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Choosing a Drip Rate for Your Lawn

As with most things in life, finding the correct balance is everything. This is true of drip irrigation, too. Although the majority of emitters sold through most retailers are rated at 1 gallon per hour (gph) that does not mean that 1 gph is the correct rate for every application. Since the purpose of drip and micro-irrigation systems is to apply the optimal amount of water, at the most efficient rate for any given plant, it is important to know how to figure the gph rate that works best for your particular plants, and that is all about finding the right balance.fertilizing a lawn

To address this, agriculture and drip irrigation design experts consider the “soil, plant, water” relationship when creating a new system. They must work to balance the sometimes conflicting needs of soils vs. plants to arrive at the most efficient watering rates. As you can imagine, in huge agricultural applications, growers cannot afford to waste water, or invest in unneeded irrigation capacity—and neither can you.[GARD align=”left”]

The first factor in determining the correct drip rate is soil type. Depending on whom you ask, that can be 12 or more types. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists seven types, ranging from very coarse sand to clay. For non-commercial applications, most people condense this down to three key types: sand, loam, and clay. Knowing the soil type is important because water moves, or percolates, at different rates through these different soils, with sands having the fastest percolation rates and clays the slowest.

A simple visual means of identifying the soil type is to note its wetting pattern. When an emitter dispenses drops of water, a distinctive wetting pattern is created on and below the surface of the ground depending on the soil type. In sandy soil, the water percolates downward very quickly, creating a small area of moisture at the surface, while clay soils tend to spread the water horizontally, creating a larger wetting pattern. You want to create a small, compact wetting pattern, so by watching the way the water spreads as it drips you will be able to see if you are applying too much or just enough. For the most part, sandy soils require drip rates in the 1 to 3 gph range, while clay soils require a drip rate of just 0.5 to 2 gph.

Plant anatomy is the second key factor. The root zone of the plant is the area at the base of the plant that contains all of its roots and root hairs. The entire root zone is normally about the same size as the plant’s canopy. The larger the root zone, the more water the plant needs for consistent growth. The root hairs are the thin filaments extending out from the main roots, and they are the part of the root system where water is absorbed. The root hairs of most landscaping plants are relatively shallow in the soil, residing in the top few inches. This may create a dilemma: A plant may have a large root zone, which requires a lot of water, but on the other hand, the root hairs may be shallow.

So, if you are using traditional irrigation methods, watering at high flows, the water percolates right past the shallow root hairs and much of it is not used by the plant at all. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the top 25% of the root zone absorbs 40% of the water, and the bottom 25% absorbs only about 10%. One of the principle advantages of drip irrigation is that drip allows you to apply small amounts of water, at precisely timed intervals. This limits percolation through the soil and creates a state of consistent moisture for the plant. The shallow root hairs absorb as much water as they need, when they need it. The result is greatly improved plant health and reduced water waste.[GARD align=”right”]

For the average homeowner, the best way to figure out what drip rates are right for which plants is to understand the basic root system characteristics of the plants and know the type of soil they are growing in. For instance, a large plant with a large root zone in clay soil could use an emitter with a medium flow rate, whereas the same plant in sand might require a high flow rate.

The final key factor is time. In drip irrigation, longer run times (the number of minutes the system waters), at slow rates appropriate to the soil type, create an area of uniform moisture throughout the plants’ root zones without ever saturating the soil with water. This is the perfect growing environment for plants, and minimizes water waste and evaporative loss.

Getting to this state of perfection requires a little experimentation. It is as much an art as a science, but once these few factors have been taken into account it is easy to achieve the outcome you need using standard 1 gph emitters and adding emitters to increase the drip rate for specific plants. Or, if you prefer, you can buy higher drip rate emitters–it all comes down to creating the right balance.

Courtesy Yardcare.com

Installing Watering Line & Devices

Before you add watering devices to the tubing, flush it free of dirt and debris. Once the water runs clear from the ends of the lines, turn it off and close the lines with end caps or figure-eight closures.

