One of the most time-consuming tasks you face as an avid gardener, is that of making sure your plants get the right amount of water. Too little and your plants will wither away and die. Too much water and your plants may suffer from root rot and die. One of the best ways to keep your vegetable and fruit plants happy, is to install a drip irrigation system. You can use a timer to water your plants or use a hand valve to the water on and off.
The good news is that building your own drip watering system is far easier than it sounds. For smaller gardens you can put together a system designed to water every plant in your garden in a weekend. While you could buy a kit, they tend to be expensive and typically don’t have everything you need.
It All Starts with a Diagram of your Drip Irrigation System
Before you can start building your drip irrigation system, you need to have a plan of action. The best way to do this, is to create a scale drawing of your garden and placement of your plants.
This will help you to determine the quantity of pipes or soaker hoses needed. As well as the number of fittings, emitters or drip tips, and pipe or hose straps needed. You will use these to hold the hoses and pipes in place. The last thing you need is to come up short as you assemble your drip watering system. At the same time, you don’t want to spend more money than you need to.
If you plan to use plastic piping, avoid PVC as it tends to leach chemicals into the water. These chemicals end up going into the ground and into the fruits and veggies you and your family eventually eat. A much better choice is to use PEX, the latest in plastic piping. This material is safer and used in homes for potable water. It might be a little more expensive, but when you are growing organically, it’s a much better choice.
Building Your Drip Irrigation Using PEX
For this system, you will need:
- 1/4-inch tubing to run the length of each row multiplied by the number of rows you plan to cover.
- Enough 3/4-inch tubing to run along the top and bottom of your garden.
- T-connectors with 3/4-inch ends and a 1/4-inch tee for each end of the pipes running down the rows.
- Enough pipe connectors to join the number of lengths of pipe together needed.
- A single 3/4 x 3/4 x 3/4 T-connector.
- Four 3/4 x 3/4-inch elbows
- A fitting to convert from the PEX to a garden hose.
- A water filter to remove any and all impurities from your tap water (not needed if you plan to use rainwater from your collection barrels.
- A timer if you don’t plan to turn the system on and off yourself.
- A backflow device to keep fertilizers and sediments from flowing back into your water supply.
- A pressure regulator to keep the connections between pipes from blowing out.
- Pipe stakes to hold the pipes to the ground.
Tools and Supplies Needed to Get the Job Done
- PEX pipe cutter
- Ground stakes to hold the pipes to the ground
- PEX cleaner/primer
- A cordless drill
- 1/4-inch drill bit to make holes for the water to flow through or
- A pipe punch and emitters
- PEX glue
- A tape measure
- Measure the length of your garden rows and connecting enough 1/4-inch tubing to run the entire length of each. Add enough extra to reach your water supply line and pressure regulating line.
- If you must use several lengths of tubing, connect them together using pipe connectors and glue. Be sure you use the PEX cleaner first, then apply glue following the instructions on the container. Set aside and allow to dry. You need enough tubing to run along one side of each row.
- Drill holes alternating sides of the pipe spaced out every other six inches. You can stick to using just the holes or you can buy special emitters. These help to keep soil and other debris from infiltrating your water lines after you turn the water off.
- Lay out the water supply and pressure balancing lines. Cut the pipes and install the 3/4 x 3/4 x 1/4-inch tees where you will be connecting each drip watering line.
- Clean and glue both lines using the elbows at the ends of each run. This will help you to create a complete circuit. Be sure you place the 3/4 x 3/4 x 3/4 T fitting as close to the center of the supply side as you can. This will help keep the water pressure more equal throughout your drip irrigation system.
- Connect the entire system together and let the glue cure.
- While you are waiting for the glue to cure, attach a garden hose to your spigot. If you are using a timer and filter, place them in between two sections of garden hose. Then find a convenient place to mount the timer. Timers come in two forms, battery powered and those that require a 110V outlet.
- The different timers you choose will depend on your budget and if there is a convenient power outlet nearby. If you choose a battery powered unit, be sure you keep spare batteries around. You should plan to replace them regularly to avoid the risk of system failure because of dead batteries.
- Run hose from the outlet of the timer or filter to the hose fitting on your drip watering system. After letting the glue dry, use pipe “staples” every few feet to secure the pipes to the ground.
- Now it’s time to test the system for leaks. You may find you need to install a pressure regulator. This will let you adjust the water pressure until the water drips from the holes or emitters. You aren’t trying to spray water. The idea is to create a steady drip that keeps your plants wet without over-soaking them.
- Having determined there are no leaks, there is one more thing to do. Set the timer and watch your garden grow.
A Soaker Hose Drip Watering System
For this drip irrigation system, you will need:
- Enough 3/4-inch PEX to run along the top and bottom of your garden.
4 x 3/4-inch caps.
- Enough 3/4-inch T- fittings for each length of soaker hose to cover each row of your garden.
- Enough hose barbs with a 3/4-inch fitting on one end and a barb on the other.
- Hose staples to hold the hoses to the ground.
- PEX cleaner/primer
- You will also need Glue (PEX)
- Soaker hoses long enough to run the entire length of each row. Furthermore, you can buy bulk rolls of soaker hose. For this you will also need to buy enough fittings for both ends.
Putting It All Together
- Using soaker hoses makes this drip watering system easier and faster to assemble. Some believe that soaker hoses are more effective than using PEX tubing. This is something you will need to decide for yourself.
- Start by assembling the supply and pressure regulating tubes. Each must have a T-fitting installed for the number of soaker hoses you plan to use, spaced out accordingly. Using the primer first and then the glue to put everything together and let it cure. Add the hose barbs by gluing them to the T-fittings. Then cap each end of the supply and regulating lines.
- Lay the soaker hoses along the rows of your garden and secure them in place using hose staples every few feet. This time, instead of leaving the hoses exposed like you did the PEX pipes, cover the hoses with enough soil to completely cover them.
- Connect the hoses to both the supply and regulating pipes.
- Run a hose from the outlet of the timer or filter to the hose fitting installed in the supply side of your drip watering system.
- After giving everything time to cure, you can turn on the system and check its operation.
- If you plan to use a filter and timer, mount them in a convenient location. Base this on whether you plan to use a battery powered timer or one that runs on 110V.
- At this point your drip irrigation system is ready to use and will help keep your plants perfectly watered all season long.
Many gardeners believe drip irrigation to be far more effective than other forms of watering. In fact, it puts the water at the base of your plants where the roots can absorb it. Consequently, using a sprinkler wastes a lot of water because it limits the amount of water reaches the roots. Excess water on the leaves of some plants can cause fungi and other diseases leading to reduced crops. Slow steady watering at the base of your plants is the best possible way to give them exactly the right amount of water. This will help to eliminate root rot and improving your yields.
For more helpful info on Drip Irrigation systems, check out Oklahoma State University