May 24, 2005

Drip system saves money, time, water

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Gardening is for drips — drip irrigation, that is. When you let a drip system trickle your fancy landscaping, you can save money, time and water.

“There’s really not much use made of drip irrigation here in the Midwest, but where I’m from (in Florida), it’s used for everything from agriculture to home gardens,” said ag systems expert Tony V. Harrison, an assistant professor in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Drip systems run water straight to the plants themselves, slowly releasing moisture right to their roots. You don’t waste water on walks and driveways, and you don’t lose it to runoff or evaporation. Because no water hits the leaves, your plants stay healthier. And because the rest of your planting beds stay dry, weeds either die slowly of thirst or they don’t come up at all.

A drip system consists of a connection kit that hooks up to an outside spigot, plastic tubing to move the water through the landscaping beds, and emitters and micro-sprays — midget sprinklers — to deliver it to the individual plants.

“There’s so much flexibility,” Harrison said.

“You can lay it out in straight rows for vegetables, you can curve it for flower beds, you can use it to water trees or shrubs.”

The tubing runs on top of the ground, and the different parts just snap together, making set-up simple.

“Anybody can do it,” Harrison said. “There are so few things you need to know and so few rules that it’s easy to get it up and running quickly. The only equipment you need is a pair of scissors and an $8 pair of lineman’s pliers. If you make a mistake, there are ‘goof plugs.’”

Maintenance is a snap as well. Once a month or so, remove the end caps and let the water run to flush the system. Clean the filter on the spigot attachment at the same time, and check the emitters to make sure they haven’t clogged up. At the end of the growing season, disconnect it from the hose, dismantle the fittings, roll up the tubing and store it with the rest of your gardening equipment.

In Southern Illinois, where the winters are relatively mild, you might even be able to get away with leaving the tubing in place, though you should disconnect it from the spigot and store the connection kit out of the weather.

“Drain it out (because of its flexibility, the tubing shouldn’t split in freezing temperatures), and it should be there for years,” Harrison said.

“If it does split, it’s not that difficult or expensive to replace. And if you’re worried about splitting — or think the tubing is unsightly in your garden — you can always bury it about three inches down.”

A basic kit that contains the spigot fittings, tubing and connectors, emitters, micro-sprays, stakes (to keep the system in place), hole punch and goof plugs costs less than $100, Harrison said. Add-ons that let you customize the kit to your particular garden cost just a few dollars more. But you won’t necessarily find these materials at your local hardware or home improvement store.

Harrison recommends shopping at an online site, In workshops he runs on irrigation techniques, he favors the company’s GE 200 Drip and Micro Sprinkler kit, which covers 1,000 square feet and has expansion capability.

“Everybody in the workshops really likes it,” he said. “It has everything they need to get started, and it’s very inexpensive.”

The kit comes with instructions, and the site runs a little installation video to give shoppers an idea of what to expect. Those who’d like to dig a little deeper can visit, where they can learn more about designing and installing a drip system, watering schedules, winterization and a lot of other irrigation-related topics.

To reach Harrison, call 618/453-6985 or e-mail him at

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