Figure-eights are simple to install but are less easily removed when you need to flush the line. End caps come in both compression and locking styles and have a tip that can be unscrewed to flush the line; some are designed to flush automatically before and after each watering period.[GARD align=”left”]

Use your irrigation layout as a guide in locating the various watering devices, but rely on your own judgment in repositioning them as needed.

Drip Emitters

Drip Emitters

To install a drip emitter directly into 1/2- or 3/8-inch drip tubing, punch a hole in the tubing (as shown at bottom) and then insert the barbed end of the emitter.

You can also install an emitter on microtubing run from the main drip line. Connect one end of the microtubing to a hole in the drip line with a barbed 1/4-inch connector. Then insert an emitter into the other end and position it at the plant. You can hold the emitter in place with a stake. On slopes, locate emitters on the uphill side of the plant.

To make a chain of in-line emitters, string them together with microtubing and then secure the microtubing to the main drip line with a barbed connector. The microtubing coming from the water source goes into the colored side of the emitter. Use a goof plug or emitter to cap the end of the microtubing.

Sprayers, Minisprinklers & Misters

To install a spray device, run microtubing from a hole in the main drip line, attaching it with a barbed connector. Extend the microtubing to a plastic stake at the desired location. Some devices screw directly to the stake; otherwise, the stake merely supports the microtubing.

Pop-up sprayers and minisprinklers go into the ground. Some come with optional protector attachments to keep soil out. Some mister heads come with built-in spikes as well as barbed connectors that can attach directly to a main drip line or microtubing.

Emitter Line

Larger, 1/2-inch emitter line can be connected to the main drip line with a compression fitting such as a tee, an elbow, or a coupling. Plug the end with an end cap. Attach 1/4-inch emitter line to the drip line with a barbed connector and seal the end with a goof plug or, if you want extra flushing action, a drip emitter.

Punching Holes in Emitter Line

How to punch holes in emitter line:

When making holes in drip tubing for emitters and barbed fittings, use a punch designed for the purpose.[GARD align=”left”]

1Make sure the tubing is lying straight and in its final orientation, not twisted.
2Position the hole so that the emitter will drip to the side or downward.
3Hold the punch at a right angle to the tubing to ensure a round hole that will seal tightly against the emitter’s barb.You may find the piercing process to be easier if you slowly twist the punch as you push it into the tubing. On some punches, the tip may become clogged; if so, clear it out before punching again. If you punch a hole in the wrong place, seal it with a goof plug.

Testing a Drip System

Before you start using a new drip system, you need to test it. Begin by connecting the drip control valves to the timer.sunset-sprinklers

To check individual circuits, open the shutoff valve and use the timer to turn on each circuit manually. If none turn on, make sure each valve was installed in the right direction and then inspect the wiring at the controller and valves. If just one circuit fails to come on, check the flow-control setting for that valve.

Once the water is flowing through all the circuits, check for leaks and fix any holes in the tubing by inserting goof plugs into them. Remove areas of tubing with any gashes and replace them with compression coupling. Clean out blocked emitters or sprayers.

Make sure all watering devices are near plants to avoid wasting water, and adjust sprayers and mini-sprinklers if they’re throwing in the wrong direction. Once you are sure water is flowing through all the circuits and there are no leaks, cover the system with mulch.

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Installing Watering Line & Devices

Before you add watering devices to the tubing, flush it free of dirt and debris. Once the water runs clear from the ends of the lines, turn it off and close the lines with end caps or figure-eight closures.

Figure-eights are simple to install but are less easily removed when you need to flush the line. End caps come in both compression and locking styles and have a tip that can be unscrewed to flush the line; some are designed to flush automatically before and after each watering period.[GARD align=”left”]

Use your irrigation layout as a guide in locating the various watering devices, but rely on your own judgment in repositioning them as needed.

Drip Emitters

Drip Emitters

To install a drip emitter directly into 1/2- or 3/8-inch drip tubing, punch a hole in the tubing (as shown at bottom) and then insert the barbed end of the emitter.

