How to Install Drip Irrigation




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In most parts of the country, trying to keep yards watered throughout the summer requires an open tap like you haven’t seen since your last fraternity kegger. Which isn’t so great if you live in a conservation-conscious area that restricts sprinkler use. If the best defense is a good offense, the way to beat the heat is with micro irrigation. This system of drip tubing and tiny sprayers delivers aqua right at the base of plants.

MORE: How to Install Drip Irrigation (VIDEO)

You don’t need a sophisticated irrigation network to supply micro irrigation—a spigot for a hose will do. Setting up a system to feed a backyard’s worth of plant beds, shrubs, and trees takes just a few minutes of designing and a couple of hours of connecting the various components. Then before you can pop open a cold one and admire your handiwork, your garden will be thanking you for its own liquid refreshment. __This Old House

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Step 1: Do Your Homework

Most of micro irrigation is drip tubing, ¼-inch or ½-inch hose fitted with tiny plastic nubs, called emitters, that allow water to drip out at a regulated pace without clogging. The tubing snakes around and among plants and trees to get water into the soil at the roots. You can buy that tubing either prepunched, with emitters factory-installed under the surface every 18 inches, or unperforated, which requires you to punch the holes and attach the emitters to the outside of the tubing yourself. Unperforated tubing can be used to customize a system to an unusual layout or to connect sections of tubing where you don't need water. Some companies also sell soaker hose, laser-perforated rubber that weeps water into the soil without emitters.

MORE: Water-Saving Hose Nozzles

All manufacturers have accessories that are specialized for different types of plants—sprays for ground cover, foggers for hanging containers, and single emitters for reaching plants off the grid. But few offer a kit with everything included. You will need to draw a plan of your garden — because micro irrigation requires so much tubing, it is not appropriate for lawns—and map out a configuration of the tubing and accessories, then buy some parts separately. Or contact the drip kit's manufacturer; many will take your garden plans and provide you with an efficient design and materials list free of charge.

MORE: 10 Uses for Garden Hoses

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Step 2: Connect to an Outdoor Faucet

Screw the vacuum breaker to the pressure regulator, if your hose bib doesn't already have its own vacuum breaker. This part will prevent contaminated hose water from backwashing into the house's supply lines.

MORE: How to Install a Freezeproof Faucet

Attach the filter to the pressure regulator. Connect the hose swivel to the threaded opening jutting out from the side of the filter. This has a barbed end to accept the cut end of the tubing and hold it tight. Screw the entire assemblage to the hose bib.

MORE: How to Install a Freezeproof Faucet (VIDEO)

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Step 3: Lay Out the Tubing

Attach a length of unperforated tubing or garden hose to the hose bib, long enough to reach from the bib to the plant beds.

Using barbed connectors, attach the roll of ½-inch tubing with emitters to the unperforated tubing at the edge of the plant bed.

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Snake the tubing with emitters around the plants, near their roots. Keep the lines of tubing about 12 inches apart.

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Step 4: Install Ground Stakes

Once you've got the tubing in position, use plastic ground stakes to hold it down. Be sure the hook at the top of the stakes fits over the tubing.

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Wherever the tubing has to turn at a sharp angle or branch out to another section, cut it and reattach it with tee or elbow connectors. Cut the end of the tubing when you are finished; leave it open so you can flush it with water later.

MORE: Water the Lawn With Your Saturday Night Bath

Step 5: Lay Tubing Around Shrubs and Trees

Position loops of ¼-inch tubing around the trees and shrubs.

Use a hole punch to pierce the ½-inch tubing where the loop will begin. Insert a small tee connector into the hole.

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Attach one end of ¼-inch tubing with emitters to one side of the tee. Now make a lasso shape around the trunk of the tree. The loop should be big enough to extend halfway out to the edge of the tree's canopy.

Cut the tubing and attach the end to the other side of the tee.

MORE: 11 Ways to Save Water, Time, and Money on Your Landscape

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Step 6: Position Sprayers for Ground Cover

Where the plantings are so dense it's difficult to snake tubing at the roots, branch out with micro sprayers.

Pierce the ½-inch tubing with a hole punch, then insert a small straight connector. Attach a length of unperforated ¼-inch tubing long enough to reach the location of the micro sprayer. Connect the other end of the ¼-inch tubing to the micro sprayer.

