Efficient irrigation is one of the key Earth-Kind practices for conserving water in the landscape. Low-volume irrigation systems (sometimes referred to as drip or trickle irrigation) are among the most effective means of achieving significant water savings. Despite the tremendous potential for water conservation and foliar disease prevention, these systems are not widely used in residential landscapes. Like conventional overhead irrigation systems, low-volume systems require proper design, installation, maintenance, and operation for optimum water savings and plant performance.
Like all types of irrigation systems, if not operated properly, low-volume systems can be wasteful and ineffective. A thorough understanding of the landscape’s soil/plant/water relationship is critically important in determining how much water should be applied at each irrigation. Remember, a deep soaking of the entire root zone is recommended to prevent shallow roots and to increase drought tolerance.
One of the most important benefits of low-volume irrigation is the potential to reduce or eliminate water waste. Low-volume systems do an excellent job of applying water to meet specific plant needs. The rate of application also more closely matches the soil’s infiltration rate, and water is directly applied to the plant root system to maximize water use efficiency and reduce loss through evaporation. Since water is directed exactly where it is needed most, very little is wasted on the areas between widely spaced plants, or on sidewalks, streets, and driveways.
Some Common Low Volume Irrigation Systems:
Soaker Hose: A soaker hose is one of the most basic means of applying supplemental irrigation to the landscape. Small holes in the hose provide a low volume of water which “soaks” into the soil. A soaker hose can be moved to various locations within the landscape, or it can be left in a more permanent location and pressurized by a regular garden hose as needed.
Porous Hose: A porous hose is very similar to a soaker hose. However, its unique construction material enables the entire hose to deliver irrigation water. These systems are frequently used in landscape beds and are also used in sub-irrigation systems for turfgrass. A porous hose can be an effective means of providing water to the landscape, however, the delivery rate can be somewhat variable in areas that are not level.
Drip: Drip systems typically use plastic pipes or tubing to deliver water to a small drip emitter. Emitters come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and specifications while some are embedded into the tubing. Most are rated in gallons per hour, making it relatively easy to determine how much water is being applied at each irrigation. Drip emitters can be spaced evenly along the delivery pipe or clustered at specific locations around plants. Drip emitters with pressure compensation and backflow prevention provide optimum control over the volume of irrigation water supplied.
The use of a high-quality low-volume irrigation system is one of the most valuable Earth-Kind practices available for conserving water in the landscape. These systems are typically low cost, easy to operate, and relatively maintenance free so I take full advantage of them.
To read the “Low Volume Irrigation” publication in its entirety or for more information on Earth-Kind landscaping, visit the Aggie Horticulture website.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is the author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Texas Home Landscaping, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com and read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com). More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.