You can also install an emitter on microtubing run from the main drip line. Connect one end of the microtubing to a hole in the drip line with a barbed 1/4-inch connector. Then insert an emitter into the other end and position it at the plant. You can hold the emitter in place with a stake. On slopes, locate emitters on the uphill side of the plant.

To make a chain of in-line emitters, string them together with microtubing and then secure the microtubing to the main drip line with a barbed connector. The microtubing coming from the water source goes into the colored side of the emitter. Use a goof plug or emitter to cap the end of the microtubing.

Sprayers, Minisprinklers & Misters

To install a spray device, run microtubing from a hole in the main drip line, attaching it with a barbed connector. Extend the microtubing to a plastic stake at the desired location. Some devices screw directly to the stake; otherwise, the stake merely supports the microtubing.

Pop-up sprayers and minisprinklers go into the ground. Some come with optional protector attachments to keep soil out. Some mister heads come with built-in spikes as well as barbed connectors that can attach directly to a main drip line or microtubing.

Emitter Line

Larger, 1/2-inch emitter line can be connected to the main drip line with a compression fitting such as a tee, an elbow, or a coupling. Plug the end with an end cap. Attach 1/4-inch emitter line to the drip line with a barbed connector and seal the end with a goof plug or, if you want extra flushing action, a drip emitter.

Punching Holes in Emitter Line

How to punch holes in emitter line:

When making holes in drip tubing for emitters and barbed fittings, use a punch designed for the purpose.[GARD align=”left”]

1Make sure the tubing is lying straight and in its final orientation, not twisted.
2Position the hole so that the emitter will drip to the side or downward.
3Hold the punch at a right angle to the tubing to ensure a round hole that will seal tightly against the emitter’s barb.You may find the piercing process to be easier if you slowly twist the punch as you push it into the tubing. On some punches, the tip may become clogged; if so, clear it out before punching again. If you punch a hole in the wrong place, seal it with a goof plug.

Testing a Drip System

Before you start using a new drip system, you need to test it. Begin by connecting the drip control valves to the timer.sunset-sprinklers

To check individual circuits, open the shutoff valve and use the timer to turn on each circuit manually. If none turn on, make sure each valve was installed in the right direction and then inspect the wiring at the controller and valves. If just one circuit fails to come on, check the flow-control setting for that valve.

Once the water is flowing through all the circuits, check for leaks and fix any holes in the tubing by inserting goof plugs into them. Remove areas of tubing with any gashes and replace them with compression coupling. Clean out blocked emitters or sprayers.

Make sure all watering devices are near plants to avoid wasting water, and adjust sprayers and mini-sprinklers if they’re throwing in the wrong direction. Once you are sure water is flowing through all the circuits and there are no leaks, cover the system with mulch.

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Running Drip Line Tubing

Installing drip tubing, also referred to as a micro-sprinkler watering system, is a simple project. Drip tubing is generally 1/2-inch flexible tubing that is black in color. It is easily cut using a utility knife.garden_drip_emitter_dripline_sds1

Start with the control valve, which in the case of a drip system is often a simple battery-operated timer. You can install the timer onto or near the spigot and attach the 1/2-inch tubing directly to it. Or, you may choose to run PVC pipe near to the area to be served, attaching one side of a timer to the end of the pipe and attaching the tubing to the other side of the timer. This option is preferable if it helps keep the tubing, which is easily damaged, out of harm’s way.[GARD align=”left”]

Once you have all the parts, tubing is easy to attach using a threaded adapter. The trickier part is running the tubing without kinking it. Work on a warm day as cold tubing will not be flexible.

Unroll the tubing carefully—it’s easily kinked—and rout it from the water source to the area to be watered. In most cases, you want to run the tubing alongside the entire area, in an inconspicuous place or partly buried, so you can easily attach the emitter lines and run them to the various planters, pots, and/or flower beds.

If you do kink the tubing, don’t try to straighten out the kink; it will never allow full water flow. Instead, cut the tubing on either side of the kink and join the two ends with a coupling that is held tight with two hose clamps.

