How to Install Drip Irrigation

The basic concept of a drip irrigation system is pretty simple, but finding the right tubing, parts, and accessories—and knowing how to fit it all together—can be a challenge. Below, the experts at AM Leonard have compiled an easy-to-follow 6-step guide to installing your very own drip irrigation. Check it out below, and get started on your system today.

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Installing drip irrigation in 6 easy steps with AM Leonard

Drip irrigation is designed to efficiently move water from the water source to your plants. There are many benefits of drip irrigation:

  1. It's not affected by wind direction or speed
  2. Doesn’t leave water on the top of the ground to evaporate
  3. Doesn’t over-water low spots or under-water high spots
  4. Leaves less water on leaves, leading to fewer fungal problems
  5. Waters slowly, so the water is available to the roots for longer periods
  6. No run-off of surface water
  7. Water goes exactly where you want it, not outside the root zone, or on sidewalks and driveways
  8. Uses less water, and uses it more efficiently
  9. No compaction of clay soils by the impaction of water droplets, which makes a ‘soup’ of fine particles that dry to a hydrophobic layer
  10. OK to bury the lines, or leave on top of soil
  11. OK to leave out all winter

Step 1: Blue Stripe Tubing

A complete drip irrigation system begins with blue stripe solid tubing, available in 100’ and 500’ coils.

1A. To fasten the Blue Stripe Tubing to a garden hose or spigot, you need an LC58H, which has a barb fitting on one end and a hose thread on the other.

1B. To fasten the Blue Stripe Tubing to a ½” Female National Pipe Thread, you can use an LC58M.

1C. To fasten the Blue Stripe Tubing to ½” Male National Pipe Thread, use an LC58F, which is a Barb x Barb x ½” Female NPT Tee Fitting.

1D. To fasten the Blue Stripe Tubing to ½” PVC, you can use the LC58S, which is a Barb x Barb x ½” slip (glue) Tee Fitting.

Step 2: Curving and Angling

Blue Stripe Tubing can be curved a little, but if the curve is too tight it will kink. The following tube attachments will help with angling your drip irrigation system where you need it to go.

2A. You can use LC58E Elbows to make angles.

2B. You can use LC58T Tee Fittings to “T” off multiple lines.

2C. You might also want to have some LC58C Couplers in stock. These are used to fasten pieces of Blue Stripe Tubing together, or to repair it in case of equipment mishap or pest damage.

Step 3: Choosing Emitters

You’ll need to install emitters at each place you want water to drip. You have a choice of .5, 1.0, and 2.0 gallons per hour.

3A. Choose from .5 (PCE5), 1.0 (PCE1), and 2.0 (PCE2) gallons per hour.

Some notes on selecting emitters: The emitter you choose is based on the water volume (not the pressure) that you have, as well as how much water you would like to put on each plant and how long you are willing to let the system run. You can have a lot of pressure but low volume, or high volume and low pressure. Pressure isn’t important, as long as you have between 8 and 60 pounds per square inch (psi). If you have greater than 60 psi, you’ll need to regulate the pressure down before you use Blue Stripe Tubing. (“Normal” city water pressure is usually between 30 and 50 psi.)

Consider soil and plant types: Clay soil absorbs water more slowly than sandy soil, but holds the water longer. Plants have varying water needs as well. You might have both water-loving plants that require 1-gph emitters and plants that don’t like “wet feet” that will be better served with a .5-gph emitter. Remember, you can mix emitters on the same line to keep everyone happy.

Remember Three Points About Roots:
1. Unless your plants are in containers or quite small, the roots of an established plant go well past the branches and leaves. Experts estimate at least 2-3 times farther.

2. Most of a plant’s feeder roots are in the top 8-12” of soil, even in old established trees. Unless you are in a drought situation where sub-soil moisture has been depleted, this is as deep as you generally need to water.

3. Roots need to breathe. Too much water can suffocate roots or lead to root-rot problems.

Step 4: Installing Emitters

After you’ve chosen the appropriate emitters in Step 3, you’ll need to install the emitters directly into the Blue Stripe Tubing.

