Drip Irrigation

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

israel-irrigated-flowers-before-resizedThe benefits of drip irrigation continue to be talked about in the gardening and agriculture industries as well as by the media. Water efficiency, conservation of a natural resource and the prevention of run off are just a few of the reasons that drip irrigation has become more of a ‘front burner’ subject in recent years. Yet, I still observe my neighbors (in the suburbs of Philadelphia) almost exclusively using overhead sprinklers for watering their gardens and lawns. And to be honest, although I water minimally, I haven’t made the switch to drip hoses 100% either.

Initially, it does cost more to set up a drip irrigation system but the payoff is a quick one with a sizable reduction in water bills.  So, what’s the reason that a lot of us don’t make a ‘sweeping’ change?  Because it’s easier not to, of course. Old habits die hard, I understand. Could it be that we don’t take the need for water conservation seriously? Or do we think that our actions individually really don’t make a difference?

israel-irrigated-flowers-in-between-resizedSince I started visiting Israel several years ago, I’ve been amazed that almost all of the flowers I’ve seen, no matter where in the country, are watered by drip irrigation. For such a small country with large swathes of desert and limited water resources, it has always been necessary for Israelis to discover a way of conserving their water usage.

The history of drip irrigation dates back thousands of years to when farmers who knew that they had to supply water to crops did so by burying pots with small holes in the bottom of them near the roots of plants.

Until I did some research on it, I never knew that the modern technology of drip irrigation was created in Israel by Simcha Bass and his son. Instead of using holes to emit water as was done previously, in Bass’ new system, water was transported and released through longer and larger tubing by using water to slow the velocity inside a plastic emitter. In 1959, the first experimental drip irrigation of this type was created when Bass partnered with a kibbutz and created a company called Netafim. By 2005, over 60% of Israel’s agricultural land was watered through drip irrigation, while the United States was at 6%.

The skinny on why I’m even bothering to write this article? You already know: merely as a timely reminder that winter or early spring is the perfect time to go to your local big box store or garden center and stock up on drip hoses. After your initial weeding in early spring and prior to laying down mulch is the ideal time to install them. Yes, it may take some time and patience to get them positioned as close to the base of plant material as possible, but it’s worth it!


I know first hand that in the long run, drip irrigation saves a heck of alot of money, and in some cases, your plants. I have two rows of leyland cypresses flanking my steeply hilled driveway. It is precisely because of the hill’s steepness that for years it retained little rainwater, with a tremendous amount of runoff. One year when I noticed that cypresses lower branches were dying off, yours truly finally figured out that they weren’t getting enough water. If I hadn’t encircled them with drip hoses that season, I’m close to 100% sure that they would be dead by now.

How about you? Are some of you drip hose advocates or converts? Any of you who think that drip hoses are a big waste of time and money? All opinions are welcome!!

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
12 Comments… add one

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Saxon Holt March 12, 2009, 12:49 pm

You’ve touched a subject very important to all gardeners especially ones in the arid West who long ago adopted the drip techniques pioneered by the Israelis. I must recommend a book published by a friend Robert Kourik on drip irrigation for all climates – http://www.robertkourik.com/books/drip09.html.
Kourik has been pioneering work on watering and root systems for many years and will be the first to tell you of the limitations of drip – it is most helpful in rather intensely managed gardens.

Annuals and veggie gardens benefit the most. These tend to be our most water needy types of gardens and benefit from the annual chore of checking and moving drip lines to the roots of young plants. In larger gardens with larger plants, drip systems are great for getting things started but the emitters must be moved as the root systems expand, or the plant will not thrive. With plants that are locally adapted such as natives or large trees (I suspect like your cypress on your hill), once the drip gets them started they can survive on their own and the drip is unnecessary.

But, of course, surviving and thriving are 2 different things. With the larger trees and shrubs, even locally adapted ones, we gardeners want them to thrive so occasional watering with deep drinks are the way to go. With properly spaced emitters, several per tree or shrub, a nice long irrigation will encourage deep root growth with in the irrigated area. The water penetrates the soil in a cone pattern so deeper under the surface the water pattern of multiple emitter will merge.

