Nontraditional gardening: drip irrigation

Part two in a three-part series

Chisago County Master Gardener Dave Smith adjusts a section of hose in his drip irrigation garden.  Photo by Derrick Knutson
Chisago County Master Gardener Dave Smith adjusts a section of hose in his drip irrigation garden.
Photo by Derrick Knutson

After the spring Minnesota just endured, it might seem like drought is an impossibility.

But as anyone who has lived long enough in this state knows, as the summer months progress, Mother Nature can turn off the taps and weeks can pass with little to no precipitation.

Hot, dry weather might be great for lounging around a pool or an area lake, but it can wreak havoc on plants that gardeners worked so hard to cultivate during the spring.

Chisago County Master Gardener Dave Smith said there is a solution for those looking to keep their gardens healthy when the weather turns dry: drip irrigation.

Smith said drip irrigation has been around for decades, and he first got interested in it when he moved to the North Branch area in 1977.

At his home on the western side of Chisago County, he and his wife manage an extensive drip irrigation garden that they started about 10 years ago.

Healthy-looking plants abound; there are rows of onions, tomatoes, carrots and other garden fare, all watered using the drip irrigation method.

Setting up a drip irrigation garden

Smith said drip irrigation is different than using soaker hoses. The drip tape (hoses) that are used have tiny slits, usually at 8- or 12-inch intervals, that the gardener places directly under the plant.

The drip tape can be purchased from various suppliers, including Jordan Seed out of Woodbury and Johnny’s Selected Seed, an online retailer.

Smith said it’s fairly inexpensive to get a drip irrigation garden started. He noted it could be set up in a 20×20-foot garden for about $50.

He explained that the flow rate on the hoses is controlled by pressure regulators, usually anywhere from 8-12 PSI.

“Then you’ve got a constant pressure,” he said of the regulators.

To connect the regulators and strips, the drip tape kits come with fittings.

Advantages of drip irrigation

Smith said the benefits of drip irrigation are many.

“There’s weed control, water conservation and the time involved — once you lay your strips down, then they’re in place for the rest of the year,” he said.

Expounding on his weed control point, Smith said weeds around the plants being watered by drip irrigation just don’t grow as much when its dry because they’re not getting watered by excess runoff, which happens with traditional watering methods.

Water conservation, especially for those who pay for city water and sewer, is another reason to consider drip irrigation.

According to online information from the University of Massachusetts Extension, “a well-designed drip irrigation system benefits the environment by conserving water and fertilizer. A properly installed drip system can save as much as 80 percent of the water normally used in other types of irrigation systems.”

The time involved, Smith said, can transform watering a garden into something that’s sometimes deemed a chore into the simple task of turning on and shutting off a hose once a day for 60-90 minutes.

“This is the perfect approach for a working family, which is more of the rule than the exception nowadays,” Smith said. “You come home, you turn on the water, you make supper, you eat supper, and then you’re done. It’s that straight forward.”

For more information about drip irrigation, contact the University of Minnesota Extension Office in North Branch at 651-277-0251.

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