Switch to Drip

By Shaun Moser, Conservation Garden Park

As we’ve had the chance to visit more Utah homeowner landscapes this season, we’ve learned that using spray sprinklers to water all parts of the landscape is the most common outdoor error homeowners make. Other problems homeowners deal with in the yard (excessive weeds, unhappy plants, dry or wet spots) can usually be traced back to irrigation issues as well. The most successful landscapes aren’t due so much to a green thumb but to an understanding that lawn and plants have different needs, then providing for each.

It’s ideal to water lawn with spray sprinklers but the best way to water plants is with drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is a low-pressure, low-volume watering system made from flexible tubing with emitters that are either built into the tubing or attached on the outside of the tubing. It is usually installed on top of the ground, but under 2-4” of mulch (bark, gravel, or compost). Because this method applies water directly to the soil surface, it minimizes water waste.

Trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers like to be watered differently than lawn. They have a deeper root system than lawn that allows them to go longer periods of time without water. They also like a deep, slow watering that supplies water to their entire root system. Drip irrigation is perfectly designed to do this. That’s why the Conservation Garden Park recommends you “Switch to Drip.” Your plants will be healthier, your weeds will be fewer, and you can save thousands of gallons of water every year.

Switching to drip is much easier than you might think. Most sprinkler brands make conversion kits that allow you to change an existing spray sprinkler to drip. This allows you to use your existing sprinkler lines so you don’t have to dig and trench extensively to make the switch. Just make sure you don’t combine drip and spray sprinklers on the same zone/valve! Drip applies water in gallons per hour (gph) and spray sprinklers supply water in gallons per minute (gpm). A typical run time for drip is one hour, vs. 20-30 min for spray sprinklers. If you make the mistake of combining drip and spray on the same zone you will underwater your lawn or overwater your plants and lose all water efficiency.

After switching to drip, you will continue watering your lawn several times per week, but now your other plants will only need water one time per week—saving lots of water! You will also see fewer weeds in your landscape. Shrub and flower beds watered with drip that have 2-4” of mulch always have fewer weeds.

If you are interested in making the “Switch to Drip,” start by walking around your landscape and finding a sprinkler zone that is only watering shrubs and perennial flowers. If you have a sprinkler zone like this, it will be the best place to make the switch. If you want assistance or help, feel free to stop by Conservation Garden Park and ask us about the areas we have converted to drip. http://conservationgardenpark.org.