LESLIE: Well, in most parts of the country, trying to keep yards watered throughout the summer is no small feat, especially if you live in a conservation-conscious area that restricts your water usage.
TOM: Well, if the best defense is a good offense, one of the best ways to beat the heat and make sure your plants thrive is with micro-irrigation. Now, this is a system of drip tubing and tiny sprayers and it’s a great way for you to get water right where you need it. Here to tell us more is Roger Cook, the landscaping expert at This Old House.
ROGER: Hey, Tom, Leslie. Thanks for having me.
TOM: Well, thanks for being here. And unlike a lawn-irrigation system, it seems that installing drip irrigation is not quite as complicated. So, would you consider this a DIY project? And what kinds of gardens is it best suited for?
ROGER: Oh, it’s definitely a DIY project. The tubing and the plastic fittings and everything are very, very simple to work with.
TOM: OK. So where do we begin?
ROGER: We begin at the connection to the house. You need to make a connection through the tubing and usually what you have is an adapter which regulates the amount of pressure that goes through to the drip irrigation because …
TOM: So that’s where the drip part comes in?
ROGER: Right. But too much pressure going through that drip hose will actually blow it apart and …
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Because the holes are just so tiny.
ROGER: Right. So you need a certain pressure – a certain psi – to make it work properly.
LESLIE: Alright. So now we’ve established our connection. How does this really work to deliver the water where we need it?
ROGER: Well, from the connection, there’ll be a solid pipe that’ll bring it out to the area where you want the drip to be. Then we transition either to the drip tubing or the specific emitters, which’ll put that water right down where the roots are.
LESLIE: Now, it seems like we’re going from one end of the yard to the other. Do we need to be concerned about distance and the amount of water that will get to the plants that need it?
ROGER: You will. And you’ll find that there are directions which tell you how many feet of drip or how many emitters you can have on one, what we call, zone; one area. And you’ll have to break up your system into either manual zones where you turn it yourself or they have electric zones, which will control the different areas so that one area gets the water for a certain period of time. Then we switch over to another and another.
TOM: Now, Roger, it seems that with most irrigation systems, there’s a fair amount of inefficiency. I mean either we don’t have it aimed to the right place or we get a lot of evaporation. But with drip irrigation, it seems like we put it exactly where we need it; right where that root needs to drink, correct?
ROGER: Right. That’s the key to it is you don’t have the water running down the driveway and usually you don’t have a geyser shooting straight up when a head gets eaten up by a lawnmower. This you adapt, you wrap it around your shrubs or your perennial beds and you just give the area the water it needs.
LESLIE: Can you use it for ground cover, for watering certain sections of your lawn or better to focus it on a smaller area?
ROGER: Ground cover, perennial beds, individual shrubs. It’ll be awful hard to do in a lawn area because you would have to have a whole series of pipes exactly the same distance apart or your lawn wouldn’t get an even watering.
TOM: Now, I’ve even seen drip irrigation used for things like hanging planters. Are there lots of accessories for these sorts of applications?
ROGER: There are. And that’s one of the biggest things we’ve done in the last few years. People are doing planters and pots and they’re the hardest thing to keep watering because they’re out, exposed to the elements.
TOM: They dry out very quick.
ROGER: Very quickly. So we just put a couple little emitters in there through this microtubing.
TOM: So, when you get started on this, it would seem that you need a bit of a plan, just like any kind of project; sort of sketch out where everything has to go and then you can kind of tally up the parts?
ROGER: Exactly. You want to know how many zones you’re going to have, how many runs; that sort of thing. And you’ll get a lot of great information online and even going to a place that sells this and showing them your plan, they’ll help you design a system that’ll work there.
LESLIE: Now, what happens to the system at the end of the year? Is it like traditional irrigation where you have to blow out the systems to keep things from freezing, I guess?
ROGER: Right, you do in any place that it’s going to freeze because if there’s water left in that tubing and it expands, it’ll crack it. We want to use that for years; we don’t want to have to replace it.
So you’re going to blow it out at a low psi and just clean the water right out of it.
TOM: This sounds like a really green approach to watering your garden.
ROGER: It is.
TOM: Very, very efficient. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
And for more great tips, including a video about installing micro-irrigation systems, you can visit ThisOldHouse.com.
LESLIE: And you can watch Roger and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you by the National Association of Realtors.