Also known as low-volume irrigation, microirrigation is a system that carries water to plants under low pressure. When microirrigation is installed and used correctly, water use is reduced because it's delivered directly to the plants' roots instead of sprayed through sprinklers. This has the added benefit of depriving weeds of your irrigation. Disease problems can also be reduced because plant foliage stays drier. Unlike sprinkler irrigation, microirrigation exceeds 90 percent efficiency, meaning more water is hitting your plants instead of being wasted.
This type of irrigation system can be installed above, on, or below the surface of the soil. It can be used in various landscape and garden situations including vegetables, trees, shrubs, containers, and flower beds. Microirrigation is easily installed, and kits and components are readily available in garden centers.
Originally designed for commercial agriculture, microirrigation has become very popular in home gardens. This system does require adequate maintenance, but it is relatively easy to manage.
The Four Main Types
There are four main types of microirrigation:
- In-line drip tubing: Placed on or below the soil surface or mulch, drip tubing is ideal for annual beds where plants are in rows. The flexible tubing can also be easily wound through a plant bed.
- Bubblers: The high flow rate makes bubblers ideal for establishing large plants such as trees. Bubblers are installed directly into the main tubing line or on short stakes and are also used for irrigating containers or large shrubs.
- Drip emitters: Used where plants are spaced farther apart or used for potted plants and hanging baskets. The emitters can be punched directly into the "header" tubing and/or attached to "spaghetti tubes" that lead to plants.
- Microsprayers (also microjets or microsprinklers): Used just above the surface, microsprayers wet a larger portion of the ground and emit more water than other types of microirrigation systems. These are ideal for mixed planting beds.
Microirrigation systems can be attached to a hose or outdoor faucet and controlled manually or with a battery-operated timer. They can also be "hard piped" into an existing in-ground system and automatic irrigation controller.
Some drip and spray emitters can be adjusted to control the amount of water emitted. The system needs to be regularly monitored for problems. The most common issues are clogged emitters and punctures to the tubing. Irrigation is especially susceptible to clogging if it is buried below the soil surface.
Your plants should also be monitored for signs of too little or too much water and the system should be adjusted accordingly. Be aware of your irrigation placement when mowing and using maintenance equipment to prevent accidental damage. Squirrels and other animals might try to chew your irrigation lines too, so watch out for that.
Whether you are trying to reduce water use or increase your garden quality, microirrigation is a beneficial option.
For more on landscape irrigation contact your county Extension office.
Also on Gardening Solutions
- All Irrigation articles
- Irrigation Pitfalls
- Simple DIY Microirrigation
- Watering the Vegetable Garden
- Watering to Establish Shrubs