MORE: How to Install In-Ground Sprinklers

Clip the sprayer to a stake and position it in the ground cover.

Use a similar method to branch out with single emitters (to rose bushes, for example), foggers, or other specialized drip heads.

MORE: How to Repair a Leaking Sprinkler (VIDEO)

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Step 7: Close Off the Tubing's End

Once all the tubing and attachments are placed, turn on the water for a minute to flush dirt out of the tubing.

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Turn off the water. Slide a ½-inch end clamp onto the open end of the tubing. Fold the end, then slide the other loop of the end clamp over the folded piece to hold it in its crimped position.

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Step 8: Cover the Tubing With Mulch

Clean up around all the tubing and make sure all connections are tight and no emitters are blocked or clogged. Turn on the water and check for leaks or bad connections.

MORE: How to Mulch Plant Beds (VIDEO)

To keep the water from evaporating before it reaches the plant roots and to give the garden a manicured appearance, cover all the exposed tubing with about two inches of mulch.

MORE: Mulch Materials

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    16 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I believe for an established garden of any sort this is the best system for watering available. But I am making a comment on this article because it is the only one that has anything to do whatsoever with the activity of gardening. Perhaps the editors are thinking that since there are no shortcuts to the process to create a space for growing healthy food nor are their any that can be applied to removing the gravel from the soil with a hardware cloth screen box and replacing it with a yard or so of well composted topsoil and manure. It is all hard sweaty work and while a yard of topsoil delivered isn't a budget breaker it isn't cheap either and there is no slick way to move it from where the truck dumps it and mix it into the existing screened soil. That said the addition of a small food source is a valuable addition to any dwelling and if properly planted can add immeasurably to your home. I am particularly fond of the potatoes and onions that the earth and very little continued effort provides.


    3 years ago

    how about connecting the End back to the beginning with a T connector?

    this should eliminate the loss-of-pressure problem


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Followed the link on how to install drip system, and it led to the most useless instructional video I've ever seen. It was just over one minute long, and roughly shows a strange application of drip tube being installed under a lawn (with the suggestion you can water on restricted days because nobody can see you use it.) Usually This Old House is a helpful site-not this time.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    The larger plastic tubing is about the same size as a garden hose but harder plastic. Smaller tubing is about 1/4 inch. You can use emitters or drip lines that have a small hole every few inches. You add taps into the larger harder plastic supply lines with a tap tool which punctures a specific sized hole for a tap. The taps are just small pieces of plastic with a hole through them and they have nipples at both ends to lock them into the larger tubing and hold the smaller drip line tubing. The taps are hard to pull back out and will make the hole a little larger. I found a few taps without holes through them which I guessed were to plug any mistakes. Make sure you lay out the larger tube to supply water at line pressure to as much of the area you want irrigated as possible. If you use drip lines, you need to keep them fairly short and roughly the same length so that they drip evenly. Each hole in the drip line reduces the water pressure and you will barely have any water flow the end of a long length. I added a very long piece of drip line to a single tap for my first time and the first few feet were ok, but the rest was significantly less. The emitters are very small holes and I expect them to clog easily so I use a filter and I use a programmable timer to turn the water on and off.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Make sure enough mulch covers the tubing. Critters got to mine and chewed them up.

    Related link overload noted, guys! Will tone it down a bit on the next one. Bear with us as we get to know the site (and you all) better. Thanks!

    How much pressure is required for these to work? I picked up a kit from Harbor Freight and I'd like to use collected rainwater with it. I'm assuming it's going to take more than gravity to provide adequate pressure so I'll need a pump but I want to use the smallest pump I can get away with.

    1 reply

    9 years ago on Introduction

    I have installed Orbit drip system using components from home Depot. I installed pressure reducer, but water pressure at the drip nozzle is so large that they frequently pop out. I tried to throttle the valve, but it reduces the flow. Any suggestions to reduce pressure? I find orbit plastic components not reliable, threads get mangled etc and their cost is another issue. I ended up spending substantial amount.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Get a pressure reduce from or or Less then $5.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I've found the best deals on various drip gizmos at an online retailer called "dripworks". I've found that the cheap drip kit being sold at Harbor Freight is useless.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    More pictures and less ads would have made this a worthwhile instructable. As it is now, it isn't very helpful. A lot that isn't very clear to me.