Problems With Drip Irrigation – Drip Irrigation Tips For Gardeners

drip irrigation hoses
drip irrigation hoses
(Image credit: ChiccoDodiFC)

Having worked in landscape design, installation, and plant sales for many years, I have watered many, many plants. When asked what I do for a living, I sometimes joke and say, “I’m Mother Nature at a garden center.” While I do many things at work, like designing landscapes and displays and working with customers, perhaps the most important thing I do is making sure every plant we have in stock has everything it needs to grow to its full potential. A plant’s main need is water, especially container stock, which can dry out quickly. For many years, along with co-workers, I would water each individual plant with a hose and rain wand. Yes, it really is as time consuming as it sounds. Then four years ago, I started working for a landscape company/garden center with a drip irrigation system that waters all the tree and shrubs. While this may sound like a huge part of my workload was eliminated, drip irrigation has its own set of challenges and drawbacks. Continue reading to learn more about drip irrigation problems and solutions.

Problems with Drip Irrigation

Whether in a garden center or a home landscape, hand watering each individual plant based on its needs that day is probably the best way to water. By hand watering, you are forced to get up close to each plant; therefore, you’re able to adjust each plant’s watering to its specific need. You can give a dry, wilting plant extra water or skip a plant that prefers to stay on the dryer side. Most of us just don't have the time for this slow, thorough watering process. Sprinkler or drip irrigation systems allow you to save time by watering large areas of plants all at once. However, sprinklers don’t consider individual plant watering needs; for example, the sprinkler that keeps your lawn lush and green is probably not providing trees and shrubs in the area with the deep watering they need to develop strong, deep roots. Turf grasses have different root structures and watering needs than larger plants. Also, sprinklers often get more water on the foliage than in the root zone. Wet foliage can cause pest and fungal problems, like black spot and powdery mildew. Drip irrigation systems water individual plants directly at their root zone, eliminating a lot of fungal issues and wasted water. However, these drip irrigation systems still water every plant the same, regardless of individual needs. Drip irrigation can also be an unsightly mess of hoses and tubes running throughout the garden. These hoses can get clogged by debris, salt build up, and algae, so if they are covered and hidden by mulch, it’s hard to check if they are running properly and fix any clogs. Hoses that are exposed can be damaged by rabbits, pets, children, or gardening tools. I have replaced many hoses that were chewed on by rabbits. When the black hoses of drip irrigation systems are left exposed to the sun, they can heat up the water and basically cook the plants roots.

Drip Irrigation Tips

Rainbird and other companies that specialize in drip irrigation systems have all sorts of special solutions for drip irrigation problems.

  • They have timers that can be set so even if you're away, you can trust that your plants have been watered.
  • They have different nozzles that can control water flow so that plants like succulents can get less water, while plants with higher water needs can get more.
  • They have sensors that tell the system if it’s raining out so it will not run.
  • They also have sensors that tell the system if water is pooling up around the nozzles.

However, most people will start out with a less expensive, basic drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation systems can help you water tough areas, like slopes where run off and erosion can happen from other watering methods. Drip irrigation can be set to give these areas a slow penetrating soak or can be set to deliver water in bursts that can be soaked in before the next burst. Most problems with drip irrigation come from improper installation or not using the right kind of drip irrigation for the site. Do your homework when choosing a drip irrigation system beforehand and future issues can be avoided.

Darcy Larum