To run tubing under a sidewalk or driveway, see “Digging Under a Pathway for Underground Pipes.” Install PVC pipe under the sidewalk and attach tubing to both ends; running the tubing without kinking it will be difficult.

To make a sharp turn, use an elbow (El) fitting. To branch off for an additional line, use a Tee fitting. To install a fitting, slide a hose clamp over each of the hoses, insert the fitting into the inside of the tubing pieces, slide the clamps over the fittings, and tighten.

At the end of the tubing, use a closure fitting to seal the tubing end. Turn on the water to test for leaks. Now you’re ready to poke drip emitter lines into the tubing and run them to your plants, where you can install the emitters or micro-sprinklers of your choice.

Proper Drip Methods for Plants

When using a drip watering system, it can be a challenge to know the best methods for delivering water. What is the best type of drip watering equipment, and how should it be routed? Following are tips for specific drip watering situations:

Random Plantings in Beds

When plants are randomly spaced, run 1/2-inch tubing through the bed so that it passes as many plants as possible.

If a circuit covers just one planting bed, a good technique is to create a spiral around the area, starting with the plants on the outside of the bed and spiraling the tubing into the center.[GARD align=”left”]

Another option is to run the tubing in a snake pattern and send 1/4-inch microtubing off the main drip line to individual plants farther away.

Straight Rows & Vegetable Beds

The most efficient way to irrigate long rows of plants with drip is to run parallel lines of 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch emitter line along the row of plants. Tee off the lines from the main drip line. You can also use drip tubing with emitters rather than emitter line.

Container Plant Drip Watering

Container plants require their own circuit because they need to be watered more frequently—as much as twice a day in summer.

First run a 3/8-inch or 1/2-inch main drip line from your head assembly to the container area; you can hide it along a wall or walkway, or even under a deck. Although 3/8-inch tubing is less noticeable, it should not be run farther than 100 feet.

Next, tee off the main drip line to run 1/4-inch microtubing to the pots. You can run it over the lip of the pot (using an elbow will keep it flat) or up through the drainage hole. Depending on the container and the plant, the microtubing can connect to one or more drip emitters, to a 1/4-inch emitter line, or to a small bubbler, sprayer, or mister.sunset-sprinklers

Use heavyweight vinyl tubing instead of polyethylene. It will hug the contours of the container and turn corners without elbows or other fittings. It also comes in several colors to blend with the container color.

For hanging baskets, run microtubing up posts, under eaves, or in the joint between two walls. To prevent backflow, leave at least 2 inches between the drip emitters or misters and the foliage or soil.

 

Finishing Sprinkler Installation

Testing the system and backfilling the trenches are the finishing touches to sprinkler installation.

Once your sprinkler system is installed, it’s time for the finishing touches—testing the system and filling in the trenches.lawn-sprinkler

To test the system, make sure all faucets and water-using appliances inside and out of the house are turned off and that the irrigation system’s valve is in the open position. Set the timer on manual and turn on the first station. Check that all the sprinkler heads are spraying completely, are directed where you want them, are providing even coverage, and are not obstructed by plantings or other obstacles. Repeat with all the other stations in turn.

To redirect a sprinkler head, simply tweak the sprinkler body or riser. To control the throw of the spray, turn the adjustment screw at the top of the sprinkler head. To adjust the arc of a rotor unit, refer to the instructions from the manufacturer.[GARD align=”left”]

If a station doesn’t come on at all, check the connections and check that the valve was installed correctly. If a station comes on but a sprinkler head is malfunctioning, remove it and make sure it’s not clogged. If it isn’t, take another look at your schematic to make sure that the sprinkler head is on the station you’re testing.

If two or more sprinkler heads in the same vicinity have a weak spray, check that station’s allowable flow to see if you have to many sprinkler heads for that station. If this is the case, you will either have to change your schematic or see if you can get by with few sprinkler heads.

Only after you’ve worked out all of the system’s bugs should you backfill the trenches. Place the original soil into each trench to the sod line and then fill the trench with water to compact the soil. Continue to add soil and tamp it down until it remains at the sod line. Finally, replace any sod you may have removed.

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