University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
by Steven Hightower, Sonoma County Master Gardener
© Sonoma County Master Gardeners
- Installation and Maintenance
irrigation is both simple and complex at the same time. You can either
install drip yourself, or turn to a professional. Drip irrigation is
relatively easy to install in general for simpler home systems. It goes
together much like a tubular erector set--all snapping together. Main
1/2 inch lines slip into fittings on the automatic valves; 1/4" feeder
tubes slip onto barbed fittings that poke into the main lines; "tee"
and "el" fittings allow feeder branches to go to individual plants;
continuous emitter tubes snap/poke in like feeder tube then snake
through areas of denser planting.
It gets a bit more complicated
to determine the proper controller (number of stations is dictated by
the amount of landscaping, and number of different zones which need
different amounts and times of water), determine whether pressure
reducers are necessary (length of main line runs; uphill or downhill),
whether filters should be installed (well water: yes; city water:
If you have the system professionally installed by a
reputable professional gardener or irrigation firm, everything will be
done properly, but it will be substantially more expensive than doing
If you are generally handy, advice from
representatives at outlets which sell drip equipment, ranging from
Friedman's to Home Depot to your local hardware store to specialist
firms such as Harmony Farms and Wyatt Irrigation Supplies can assist
you, and make a DIY job feasible. Also, an excellent primer is Drip
Irrigation in the Home Landscape, available from the University of
California Agriculture and Natural Resources (Publication 21579). Drip
Irrigation for every landscape and all climates by Sonoma County author
Robert Kourik is a great resource.
must visually monitor the system regularly. Lines break, tube pulls
away from fittings, shovels make unknown cuts, dogs chew, emitters
plug. Look and listen for geysers, spouts, leaks, large wet areas, etc.
Also monitor the health of your plants for signs of too little or too
much water. Check the soil periodically for correct moisture. A simple
moisture probe—6” metal spike connected by a wire
moisture meter—is a great investment. You also need to learn
basic repairs and keep a toolbox of useful repair parts and tools: wire
cutting pliers, regular pliers, hole punch, sturdy scissors, various
connectors, sprayer heads, emitters, bubblers, emitter tubing, goof
Monitor the system from the plants’
perspective. Native and drought-tolerant plants need water for 1-2
years to become well established. After that, they may need only
occasional water in summer.
Over time, you will need to adjust
your system, to reduce water to some plants, and increase it to others.
Gardens are constantly changing: plants die and must be replaced; new
sections are added; plants grow, and need more water. The drip
irrigation system has to change as well, in order to maintain maximum
efficiency in the use of water. Indeed, this flexibility is one of
drip’s great advantages over overhead, fixed risers, which,
installed, cannot readily be moved.
Schedule a maintenance review when the system is first turned on in the
spring and before you turn it off in winter.
the system should be flushed, by uncapping the main lines, and running
each station for a few minutes. Also, each emitter or bubbler or
sprayer needs to be checked, and may need to be taken apart and cleaned
(or, with the relatively low cost of individual items, simply
replaced). Filters, if you install them, should be cleaned every couple
of months, depending on the amount of debris in the water. During the
growing season, periodically check and clean (or replace) emitters.
Flush the system thoroughly after any main line break to avoid emitter
clogging. Clean filters more often if using well or pond water and less
often if using city water. If the system does not appear to be working,
the first thing to check is the filter!
contain the seasonal adjustment feature to allow the adjustment of the
overall system from "normal" by percentages up and down. This is very
useful because when you turn the system on in the spring, you can run
this override down to, say, 50% for the first month, increase to 70,
then 90, and finally 100% in the heat of the summer. Further, during
really hot spells, you can run it up to, say, 130% and avoid having to
increase the watering individually on all the stations.
Above all—watch your plants. If something’s wrong,
they will tell you.