This is everything you need to know to plan, shop and install a drip irrigation system for your vegetable, herb or perennial garden. You will learn why drip irritation is an absolute must in my garden.
Drip irrigation is an incredibly efficient way to apply water to your garden.
Combine it with an automated timer and you gain A LOT of time back in the maintenance of your garden. In addition to efficiency in watering, by only wetting the soil around plants leaves are kept dry reducing potential foliar diseases.
You can skip straight ahead to the irrigation parts list by clicking here.
The larger your garden is the more time commitment is needed to water it consistently. Hand watering a few pots or small raised beds is not a huge time commitment but what about if you want to go away for a few days and not get a plant sitter?
Installing my drip irrigation system on a timer is the single best thing I have done for time management in my garden. It allows me to go away for a few days easily without having to wonder who will water my garden or coming home to crispy dead plants.
The popularity of drip irrigation has prompted > 500% increase in its use over the past 20-30 years.
Setting up and installing a drip irrigation system is a little bit like playing with legos. There are a lot of parts and pieces that can go together in a variety of ways. This can lead to overwhelm very quickly. This article is everything you will need to know to assemble your own drip irrigation system bottom to top without the confusion and overwhelm.
You will learn how to map out your irrigation plan based on the location of your water source and garden beds, the major and minor pieces, the use of each and how to create a drip irritation plan for your garden.
My biggest piece of advice is to take your time and really think through how you want the system to work for you. Once you go through the process steps below and/or watch the video this will make more sense. Each time I add a new section to my garden requiring more drip irrigation I sit down, draw it out and spend some time deciding if there are more efficient ways to make it happen. In the end this extra time planning means less oops and realizing I should change something later. In the long run it will save you time.
I recommend watching the full video and then using the process steps below to start to build your plan. You will get a look at my system, the major components, how I assembled them to get an idea of the potential options. You can watch the video here.
You can skip straight ahead to the irrigation parts list by clicking here.
The Drip Irrigation Plan & Assembly Step-by-Step Process
Step 1: Draw The Layout Of Your Garden
Drawing out your irrigation plan is very important. It will give you clarity when it is time to go shopping. You can then follow your irrigation plan for easier assembly after you have purchased everything.
You may also discover that you need to make some changes to your drip irrigation plan as it starts to come together. Either to make it more efficient or to add in more tubing or emitters. It is a lot less work to draw a new plan than to disassemble and reassemble your system.
Simply start with a sheet of paper, maybe a few coloured pens and draw out your garden beds, their dimension and where your water source is. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just clear!
Step 2: Map Out Feeder Tubing
Decide on the most efficient way to run the ¾ feeder tubing to your beds from your water source. If you have sections that are far apart you may need more than one feeder line. Often once you have run the feeder line over to one section you can connect multiple ¼ tubing lines to it.
Measure the actual distance (outside not on your drawing) from your main water line to the end of each of the ¾” lines and write it down on your shopping list.
Note any potential corners you will need to make. This will require a “L” or “T” connector. Depending on the style of connectors you choose you may need hose clamps to secure everything properly. Add these to your shopping list: each “L” or “T” connector and add 2 hose clamps for a “L” connector and 3 hose clamps for a “T” connector.
You will also require end caps where each line terminates. Note how many you will need and a hose clamp for each as well.
Step 3: Drip Tubing VS Overhead Sprayers
The ¼ drip tubing with emitters is essential but it will not adequately water seeds that have been directly sown in the garden. Your drip tubing will only drop water at the emitters which are either 6” or 12” apart. This only becomes useful once your plants have grown a decent root structure and can access that moisture.
Until your plants have germinated and grown a decent root structure you can either hand water the area or add in overhead sprayers to your drip irrigation system.
I use both in my garden. Once my seeds have germinated I turn off the overhead sprayers and then the ¼ tubing water the garden to reduce the amount of moisture on the leaves of my plants.
Typically you will need about one 360 degree sprayer for a 3-4’ square foot space. Alternatively 1-2 180 degree sprayers for the same space for full coverage of all corners & edges.
Mark on your garden drawing where you will need these overhead sprayers if you are using them. Add the number and type to your shopping list. Add a few extras to the list just in case you discover a hole. It will save you a trip to the store.
To connect the overhead emitter to your made feeder line you will need ¼ drip tubing WITHOUT emitters. Measure out approximately how much from the location of where your feeder line will be to the placement of the overhead sprayer. Add the total amount to your shopping list.
Drip Tubing With Emitters
You will also need to decide if you want ¼” drip tubing with 6” or 12” emitter spacing. I find that 6” is much better for a vegetable garden as some plants are quite small. The 12” works good in a perennial type area or for large plants spaced farther apart. Safe bet is to just get the 6” as it’s more versatile.
Typically each ¼ drip irrigation line is spaced about 1’ apart in rows coming off your main feeder line. Or it can be coiled back and forth down several rows. There is a maximum length that each single line of ¼ drip tubing can be based on your water pressure and laws of friction. You can reference the chart below.
