A Guide to Lawn Irrigation Systems

Why bother with lawn irrigation systems? Why sacrifice the joys of watering your lawn with a hose and sprinkler? Lugging the heavy hose back and forth across the lawn. Forgetting to turn the water off and letting it run all day. Paying your neighbor’s kid to water while you’re on vacation. Such fun.

Automatic irrigation systems can save you from many of the hassles that come with manual watering. Linked to a programmable timer, lawn irrigation systems put watering on a schedule, which can be fixed or change over time. It’s your choice.

Well-designed irrigation systems can cover a yard with greater precision and efficiency than hand watering, which helps to save water. Plants that are correctly watered are healthier and more productive than plants that receive uneven watering.
Irrigation systems come in a both in-ground and drip systems. Each system has its own challenges and advantages. Price, efficiency and complexity vary greatly between systems. Finding the right approach for you means matching the benefits of each to the needs of your landscape.

Good Bye Hoses, You Won’t Be Missed
An in-ground system is made up of several pop-up or fixed sprinkler heads connected by PVC pipe to the water supply of your house. Sprinkler heads come in various sizes and capabilities designed to give the best coverage for different parts of the yard. A programmable timer controls the in-ground system. The timer allows you to water different areas (called zones) at different times. The latest timer technology even considers current weather conditions, providing the most efficient watering schedule possible.

In-ground systems free you from the hassles of hoses. Permanently installing sprinklers and supply lines underground removes the need to place and remove the equipment on a regular basis.

An in-ground system also makes maximum use of available water. Timed and properly directed watering results in water savings over manual watering, since you’re not soaking the patio to water your plants. Cost savings come from smaller water bills as well as from healthier, longer-lived plants.

Not for the Faint of Heart
In-ground irrigation systems aren’t without some downside, however. The installation of all that PVC pipe and hardware comes at the expense of your yard, which must be trenched where each pipe is run. Most professionals are able to keep lawn damage to a minimum, but scarring will occur that may take a full season to repair.

In-ground systems are also a big investment. Expect to pay $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the size and complexity of your installation. In areas with cold winters, you’ll need to pay a few hundred dollars a year to have the system winterized. This procedure removes all water from the pipes to avoid freeze damage during colder months.

Drip Irrigation Systems: Anatomy of a Leaky Hose
A drip irrigation system is made up of three main parts: a filter/pressure regulator system, flexible hosing and emitters. Water is delivered through the tubing to emitters that distribute the water a drop at a time. With emitters placed close to the roots of plants, a drip irrigation system delivers water directly where the plant needs it most.

The filter/pressure regulator system connects to a standard outdoor faucet and contains a backflow preventer, filter, pressure regulator and, optionally, a timer. This system removes small particles from the water and keeps water pressure spikes from damaging connectors and emitters in the rest of the installation.

Polyethylene tubing is used to carry water from the faucet to the plants. This tubing is very flexible and only needs to be buried a few inches underground or laid on the surface and covered with mulch.

Emitters have precise delivery rates that vary from one half gallon per hour (GPH) up to four GPH. In-line emitters are incorporated directly into the tubing. Punch emitters can be added to tubing by a plastic barb that punctures the wall of the tubing, allowing water to flow through the emitter.

Precise, Easy and Cheap
Drip irrigation provides the most efficient means of watering your landscape. By placing water only where your plants need it, these systems eliminate waste through evaporation and runoff.

Installing a drip system is very straightforward. The plumbing components can be assembled by hand and attach directly to a standard faucet. Tubing can be buried in a shallow trench or laid right on the surface of the garden, making it easy to adjust the installation for the best fit.

Drip irrigation is inexpensive, with most systems costing a few hundred dollars. Most home improvement stores now carry complete drip irrigation kits for vegetable, ornamental and container gardens.

…But not for Everyone
Drip irrigation is best suited for gardens and planting beds. The precise natures of these systems make them inefficient for large-area watering, such as your lawn. Most drip irrigation installations are either separate from or used in conjunction with in-ground or manual lawn systems.

Given that emitters have very small openings for water flow, drip systems require frequent inspection to check for clogs from debris and water contaminants. The fact that emitters are covered by mulch or dirt complicates theses inspections.

Polyethylene tubing is subject to breakdown from exposure to the sun. A covering of mulch or dirt will extend the lifespan of the tubing, but polyethylene tubing will not last as long as PVC.

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