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7 Reasons Drip Tape Is The Best Irrigation System For Your Vegetable Garden

Spring is the best time to think about setting up irrigation for the coming summer months.

Inevitably for most, hotter days are coming, and now is the best time to get your irrigation system organized. You could hand water your garden two or three times a week, or you could use an overhead sprinkler. But may we recommend an irrigation system that is economical, sustainable, and effective?

That’s right–drip irrigation is one of the most efficient ways to water your garden. The plastic tubing is relatively inexpensive to buy, easy to repair, and reusable for many seasons. Drip tape, as it is often called, places water directly where plants need it—at their roots, accomplishing more with less water. 

Keep reading to learn more about the many benefits of drip tape, as well as where to buy it and how to install it. 

7 incredible benefits of drip irrigation

1. Reusable

Drip tape is made of reusable, heavy-duty plastic that can be used for many years.

2. Automated

Drip tape automates the irrigation system and saves you time by not having to manually water your plants. This saves you time, and if you’re paying someone to help you with your garden, it could save you money as well. To fully automate your drip tape system, invest in a timer.

3. Conserves water

Drip tape ensures water is delivered directly to the roots of the plants, reducing water waste and increasing plant growth. It’s an efficient irrigation system that doesn’t waste water, since there is no surface water runoff and hardly any evaporation. The University of Rhode Island claims that drip tape is 90% efficient.

Drip tape is particularly useful on sloped ground—rather than streams of water flowing downhill, drip tape allows a slow drip of water to absorb into the ground at the base of the plants.

4. Reduces disease and pest pressure

Often, disease develops when plant leaves stay wet and spread through backsplash, or when contaminated water droplets come into contact with neighboring plants. Drip tape slowly applies water at the base of the plant, preventing backsplash and limiting the spread of foliar disease.

5.  Reduces weeds

Drip tape is designed to water the plants, not the surrounding soil, which results in fewer weeds to manage.

6. Improves plant growth

The key to happy, healthy plants is consistent moisture. You don’t want to let your plants get too dry, but you also don’t want them to get too wet. Drip tape takes the guesswork and irregularities out of irrigation, providing the appropriate amount of moisture at the perfect time.

7. Good for containers

Sprinklers are good for irrigating garden rows and fields, but they’re certainly not the best option for containers and irregularly-shaped spaces. This is where drip tape really shines. Drip irrigation can certainly be used in garden rows, but the beauty of drip tape is that it can turn corners, run a circle, and connect containers in a way that carries water from one place to another.

As with anything, there are a few concerns with using drip tape in the garden.

  • Sometimes animals like mice and squirrels or even birds will chew on the drip tape to get water. This is more likely if you live in an area that doesn’t have a nearby water source.
  • Drip irrigation necessitates water pressure or gravity to work as designed. Either have the water reservoir uphill of your garden or make sure that the water is pressurized so that it will go where it needs to go.
  • Pressurized water sources will probably be too powerful for drip tape. Fortunately, you can buy a pressure regulator to lower water pressure and reduce leaks in the drip tape.

Different pieces of the drip tape system

Drip tape can be found online or at your local garden supply store. Some popular retailers include Home Depot, Lowe's, and Amazon. Some retailers even sell kits based on the size and purpose of your garden.

There are a few different pieces of the drip irrigation system:

  • Tape

Drip tape is the flat, thin tubing that contains holes. This is the piece that allows water to pass through to your plants. Also called T-tape, drip tape is usually 1/4 inch in diameter.

  • Mainline

Also called header, mainline is the tubing that carries water from the spigot or water hose to the drip tape. Header is often used to connect individual garden rows and is typically a permanent part of the irrigation system. Unlike drip tape, mainline does not have precut holes, but is typically used to conduct water to different areas of the garden. Mainline is usually 1/2 inch in diameter.

  • Emitter

Emitters are plastic spouts that can be attached to headers if you do want water dispersed in that area. Emitters are often used to water perennials and shrubs from the mainline. You’ll need a hole punch to connect emitters to the mainline.

  • Fittings

Fittings are used to repair holes and leaks by connecting two pieces of drip tape into one.

  • Caps

Caps are used at the end of the mainline to stop water from flowing out the end.

