How to Build a Drip Irrigation System

Create a simple hose bib irrigation system to water your garden

Watering your garden is essential to the growth and survival of your new plantings. Tips for watering your garden can be found here. Still, hand watering is one of the most time-consuming aspects of garden maintenance. As most homeowners are not looking to be slaves to their yards, an irrigation system should be put in place to ensure the success of your planting investment. Traditional in-ground irrigation systems can be worry-free, but they may require an investment of thousands of dollars. For smaller planting beds, utilize a simple hose bib drip irrigation system to keep plants watered, without a plumber, and at a more modest price point. Handy homeowners will be able to layout and install a simple hose bib drip irrigation system themselves. Still, Gasper can also give quotes for installation.

Drip irrigation is a very efficient method of watering. It saves water because it applies water directly to the root zone around each plant, eliminates overspray, and reduces evaporation. Drip irrigation also keeps water off of the plant’s foliage, which can contribute to fungal diseases and leaves being ‘burned’ by water droplets acting as magnifying glasses. Unlike soaker hoses, the ½-inch poly tubing used in simple drip irrigation systems are clog-resistant and can water evenly at distances up to 300 feet. Also, you can install a drip irrigation system without digging. Tubing is laid directly on the topsoil under the layer of mulch.

The first requirement of a simple hose bib irrigation system is a running hose bib or faucet in an ideal location. A hose bib is an outdoor water faucet that protrudes from the house at about sill height and is threaded to accept a hose connection. An ideal location would be in the general proximity of the planting beds to be watered and not surrounded by hardscape. The site should be high enough on the exterior wall to have enough space between the bib and the ground to accommodate the ‘Y’ splitter, the timer, and the pressure regulator (about 18- to 24-inches). If a running hose bib is not available, hire a plumber to install a new bib or to relocate a poorly located existing bib.

Next, a brass ‘Y’ splitter will be attached to the hose bib. Teflon thread seal tape can be used on the bib threads to ensure a tight fit that does not leak. The splitter should have a 2-way shut off so that the homeowner can make use of the second connection without disturbing the irrigation set-up.

Connected to the ‘Y’ splitter is the digital timer. The timer acts as a shutoff valve and regulates at what time and for how long the system will run. Because the timer controls the flow of water, the hose bib will need to remain open while the irrigation system is running. The digital timers are the only part of the simple hose bib irrigation system that cannot stay outside in freezing temperatures because the timer will be damaged. Timers must be taken inside and stored in an area whose temperature will remain above freezing. We recommend bringing in your timer immediately after Halloween or at any issued fall frost warning. Most digital timers operate utilizing batteries, and one set of batteries should last the whole season. It is easy to replace batteries each spring during system startup. See each timer’s manual for specific set up instructions.

Attached to the timer is the pressure regulator. The pressure regulators contain a backflow preventer that prevents any water from the irrigation system backing up into the house water supply. It also ensures full and even flows throughout the poly tubing. Again, Teflon thread seal tape can be used on the connection threads to ensure a tight fit that does not leak.

Solid ½-inch poly tubing will be run from the pressure regulator to the irrigated area. Bury the solid tube in a slit trench below the surface of the yard. Perforated tubing with holes every 12-inches will be cut to size and installed adjacent to the existing and proposed shrubs. Tubing is joined together with simple plastic fittings and couplings. Tubing should be spaced 18- to 24-inches apart in most landscaped areas. Tubing is anchored with galvanized stakes and covered with a layer of stone or wood mulch. Tubing does not need to be shut down for the winter or blown out like traditional in-ground irrigation systems, because water does not remain in the perforated pipe when not in use.

A simple hose bib drip irrigation system is intended to make watering easier for the homeowner. Still, it requires constant monitoring to ensure the proper amount of water is getting to the plantings. Newly planted large trees and shrubs may require additional hand watering. The timer should be turned off or put on rain delay during periods of extended regular rain. This irrigation system must also be monitored and adjusted as the plant material becomes established, and the seasons change.

We recommend the following water time guidelines:
» 1-2 times per week for 20 minutes during cold weather (early spring/fall)
» 2-3 times per week for 20-30 minutes during mild weather (late spring/early summer)
» 3-4 times per week for 30-40 minutes during hot weather (summer months/drought conditions)

After a couple of days, it is essential to look at the soil near your drip tubing to evaluate your water times. If the soil is too wet, reduce watering frequency or time. If the soil is too dry, increase the watering frequency or time. Reevaluate soil conditions after each adjustment.

Although there are soil moisture meters available for purchase in the nursery, the best way to check if it is time to water is with your finger. Pull back the mulch around the base of a plant and insert your finger into the soil. If the soil is too dry, it will be hard to push your finger in, feel dry and dusty, and leave dry dust on your finger. Dry dust on your finger means it is time to water. If the soil feels soupy, mushy, or muddy and coats your finger with mud, the ground is too saturated. It is an excellent idea to delay watering for a few days to allow the soil to dry out a bit. When soils are too wet, we recommend testing again in a few days before watering. Ideal moisture levels will feel somewhere in the middle, damp, and slightly spongy―similar to a brownie or piece of chocolate cake. Similar to testing the doneness of a cake with a toothpick, soil at the right moisture level, shouldn’t leave too much dirt on your testing finger.

Another way to gauge if your plants need water is a visual assessment of the plant’s leaves. It is typical for plants that are feeling water stress to droop and start to wither. Dry, brown, or crispy leaves are usually a sign of severe water stress. Alternatively, yellowing of leaves, particularly for broadleaf evergreens like hollies and boxwood, can be an indication of too much water.

If you would like to have an irrigation system built for you, trust the experts at Gasper. Give us a call today at 215-364-2400 or send us a message via our contact page to inquire about all our irrigation services to see which might be best for your property.

To be able to walk out the door when you come home from a job and wander into the garden gives you time to be creative in your mind.

Mary Berry, Chef