Lots to learn to do this properly, but a necessity for arid gardeners with a consciousness about how precious water is. My drip system uses few actual one-point emitters but in-line drip hoses in the veggie garden, micro sprinklers in my borders and bubbler heads around large shrubs fruit trees. From personal experience I know it is a chore and a real pain when emitters clog up with dirt or thirsty little bugs, or get munched by thirsty squirrels.

Your comment is timely, particularly because it comes from a hands on, experienced gardener in California who has learned what does and doesn’t work over the years. All of the points you made are useful for all gardeners who are keen on learning more about drip irrigation. And thanks so much for the link to Robert Kourik’s website. It looks like he has a wealth of information. I will read in more detail over the weekend. Your sentence ‘lots to learn to do this properly, but a necessity for arid gardeners with a consciousness about how precious water is’ is one that should be written at every nursery, garden center, etc. Fran

Town Mouse March 12, 2009, 1:48 pm

I have techline drip (http://www.netafim-usa-landscape.com/) in my back garden, which is what those brown lines in the top picture probably are. The lines have emitters every foot and instead of little pipes to each plant, you have a set of parallel lines. The drip creates a moisture cone and the plants find the water. It’s very low maintenance (emitters don’t clog) and used a lot in agriculture or commercial landscaping. In retrospect, it was a great choice for most of the garden but spray might have been better for under the redwoods because the plants in that area would like some water from above. Live and learn ;-&gt

Thanks for sharing the name of the company you used for your techline drip. Also, the information on emitters not clogging is valuable for those of us considering some more advanced methods of drip irrigation in our gardens. I suggest you read Saxon’s comment about drip irrigation in California. He points out exactly what you mentioned about the need for trees to get some deep watering from above the roots. As you said, you live and learn. But it sounds like you got most of it right the first time around. I’m impressed! Fran

Michelle March 13, 2009, 12:31 am

I’ve been installing and maintaining drip and spray irrigation systems for over 25 years.
The technology improves each year with new inventions. I’m particularly impressed with the new Smart Controllers.
In regards to the cost comparison, professionally speaking, a spray system is more expensive to install than a drip system. On the average , in my Northern California region it is about $ 200.oo more per valve than a drip system ( labor and materials ) .
I think the biggest misconception about drip irrigation systems is that they are a low maintenance system.
On the contrary, they are a high maintenance system in comparison to spray. Most homeowners are not informed of this when they are sold these systems by their contractor or install them themselves.

There is also an incredibly huge difference between the quality of drip irrigation supplies that is sold at the Home Improvement stores vs. a professional landscape and irrigation supply store.
Quite frankly the irrigation supplies that is sold at the Home Improvements stores is CRAP.
There is no comparison of quality.
And the ironic thing is that it only costs a few cents more per part to get professional high quality tubing, connectors, valves and clocks at the professional landscape stores.

Thanks so much for your expertise in this area. It makes my heart sing to know that a professionally installed drip system is less expensive that a spray one. Good info. on the quality and cost of home improvement store quality vs. professionally installed drip systems. Much appreciated! Fran

Chookie March 13, 2009, 12:37 am

No argument here; we aren’t allowed to use spray systems under our current water restrictions. I use a form of drip irrigation: a weeper hose made from recycled tyres. Its great for the vegie patch except when I put the fork through it!

Where do you live that spray hoses (does that include overheard) are not allowed? Also, am glad to hear that you found a drip hose made from recycled tires. Thanks. Fran

Randy March 13, 2009, 8:09 am

I tired the recycled tire soaker hoses years ago. It didn’t take long for the hoses to clog up in nearly all the places where you wanted water. I probably bought the wrong kind, and that was more thasn 10 years ago, things have improved surely.

Thanks for this article.