  • Connectors

T-shaped, Y-shaped, and elbow connectors can be helpful in connecting multiple beds or containers to the same header, or for allowing a hose attachment point.

  • Pressure regulator 

To avoid blowing out your drip tape or busting holes in the tubing, use a pressure regulator to reduce water pressure down to 25 PSI for thicker tape and no more than 15 PSI for thinner tape.

  • Filter

If you’re using water from a reservoir or stream, it might be worth investing in a water filter to keep sediment from getting into the tubing. If you’re using city water or your own drinking water you won’t need a filter.

  • Stoppers

We call them “goof plugs” and they’re invaluable if you accidentally punch a hole in the wrong place (and don’t we all mess up every now and then?).

Install drip irrigation in 5 simple steps

Drip tape can be installed at any time during your growing season. However, it is recommended to install it before planting so you can ensure it is correctly positioned.

1. Measure & order supplies

You won’t know how much drip tape you need or how many emitters to buy until you measure and inventory your garden! Measure your garden rows, count your perennials and containers, and then you can order exactly what you need. It’s not a bad idea to order a little extra, just in case you miscalculated or you need to make repairs later on.

Some necessary but overlooked supplies: landscape staples to pin down the tape, scissors to cut the tape, and a hole punch to make emitter holes.

2. Lay out & cut tubing

Now, the fun part—placing the drip tape! Enlist the help of a friend and aim to do this step on a nice day with no wind. Lay out the mainline first, cut to size, and add connectors where needed. If you choose to bury the mainline, now is the time.

Next, place the T-tape. Pull the tape down the length of the garden rows, leaving at least a foot of extra tape at the end of the row. Cut the tape and continue the process until all the rows have drip tape.

3. Place and secure the tape

Once the tubing is cut, walk down the row again, pulling the tape close to the base of the plants and securing the tape every 18 inches or so with landscape staples. Don’t pinch the tape against the ground, or water won’t be able to pass through, but gently pin the tape down to keep it from moving.

When you get to the end of a row, cut a piece of tape an inch long. Take the end of the tape and fold it over on itself several times, sliding the one-inch piece over the folded end to secure it.

4. Connect the drip tape to the header

Use the hole punch to make holes in the header where the tape will attach. Keep a few goof plugs close by in case you make a mistake. Attach fittings to the end of each piece of t-tape, and snap the fitting into the hole in the mainline. If you haven’t already capped the end of the mainline, now is the time to do so.

5. Turn on the water

Take a few minutes to observe and make sure that the drip tape is working correctly. Walk through the garden, checking for leaks. If the water is flowing too hard or not hard enough, adjust the flow rate to ensure the water reaches all of your plants.

Commonly asked questions about drip irrigation

Can I leave drip tape out during winter?

Drip tape is not made to withstand freezing temperatures, so if you live in an area that experiences freezes you will want to winterize or pull up your drip tape at the end of each growing season. Typically, the mainline can be left in the ground if it is drained at the end of the season and buried deep enough. The T-tape itself will need to be drained, pulled up, and stored.

How do I repair drip tape?

Repairing drip tape is just as simple as installation, so don’t fret if you notice a leak in your drip tape. Mark the leak with a flag, go turn off the water, then come back to the flag. Cut out the damaged section, and use a fitting to connect the two separate pieces of drip tape into one.

Should I bury drip tape?

Some growers bury their drip tape underneath the soil. Doing so prevents birds and animals from chewing holes in the tubing, and protects the drip tape from damage by garden tools.

However, burying drip tape can cause the tubing to get clogged by dirt particles. It’s not a bad idea to check drip tape often to make sure that water is getting through to your plants. 

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not you bury drip tape. There are advantages and disadvantages, so we suggest that you try both ways to see what works best for you!

As a gardener, finding the right irrigation system to water your plants can be a daunting task. Thankfully, drip tape is an efficient and cost-effective option that every gardener should consider. Drip tape is the perfect irrigation tool for a number of different vegetables, flowers, and herbs—especially those plants that are finicky when it comes to water.

Drip irrigation can work in any garden, and it can free you up to devote more time to other tasks, like harvesting heirloom tomatoes and picking a bouquet of budding zinnias. With its affordable price and ease of installation, it's a no-brainer to add drip tape to your gardening toolkit. 

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