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The many benefits of a drip irrigation system

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Drip irrigation is more cost-effective for contractors because of fewer material costs. (Photo: K&D Landscaping)
Drip irrigation is more cost-effective for contractors because of fewer material costs. (Photo: K&D Landscaping)
Drip irrigation is more cost-effective for contractors because of fewer material costs. (Photo: K&D Landscaping)
Drip irrigation is more cost-effective for contractors because of fewer material costs. (Photo: K&D Landscaping)

Drip irrigation often gets a bad rap for being high-maintenance, says Steve McCarter, vice president of sales and marketing for Landscape Products. 

Still, there are many good reasons to use a drip irrigation system. We spoke to McCarter; Justin White, CEO of K&D Landscaping in Watsonville, Calif.; and Adam Edgar, assistant category manager at SiteOne Landscape Supply, to learn the benefits a drip irrigation system offers contractors, including targeted watering and a less extensive installation.

Installation ease

McCarter says it’s a big misconception that drip systems are more labor-intensive than overhead irrigation.

“Any irrigation system requires periodic maintenance to inspect the backflow device, adjust sprinklers and rotary heads, or make seasonal adjustments to the irrigation controller,” he says.

White says installing a drip system is less expensive for the primarily commercial design/build, irrigation, maintenance and tree services operation. A drip system saves on material costs because contractors need less hard pipe and fewer fittings and sprinklers.

“You also save a lot of money on labor because you basically just install the valve system,” he says. “You sub out a few places for the drip hose and you connect to that and run your drip hose to your plants and install emitters on that drip hose. Instead of having to put all these sprinklers in and all this hard pipe, you do a flexible drip piping, 3-4 inches below the surface.”

Edgar says irrigation contractors also save on installation by not needing to trench. And as the system sits at or just below the surface, irrigation contractors can access the system easier for more convenient maintenance. 

A targeted approach

But the No. 1 benefit to a drip irrigation system is its targeted approach to watering — slowly and directly to the base of a plant. This method translates to water savings and better plant health. McCarter estimates drip irrigation systems use 30 to 60 percent less water than an overhead system. 

Irrigation contractors also may see ancillary benefits, such as less weeding, White notes.

“With a sprinkler system or overhead irrigation, typically it waters the whole area,” he says. “So, you’ve got to do a lot of weed control in between the plants. Where the drip irrigation just drops it right at the plant.”

Another plus is the amount of area potentially covered by drip irrigation, White says. For example, a drip system will water a larger square footage with fewer gallons per minute.

“Once you convert it to drip irrigation, now you can water that same system for a quarter or maybe even a 10th of the amount of water per minute,” he says.

What to know

Before installing a drip system, Edgar says contractors need to understand the site’s specific needs.

“You need to make sure that your plantings (whether drought-tolerant or native) will match the anticipated water usage,” he says. “It’s also important to know your soil; this will help determine the type of emitters to be used and it should also match your plants’ needs.”

K&D also installs a pressurized flag that pops up when the irrigation system runs. Since drip runs at such a lower pressure, it’s not easy to tell when the system is on.

Hillsides can be a challenge as well. If K&D installs a drip system on a hillside, technicians install a flush valve or check valve to prevent overwatering plants at the bottom of the hill, White says.

“We recommend doing some type of flush valve where you put a little bit of drain rock or something at the end of the line that automatically flushes the line,” he says. “Or you can use a check valve system to ensure that it doesn’t run to the low end or the low elevation drainage once that valve shuts off.” 

Christina Herrick headshot (Photo: LM Staff)

Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is a former Editor for Landscape Management. A Journalist graduate from Ohio Northern University, Christina is known for sharing her insightful experiences on the road with her audience.

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