Read Michelle’s and Saxon’s comments on this post to get some good ideas on drip systems. Fran

Town Mouse March 13, 2009, 4:29 pm

I’d just like to second Michelle: I had my agricultural drip installed by a professional (though I program and watch it). I’d rather spend my time doing other things, and I do believe the quality of materials and implementation is much better that way.

Thanks for your ‘seconding’ of Michelle. How did you go through the process of deciding on which company was best to use for installation? This is not a cheap undertaking. Pointers from you would be appreciated for our readers. Fran

Sandra March 13, 2009, 5:59 pm

I use the recycled tire soaker hoses and motify them by punching holes where needed (by individual plant(s). Works great for us. It is better than having to water them by hand spraying.

Thanks for the reminder that even with the tire soaker hoses that already have holes in them that we can modify even more by punching holes where needed. Fran

ryan April 29, 2009, 7:34 pm

We’re drip advocates. Sprinklers are for lawns, not ornamentals, as far as we’re concerned. Except for a few plants like lettuce or maybe oxalis oregana that like to have water on the foliage, there just don’t seem to be many practical reasons to spray the water through the air.

Agreed. Except I think the days of using sprinklers on lawns are over. If you still feel like you need a ‘lawn’ on your property, there are several grasses like Buffalo that require little watering vs the old standbys of Kentucky Blue Grass. Thanks for your comment. Fran

Mamá Leche June 17, 2009, 6:55 pm

I found this thread while hunting for information on whether or not to use a spray emitter or drip on lettuce.

This is my first year gardening. I have a little 4×4 SFG (square foot garden, a la Mel Bartholomew style) with lettuce, swiss chard, corn, peppers, basil and green beans. In addition, I have ten potted tomato plants. The whole thing is a learning experiment, which is why I didn’t know if it was better to drip under a foliage crop like lettuce and chard, or spray on.

Anyway, in my hunt, I came across this interesting abstract from an agricultural study. Looks like drip is more than fine for lettuce. Anyone have feedback / ideas on this?



Spray and drip irrigation were compared for lettuce crops in tunnel houses and the field in France during 2003. The yield obtained with drip irrigation was equivalent to that with spray irrigation, with the following advantages: a reduction in the amount of water used; the equipment could also be used for fertigation; lower water pressure; water application could be automized; and wind did not interfere with irrigation. Healthy lettuces were obtained using drip irrigation, with a reduction in soil diseases.

Mamá Leche June 17, 2009, 7:08 pm

Here’s another nifty study I just came across that illuminates another benefit of drip irrigation in large agricultural farming that normally utilizes furrow irrigation.


Comparison of Crop Contamination by Microorganisms during Subsurface Drip and Furrow Irrigation

This study was conducted to compare subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) with furrow irrigation (FI) in crop contamination with microbial-contaminated water irrigation. Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, and coliphage PRD-1 were added to water used to irrigate cantaloupe, lettuce, and bell pepper. Samples of produce, surface, and subsurface (10 cm) soil for each irrigation system were collected on Days 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, and 14 after the application of the study microorganisms. Overall, greater contamination of produce occurred in FI plots than in SDI plots. The microorganisms were detected on the surfaces of cantaloupe and lettuce, but were never recovered on the bell peppers. The greatest amount of contamination occurred with PRD-1 on cantaloupe. The study microorganisms survived longer in the subsurface soil than the soil surface. PRD-1 showed greater persistence than E. coli in soil, while C. perfringens experienced little inactivation during the experiment periods. This study showed that subsurface drip irrigation has great potential to reduce health risks when microbial-contaminated water is used for irrigation water.{END QUOTE]

Abduh August 12, 2009, 11:17 am

this technology is superb, how effective is it on tomatoes and pineapples

My guess is that it would work beautifully for both plants. Fran

Mathew November 23, 2009, 6:05 am

Hi, am form india and looking for support and guidence in the field of agriculture.

At presetn i am planning to have drip system and would like to ahve the cost in israel ? is it made available in india?Will any one buy back the my yields on regular basis if i can supply??

please mail to mathew_madappattu@gmx.com

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