or just like to be well-informed when you meet with your landscape professional. I hope I have been helpful.
As a professional, I have discovered over the years, that in many of the renovation jobs we do, we find the drip system was installed incorrectly. Whether it was done by a home owner or another landscape professional, it is too bad that money was spent on a system that has had, or will continue to have constant problems. In my experience, there is a right way and there is a wrong way to install drip systems and all too often it is done the wrong way. So let’s talk drip and get it right!
Drip systems have seven components, only seven, but they have to be in this exact order for the drip to do its job. Let’s start with the valve. How does a drip valve differ from a lawn valve? It does not, at least not the “workings” of the valve, which we covered last month. What varies are the additional components that are added to the valve that make it serviceable for drip irrigation. To the outgoing side of the valve, a filter and pressure regulator are added. The filter is used as you would imagine, to filter minute debris from the water. The pressure reducer does exactly what it implies, drops the water pressure down.
Without it, normal water pressure is enough to blow off the emitters.
Next is the 1/2″drip line, which is the size you will find at the “box” stores, or the 5/8″ drip line, which is the size you will find at the “specialty irrigation” stores. Each size is specific to the type of store, so if you buy the 1/2” drip line from a box store, and you need to expand or repair your drip line, you must continue to buy the drip line and parts from a box store, not a specialty irrigation store. Continuing from the 1/2” or 5/8″ drip line is a 1/4″ coupler that is barbed. It needs to be inserted into the 1/2″ or 5/8″ line using a punch—a plastic piece with a point, which causes a small hole in the pipe into which to insert the coupler. From the coupler goes the 1/4″ line AND IT GOES NO LONGER THAN 18 INCHES to 3 FEET. I have seen the 1/4″ line travel up to 6′ feet uphill. The plant at the end of such a length will always be “short changed” from lack of water. I have also seen drip emitters in place of the coupler. So that is a great idea—reduce the water flow from the start, and let’s see if it makes it to the plant with any volume? Pardon my attitude, but this stuff just gets to me. So continuing, at the end of the 1/4″ line goes the emitter. Now the emitter is extremely important, so spend the money. The emitters come in different color codings, indicating different gallon-age rates. Depending upon the brand, the color codings will vary. So stay with the same brand and do not mix and match. For new plantings, we use the following procedures:
for 1/gallon, we use not one BUT TWO 1/2 gallon emitters on opposite sides of the plants; for 5/gallons, we use two 1/gallon emitters; and for 15/gallons, we use two 2/gallon emitters. Without giving into attitude here, I cannot tell you how many jobs we have redone with one emitter per plant. Since when does the plant only grow roots and leaves on one side? Finally, we use a drip stake that goes just behind the emitter on the 1/4” drip line, keeping it off the ground and easier to view.
Lastly, and a very important step, is the programming of the timer. With lawn, we can visually see it go brown and add more water. With the plants, it is not that easy. So we need a base—an amount of time that makes sense for landscapes in general. Homeowners will tell me they water 10 to 12 minutes, just like they do the lawn. I used to be shocked at this, but now I expect it. So let’s take the mystery out of programming for drip. Just like lawn irrigation, we can quantify the amount of water we are adding to the plants. All gallon-age rating is done on an hourly basis (gph: gallons per hour). Two 1/2 gallon emitters in one hour will water one gallon of water, so 1/2 hour’s time is equivalent to 1/2 gallon of water, which is sufficient for newly planted 1/gallon plants. For 5/ gallons, the gph is two gallons. In a 1/2 hour’s time, we are applying one gallon of water, which again is sufficient for newly-planted landscape. Fifteen gallon plants figure out the same way. Now for the future, depending upon the plant selection, this setup will work for about two to three years. By the end of the second or third year, an extra 15 minutes of water will need to be added. At times, I also recommend upsizing the emitters during the fourth year. In concluding, there are more comments I can make about layout, valve selections and positioning, and length of runs, but the above tips are the heart and soul of proper drip installations.
So as always, I hope this helps and that it is not too technical. My field is definitely not “rocket science,” but there are steps, as in all fields, that must be followed to achieve the end goal. If you need help with this, do not hesitate to call. Thank you for taking the time to read. Good Gardening….