by Sandy Swegel
For gardeners in dry climates, irrigation is a necessary evil. Irrigation makes growing possible, but it can be a
royal pain trying to keep it intact and actually watering the plants it is intended to water. You will have fewer problems with your irrigation (and thus fewer dying plants) if you take the time in Spring to tune-up your drip system.
To tune-up your drip system, wait for a fine day in Spring after there has been a dry period, and manually turn your drip system on and run it for about 15 minutes.
Here’s your check list:
Obvious leaks and holes. This is easy….a big spray of water up in the air is the surest sign an emitter has popped out of its hole or a line has been accidentally cut. I use the little flags on sticks to mark places that will need repair.
Dislocated or broken lines. The reason you run the drip system for 15 minutes before you start to check individual plants is so you will easily be able to see the spreading moisture in the soil under each dripper. If you can physically see a little drip line but no water, then the line is clogged or has been dislocated from the main supply line. How does this happen? Squirrels and dogs disconnect lines when they run through the garden. Little creatures like mice have figured out that water runs through these lines and a little nibbling on the tubing provides a water supply from the water left in the line. Most of the time you just reconnect the tubing and are done.
Clogged emitters. Sometimes emitters just break but most of the time an emitter that’s not emitting is just clogged. Tiny insects have figured out this water source too….and sometimes lay eggs right in the emitter tip, which from their perspective is probably a nice moist cave. Usually just taking the emitter and blowing into it is enough to clear the line. I’ve also seen plant roots grow up a tube looking for water.
Sliced lines. This is from human error. A garden full of tiny drip lines and sprinkler supply lines shallowly buried means the gardener accidentally slices through the irrigation system, sometimes not realizing it. A big puddle of water instead of the small moist area around an emitter is your clue. Just fix it and resolve not to dig in the garden without checking for the location of the irrigation line.
Spring tuning your irrigation can be tedious, but well worth it in terms of keeping your plants alive. While you’re at the task, this is a good time to check the times on your controller. Sometimes in August and September when it’s hot and dry, we crank up the length of time the irrigation runs….Plants don’t usually need so much water in Spring, so you can save water and money by having different run times in Spring and Summer.
Drip irrigation is still my favorite way to water frugally. You get water to the roots without having the waste of high pressure sprayers over spraying and watering the street. Sprayers also encourage fungus from the moisture sitting on the leaves. Installing a drip system requires us to get in touch with our Inner Engineer, but it’s a very successfully way to water if you just do a Spring Tune-up.