Switching to Drip

By Natalie Boyack, Conservation Garden Park

There are many benefits to switching planting beds from sprinklers to drip irrigation, including less water waste, improved plant health, better distribution of water, and reduced weed growth. On average, lawn needs 6 times more water than planting beds, so watering plants like we water lawn uses much more water than necessary. This is not only wasteful, but also encourages rapid plant growth that requires more maintenance and creates optimal conditions for weeds. Solve this problem by switching overhead sprinklers in planting beds to drip irrigation.

When installing a new irrigation system, the filter and pressure reducer should be included at the valve as this is the optimal way to run the system. In an existing system, it is more difficult to add filters at the valve—thankfully, it’s not always necessary. Some manufacturers make retrofit kits that allow you to make the conversion at the sprinkler head instead of the valve. These kits typically look like modified sprinkler heads, but they include a filter, which goes in the sprinkler body, and a pressure reducer, located in the top.  In some cases, you can make the switch without even having to pick up a shovel!

When using conversion kits, you can either replace the spray head with the conversion kit, or if your kit and current spray heads are the same brand then you can just unscrew the top, remove the insides and replace them with the filter and the top of the retrofit unit. Once the retrofit kit is in the ground you can just hook up the in-line drip to the top of the retrofit cap and run it in a grid pattern.  Drip line should be placed on the soil surface with two to four inches of mulch on top of the line. When converting a zone to drip, all sprinkler heads that are not being replaced with retrofit kits need to be capped.

All drip irrigation systems require a filter and pressure reducer. When culinary water is used for irrigation, the filters don’t need to be cleaned out very often. Once per season is generally sufficient. Secondary water, on the other hand, contains debris that clogs filters quickly, so they may need to be cleaned every couple of weeks. Cleaning the filters is easy—just swish the dirty filter in some clean water to remove the debris—no chemicals are needed.

Important: you cannot have drip irrigation and spray heads on the same irrigation zone. Spray heads put out water at a much higher rate (gallons per minute) than drip (gallons per hour). They also operate at different pressures and run times. Where pop-up spray heads may run for about 25 minutes, in-line drip usually runs for an hour or more. Any time these are combined on the same zone, something will always be getting underwatered or overwatered.

Conservation Garden Park offers classes on irrigation and on switching to drip irrigation. Your water provider may also offer incentives to offset the cost of making the switch.  Visit http://utahwatersavers.com to learn about rebates in your area.