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Drip Irrigation System Is Simply Economical

February 27, 1992|GERRY McSTRAVICK

Periodic droughts are a fact of life in California and, whether or not the recent rains are a signal that the current one is over (and the water experts say it isn't), one drought-related innovation is here to stay: higher water prices that will only get higher. So, drought or no drought, the need to save water is rapidly becoming an economic one.

But, even at this late date, many North County homeowners hesitate to install micro-irrigation (drip) systems in their gardens. They know the advantages: water conservation, improved plant growth and fewer weeds. What they balk at is the trouble and expense involved, and the prospect of abandoning their existing underground sprinkler systems.

But, having just gone through the process of converting my sprinkler system to drip, I found it's just not that hard, and it can be done economically.

Converting your underground system to drip can be as simple as screwing adapters or hydrants onto existing risers, then running distribution tubing to your plants and capping off all unused risers. Or, with electronic timers and the full range of products, it can be very elaborate.

Irrigation product manufacturers are aware of the antipathy toward drip systems that many home gardeners have.

"Homeowners are used to working with PVC pipe," said Kathleen Baldwin, vice president of Olson Irrigation Systems in Santee.

"They sometimes hesitate going to the flexible pipe used in installing most drip irrigation systems," she said. "The pipe comes in different sizes and with different fittings. Most drip systems require pressure regulators, filters, emitters and fertilizer injectors--it can be confusing and foreign to what they're used to."

Consequently, many new products have come on the market to convert existing underground systems to drip.

The EH-12 Vibra Clean System from Olson Irrigation Systems is a good example. Don Olson, the company president, developed an emitter head that contains all the necessary parts, including pressure regulators, emitters, on-off plugs and a 150 mesh screen filter/fertilizer applicator.

"People like it because it screws on like a sprinkler," Baldwin said. "Each head has 12 emitters. All you have to do is count plants to determine how many heads you need."

A unique feature of this product is that the walls of the emitter device vibrate, creating a humming sound, helping to prevent clogging. The emitters provide one gallon per hour directly to the base of a plant, and the whole assembly can be buried underground in an access box to protect it from vandals and animals.

Another product that screws on like a sprinkler is the Drip Hydrant, manufactured by Raindrop Inc. of Chatsworth. It has eight independent pressure-compensating drippers, each of which can easily be changed to larger or smaller capacity drippers as the need arises. It also includes a 150 mesh screen filter within a chamber designed to hold fertilizer tablets.

Most manufacturers advise using their products exclusively. But careful mixing and matching of the different types and makes of adapters and emitters, combined with soaker tubing where applicable, can result in an economical and versatile solution to even the most complicated irrigation problem. Identical items can be priced differently, so you can save money if you take the time to shop around.

Here are some of the components used in converting underground sprinkler systems to drip:


Though manufacturers may call them by different names, any device that directly distributes water to plants is an emitter.


Riser adapters, with built-in pressure-compensating devices, are available that add two, four, or six outlets for quarter-inch tubing to deliver water to emitters. Some, such as the DripMaster low-volume products from Orbit sprinklers, allow drippers, misters and mini-sprinklers to be used on the same system.

Some manufacturers advise against this for their products because different types of emitters water at different rates. But you can diminish this problem by using flow valves to adjust the amount of water flowing to the emitters.

Most adapters are made to accept quarter-inch tubing. But some, such as the Saturn 4 from Disco, are designed to accept smaller tubing. So be sure that the tubing you buy is compatible with your adapter.

Plants that have the same watering needs but are situated beyond the distance limitations of your drip device can be watered from the same source by using one half-inch flexible hose connected to a riser by an adapter such as the Raindrip Swivel Tee Assembly.

Soaker Line

Soaker line is polyethylene tubing with tiny laser-drilled holes that are angled back, forcing the water to trickle back along the outside of the tube instead of squirting. It can be used under ground cover or through closely planted areas, down vegetable rows or in planters. And short pieces can be attached to a large hose or to quarter-inch tubing to run around shrubs and trees.

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