If you go too long you will notice the water at the end of the line drips at a much slower rate that close to the water source. You will end up with unevenly watered plants. If this happens shorten the amount of drip that in that zone.
Do your best to estimate how much ¼” drip tubing you will need to cover your beds with about a 1’ spacing between each line. Add some extra and add it to your shopping list.
Step 4: The Odds & Ends
In order to connect the ¼ drip lines to the ¾ feeder line you will need ¼ transfer barbs (connectors) and a special tool to poke holes and push the barbs in. On your plan count out approx. each spot the ¼ tubing will connect to the feeder line and add the total to your shopping list.
Goof plugs are used to seal the ends of the ¼ lines. Also if you do goof and need to plug a hole in your feeder line you can use these as well. Grab a bag of these to keep on hand.
U-Shaped anchor pins to hold the tubing in place are very handy. Grab some of these as well to help with arranging the tubing around the garden.
Add an irrigation timer if you would like to automate your watering system. If you need to have multiple zones in your garden then look for a timer that can accommodate this like the one I have listed in the parts section below.
A filter (seen above the timer in the photo above) on the main feeder line right at the water source is very important to keep sediment from plugging your system. This is especially important if you are watering from a well like I am.
Step 5: Assembly
Once you have completed your shop for parts you can begin assembly. Refer to the complete parts list below to help with shopping.
Work through your drawing in the same order you planned it out (the steps above). Start with the major sections working down the line from your water source. Eventually the smaller drip tubing and overhead sprayers.
The first time assembly will take you a while as there are a lots of small pieces. In future seasons you will not have this work to do.
Take your time and if you discover you need to make a change this year or next then go ahead and do it. Cut, splice, plug holes and adjust as necessary. The more planning before assembly though can reduce the headache of re-do.
Don’t Ignore Your Drip Irrigation Once It Is Set Up!
Just because it is automated does not mean you do not need to pay close attention to what your drip irrigation is doing.
You will need to watch the amount of water output and decide if you need to increase or decrease the time it runs. This will be based on the precipitation you receive, your temperatures as they change over the season and the size / maturity of your plants. Typically, by mid summer you will need to increase the time to meet the demands of increased temperatures and to meet the demand of plants in full production mode.
Drip Irrigation Parts
Water Source Connection Pieces
This filter is installed between the irrigation valve and drip regulator to protect drip emitters from rust, sand and other impurities that may clog them.
This particular water timer screws right on to a regular outdoor water tap. They come with different zones but I do recommend this 4-Zone timer for medium to large gardens.
The particular regulator can be adjust easily with the dial to accommodate your particular water pressure needs.
3/4″ Feeder Line & Connectors
This is used as the main feeder line from your irrigation source to your gardening areas. The smaller 1/4″ drip tubing or overhead sprayers are connected to this.
Use to cut the 3/4″ tubing into smaller lengths. Super quick and easy to use.
Cap the ends of each of the 3/4″ sections you create. It is a good idea to use a 3/4″ hose clamp as well to prevent it from popping off.
Hose clamps are a must from securing end caps, elbows and all other connections and valves. Grab a bundle of these to keep on hand.
Using shut-off valves can help you to isolate different zones in your garden.
1/4″ Drip Tubing & Connectors
Barbed Connectors – Straight
These are used to connect the 1/4″ drip line to the 3/4″ feeder lines. *You will need a special tool to poke the holes – see below*
Barbed Connectors – Elbows & Corners
You can also connect multiple 1/4″ sections at one spot or use the “L” to make easier bends. This little bundle comes with an assortment of connectors as well as goof plugs.
Inevitably you will need goof plugs. Whether is to plug the end of your 1/4 line or to plug a hole in your 3/4″ feeder line. Keeping a bundle of these on hand is essential.
Use tool to both punch the holes needed into the 3/4″ tubing but also to push the connectors into the hole.
Overhead Irrigation Sprayers
This is used to distribute the water from your main 3/4″ line to the overhead sprayers. NOTE this does not have any emitters on purpose.
*Below is the most customizable overhead sprayer option and my preferred. It is a little more assembly but allows a ton of potential changes for future seasons and adjustments in your garden. The riser portion, in particular, I have found to be super useful for further reach of the spray when direct sowing seeds.
Part A: Connect the 1/4″ feeder line from above to the bottom outlet on this stake.
Part B: Screw this riser piece to Part A on the top outlet. This is an 8″ riser but you can cut it down to any height you would like.
Part C: Screw this onto to the top of the riser (Part B). Alternately you can use the 180 degree sprayer instead (shown below)
Part C: Screw this onto to the top of the riser (Part B).
Anchor Pins – 1/4″ Drip Line
Use these stakes to help position the 1/4 drip line and emitters as close to your plants as possible.
Anchor Pins – 3/4″ Feeder Line
Use these stakes to secure the 3/4″ feeder line and emitters as close to edges and borders for a clean look and avoid any tripping hazards.