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How to Install Drip Irrigation in Your Garden

Save time and money by installing drip irrigation in your garden! This easy DIY project will make your plants AND your wallet happy.

How to install drip irrigation

Every summer, a few of my plants shrivel up and die because I've forgotten to water during our hot, dry days. Only the most drought tolerant varieties tend to survive my neglect! Even when I remember to drag out the hose to give my plants a drink, I don't give them enough because it takes so long to give them adequate moisture.

This year, I'm installing drip irrigation in our flower beds. This simple DIY system will provide just the right amount of water to each individual plant, on a timer that never forgets!

Why use Drip Irrigation Instead of Sprinklers or Hose Watering

This project may seem like a lot of effort when a sprinkler or a hose will do, but there's plenty of good reasons to install drip irrigation in your garden!

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It's More Efficient

Gallons of water are wasted every time you use a hose or a sprinkler, because the water sprays everywhere. Drip irrigation goes straight to the roots of each individual plant, so the surrounding bare soil doesn't get wet. This also helps cut down on weeds, because you're not watering those dandelion seeds that float into your garden!

drip irrigation watering a single plant

Like with a built-in sprinkler system, you can set a drip system on a timer. This prevents overwatering when you forget to shut off the system, or underwatering when you forget to turn it on!

It Saves Money on Your Water Bill

A typical sprinkler can use up to 1,000 gallons of water per hour! In comparison, each drip emitter ranges from ½ gallon to 4 gallons of water per hour. You would need a huge garden with hundreds of plants in order to use the same amount of drip irrigation water as a single sprinkler!

sprinkler spraying water on lawn

Another problem with sprinklers and hoses is that the dry summer air will cause the water to evaporate before it even hits the ground. That's why they recommend watering only in the early morning or evening hours when the sun isn't as strong.

Drip irrigation emitters are positioned right above the soil, so water doesn't have a chance to evaporate before hitting the ground. And because it's a gradual drip instead of a flood, the soil has a chance to absorb the moisture without drowning the plant or washing away precious nutrients.

You can save even more money by using a rain barrel to collect water that would normally go down the drain! You'll need to elevate your rain barrel on a stand to create enough water pressure to flow through the system. This rain barrel drip irrigation kit gives you everything you need to set it up!

black rain barrel on DIY rain barrel stand

It's Easy to Install Yourself

In-ground sprinkler systems require digging trenches for the pipes, and a plumber to set up everything up properly without leaks. We have a sprinkler system in our backyard (which I'll be converting to drip later this spring), and it must have been an insane amount of work!

installing a drip irrigation system

Installing drip irrigation is a super easy DIY project that even a beginner can tackle. There are plenty of inexpensive kits that provide you with everything you need to get started. Additional components are available at any home improvement store, so you can customize the setup to meet your garden's needs.

It's Easy to Adapt to Fit Your Growing Garden

If you decide to convert an area of lawn into a garden bed, or add a huge drift of flowers in a section of the garden that doesn't have a sprinkler, you're stuck watering by hand every few days. But with a drip system, you can run a short line of tubing out to the new section in minutes!

Drip irrigation is easier to adapt to the growth of your garden as well. One of the sprinkler heads in our backyard is completely blocked by the bamboo I planted a couple years ago and a Rhododendron that was probably a small plant when the sprinklers were first installed.

tall sprinkler head blocked by plant growth

It Prevents Hard Water Stains on Foliage

If you have hard water at your home, it can show on your plant's foliage! It creates a white, dusty film when it dries, makes your garden less vibrant, and can limit the plant's ability to photosynthesize. By watering directly at the soil level, your plant's leaves will look shinier and greener!

How to Set up Drip Irrigation

Make an Irrigation Plan

Before you start laying tubing around your garden, make a plan first! There are lots of options and accessories available, so it helps to map out which ones you'll need and where you'll put them. Draw a diagram of your yard or garden, and indicate where the faucets, plants, shrubs and trees are located.

½" tubing will carry more water volume to the far reaches of the garden beds. I plan to run one line of ½" unperforated tubing along each bed, with ¼" micro tubing junctions to direct water to each plant.

If your plants are in a densely packed raised bed, or you have a lot of large shrubs or trees, consider using soaker hoses or tubing with predrilled holes at regular intervals. This will save you time setting up the system, since it already has holes. Just loop the tubing halfway between the trunk and the outside of the tree canopy for even coverage.

Materials Required

The individual components of the drip system will depend on your own garden's requirements, but a starter kit like this one will contain most of the items listed below. Once you've set up the basic system, you can easily customize it with additional components.