4A. If your Blue Stripe Tubing is running directly down your line of plants, or if you use Elbows and Tee Fittings to layout your tubing, you will probably be able to install the emitters directly into the Blue Stripe Tubing. Use a hole punch tool to punch a hole where you want to install an emitter. AM Leonard stocks two varieties of hole punchers:

MLA51 Hole Punch Tool: Ideal for punching a small number of holes, the MLA51 has the added advantage o including 8 “goof” plugs in case you make a mistake or move a plant.

ML-3 Miracle Punch Tool: If you are punching a lot of holes (over 50, for example), you might consider using the Miracle Punch Tool. It will help to prevent sore hands. The included punch blade is the correct size to fit our emitters. Additional sizes and replacement punch blades are available and sold separately.

4B. If you are running the Blue Stripe Tubing as a “water main”, and are branching to different locations, you might consider using Micro Tubing (PT14-1, PT14-2) to carry the water to your plants. For example, you could run the Blue Stripe Tubing between two rows of plants and branch to the left and right with Micro Tubing. Or, you could hang the Blue Stripe Tubing and use the Micro Tubing to distribute to plants in hanging baskets.

4B1. There are to ways to use Micro tubing. The first is with an emitter at the beginning of each piece. To put an emitter at the beginning, use a hole punch tool to punch a hole in the Blue Stripe Tubing and insert the “tapered” side of the emitter of your choice. Cut a piece of Micro Tubing to length and slip it over the straight male end of the emitter. You can fasten the Micro Tubing down with anchor pins.

4B2. The other way you can use Micro Tubing is by attaching the emitter on the far end. Punch a hole in the Blue Stripe Tubing and insert a B14C Coupler. Slip the Micro Tubing onto the coupler and put your emitter at the far end (insert the “tapered” end into the Micro Tubing), next to the plant or basket you are irrigating.

If you’re looking to direct the water both to the left and right, insert a BB14T Tee Fitting into the hole in the Blue Stripe Tubing, slip on your Micro Tubing, and insert the barb end of the emitter on the other end of the Micro Tubing. These two methods cost a little more (due to the extra cost of the Couplers or Tee Fittings), but the emitters at the far end of the Micro Tubing act as a bug shield, deterring the entry of insects.

Step 5: Securing with Clamps

After installing emitters, it’s essential to secure the end of each Blue Stripe Tubing line with Figure 8 Clamps.

5A. If you are running several Blue Stripe Tubing lines, the most economical option for securing the line ends is FG58 Figure 8 End Clamps. The Blue Stripe Tubing is inserted through one side of the clamp, bent back on itself, and inserted through the other side of the clamp, effectively crimping the tubing. Figure 8 Clamps are sold in bulk bags of 100.

5B. If you don’t need that many clamps, you can use MJ50 End Fittings, which do the same job but are sold individually.

Step 6: Adding a Timer

Gain control of your drip irrigation system with the addition of a timer.

6A. You can set some timers to shut your water off, so you don’t forget. The Nelson Simple and Reliable Mechanical Timer shuts off water 15-120 minutes after you manually turn it on. No batteries required.

6B. Other timers will turn the water on and off for you at programmed times, for designated run times. The Single Outlet Electronic Timer has a manual on/off button with a reliable solenoid. It waters up to 3 hours on a variety of intervals, including every day, every two days, etc. The valve closes if the battery is low. This timer features a large, easy-to-read LCD screen with simple setup. Uses two AA batteries (not included).

6C. Water up to 6 times a day with the easy-to-set MisterTimer. Includes a digital display which allows you to review programs at a glance. The timer automatically starts and stops in increments of 1 minute to 2 hours, and from once a day to once a week. Use the manual on/off feature to water for up to 30 minutes and automatically shut off without changing set patterns. Works well with low-pressure drip and soaker hoses. Standard hose garden threads. Uses one 9-volt battery (not included).