I decided to use the Dig brand because it's easily available at my local Home Depot store. I've been back and forth to the store three times during this set up process, and I would hate to wait for an online delivery every time I needed a part! You can even order online and pick it up in the store to avoid staring at a wall of components trying to find the one you need.

drip irrigation components organized in plastic parts organizer

Keep all your drip irrigation components organized so you can easily find the parts you need when you add to the system. This organizer that I swiped from my T track table in the workshop works perfectly!

Start at the Faucet

Add a Y junction to your outdoor faucet hose bib first. This will allow you to attach a regular hose, fill a watering can or add another drip zone by splitting the water at the source. Make sure both sides have a lever to turn the water on and off individually.

In order to connect your hose to your new drip system properly, you'll need a few parts that form the head assembly. You can buy them individually, use the ones provided in the starter kit, or buy it preassembled. You'll need a:

  • Backflow filter, which prevents dirty garden water from flowing back into your household water lines,
  • Pressure regulator, which lowers the incoming water pressure to a level the drip system can handle, and
  • Hose adapter, which converts the ¾" threaded hose to the ½" drip tubing.
drip irrigation head assembly components

A timer makes your drip irrigation system foolproof! You can program it to water for a certain amount of time every day, or space it out further. You can even find models with Bluetooth so you can program the whole thing with your phone! I chose this model with a "rain delay" feature for days when Mother Nature does the watering for you!

Lay ½" tubing along the entire garden bed

This faucet is on the side of our house behind a gate, with garden beds on both sides. A tee junction at the gate allows the water flow to split in two different directions. Use a landscaping staple to hold the junction in place.

tee junction in ½" drip tubing

This garden bed doesn't look like much in early spring, but it'll be full of tall ornamental grasses soon! The large clump of cut back Miscanthus in the middle grows HUGE over the summer, so I ran the ½" tubing in front of it for easier access.

Drip irrigation tubing in garden bed

The tubing in the other direction is much longer, for a combined length of about 150 feet. You'll want to limit the length of ½" tubing to a maximum of about 200 feet per zone so you have enough water pressure to reach the end.

Speaking of the end, just bend it back on itself and add these figure 8 clips to hold it together. I hid it under the ornamental grass and added the first ¼" micro tubing with a 1 gallon per hour emitter.

end of ½" drip tubing with ¼" micro tubing with emitter under ornamental grass

Add ¼" tubing to each plant

You can easily customize your drip system with these ¼" tubing offshoots that plug directly into the ½" line. Just poke a hole anywhere along the length with this handy tool. If you make a mistake, just fill it with one of these goof plugs.

punching hole in drip tubing with special hole puncher

Insert a barbed connector into the hole, and slide the ¼" tubing onto the protruding end. I highly recommend keeping a mug of hot water nearby to dip the ends of the ¼" tubing before inserting the connectors. This helps soften the plastic and ensure a tight seal when it cools and contracts.

¼" drip tubing with barbed connector and 1 gallon emitter

If you want to add offshoots from a single line of ¼" tubing, you can use barbed tees and crosses at the end. This will allow you to water more plants in a small area without running a bunch of ¼" hoses from the main line. Overall, you'll want to limit one length of ¼" tubing to a total of 25 to 30 gallons per hour.

Add emitters to direct water to each plant

There's a huge variety of watering devices available for drip irrigation, from ½ gallon an hour emitters to mini sprinklers that cover a larger area. Determine how much water each of your plants need, and add the corresponding emitter to the end of each ¼" tubing line above the root ball.

1 gallon per hour emitter on ¼" drip tubing under ornamental grass

If you're not sure how much water your plant requires, I recommend using these adjustable emitters. With a turn of the top, you can change the drip rate from 0 to 10 gallons per hour. This is perfect for fine tuning your system without replacing your emitters!

Here are some general rules of thumb for watering with a drip system based on the type of soil in your garden.

½ gallon per hourClay soil
1 gallon per hourLoam soil
2 gallons per hourSandy soil

For dense plantings or groundcover, you can add various mini sprinklers and foggers. They can cover more area, but may have some of the same drawbacks as the larger sprinklers you're replacing!

Check the system for leaks

Once everything is set up, test the system to make sure none of the connections are leaking and all the emitters are dripping or spraying. Tighten loose connections where drips are happening at the barbed junctions.

Cover the tubing with mulch

When everything is working correctly, you can hide all the pipes under a layer of mulch. This has the added bonus of keeping the water inside the tubing cool during the hot months. Make sure the emitters aren't covered, and don't bury it so deep that it will disrupt your plants if you need to add onto the system and have to dig it out.

drip tape hidden under mulch in flower bed

You can just barely see the emitter popping up in this flower bed! I left the tubing pretty close to the surface so I can find it easily when I add more plants this spring.

I'm really looking forward to fine tuning my new drip irrigation installation as my garden grows. No more time wasted watering with a hose, and no more sky high water bills! Just beautiful plants and flowers to enjoy all summer long!

DIY drip irrigation system