The plants, they don't water themselves. Until now!
July 2, 2010 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me everything you know about drip irrigation.

I want to turn my home office into a veritable jungle, and I've got the light to do it, year round. I also would like to make the front of my house look a little nicer. I used to play around w/ hydroponics, but that's not what I'm looking for.

Inside, I want one basic place for water, and then to drip all my plants....say, as many as 10, some as small as a newly cut ivy rhizome to a 7-foot-tall palm.

Outside is a lot bigger. Think probably 40-50 plants spread across a good 40 + feet. I have access to clean 55 gallon plastic food barrels for rainwater collection and/or water collection in general. No vegetable garden this year, but one next year is likely.

I know I need drippers, I know I need line, I see that stuff on ebay unless you have a better source. I'm not clear on the timing and the pump, or do I just gravity feed 24/7? We are incredibly water rich here (my base water bill is for 10,000 gals/month, we typically use closer to 1500), plus plenty of rain, etc. We do get some nasty winters, so I'm sure that plays in too.

My goal here is to make the plantlife as lush and healthy and vibrantly colored as possible, both indoors and out...maximum growth speed, best results.

And yes, I have seen this post.
posted by TomMelee to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
honestly outside just use soaker hoses + a cheap submersible pump in the rain barrels. You can use drip if you want but given your climate/water availability I don't think its worth the extra cost .

ten plants inside isn't worth the cost/effort of setting up a drip system.
posted by JPD at 7:55 AM on July 2, 2010

I'd be very, very reluctant to set up drip indoors. Ever see a drip system where a fitting was broken or came loose? It sprays like a motherfucker, which is mildly annoying or amusing outdoors but would be devastating indoors.

Outdoors, you'll want to do some math. Let's say you have 50 plants, and after consulting with your local extension office you decide that each plant needs one 1 gallon/hour emitter for two hours, three mornings a week. That means that (not accounting for leaks and incorrectly metered emitters) you will be putting out 100 gallons per irrigation session -- the point being, to irrigate with rain water you need some serious supply, more than just a single barrel. To irrigate through a dry couple of months, you'll need a good-sized cistern. (If you get enough rain to refill a small container between waterings, you probably don't need to be irrigating.)

It's impossible to answer the gravity vs pump question without knowing the topography of your property. Gravity is cheap, but pumping gives you more control.

Purely financially, you are probably better off connecting the drip system (with a pressure regulator and a timer) to your hose bib; water is so cheap, compared to the cost and hassle of rain water collection, pumps, maintenance, mosquito prevention, and all the other issues, that the only argument for using rain water will likely be ecological. (And even that can be mixed, depending on where you live -- it's not like the rain falling on your house right now is being "wasted" -- it is playing a role in your local hydrological cycle, recharging the groundwater or providing flow for streams.)
posted by Forktine at 8:12 AM on July 2, 2010

Nthing the soaker hoses, my garden has them buried shallowly (about 4") so they just get the roots and I don't have any evaporative losses. If you elevate your rain barrel about 4' or so you will have enough pressure to slowly force water out a soaker hose without a pump if the hose isn't too long. If you are filling the barrel off of a roof downspuot just build a platform for the barrel and there you go. It would also be better to have two shorter hoses off the barrel for the gravity feed if you can move the barrel to the middle of where you need the water.
posted by bartonlong at 8:17 AM on July 2, 2010

Drip components meant for use with city water pressure don't work well with gravity/rain barrel arrangements, which typically have much lower pressure. You could use a demand pump to pressurize the water from a rain barrel, but that would probably add a couple hundred bucks to your project. With a rain barrel, I'd go with JPD's soaker hose suggestion.

A timed drip system could easily work indoors, but I also agree w/JPD that it doesn't seem worth it for 10 plants.

Any drip system is going to require, at minimum, a filter to keep junk out of the system, a pressure regulator, tubing to get water from the faucet to the plants, and emitters at each plant. You can turn it on and off by hand, or add a timer to control it. I've ordered stuff here and been happy with both products and service. They have a nice tutorial to get you oriented.
posted by jon1270 at 8:21 AM on July 2, 2010

Yeah, I wouldn't put any sort of irrigation system indoors. That's just asking for trouble.

You can set up a drip system that attached to your hose bib, but local building codes may not take kindly to that. In Texas, where I'm a licensed irrigator, the law requires that a backflow preventer be installed in any irrigation system, to prevent water from, well, back-flowing into the water supply. Here, you can install an irrigation system at a home you own whether you're a licensed irrigator or not. A plumber has to do the connection to the water supply, though. I'm not saying don't do it, just be aware that there may be regulation of irrigation in your locale.

That being said, what you want is probably Netafim . It's a drip irrigation system that has the emitters in the line already. That means there's much less cutting and connecting to the installation. The down side is that you can't put your emitters exactly where you want them. But it's still really good stuff. You may be able to find it at Lowe's or Home Depot, or they may have a similar product. If you can find Netafim itself, though, I highly recommend it. They also have a calculator you can use to determine how much you'll need.

I've never pumped rainwater through an irrigation system, so I'm not much help to you there. I'm sure it can be done, though. There are controllers available at places like Lowe's. I don't have much experience with them, but they're probably alright. You may be able to find an irrigation supply house in your area. I'd recommend buying supplies from a place like that if you can find one. They should also be able to answer technical questions.

If it were me, I'd install a proper, city-water fed irrigation system outside with drip lines for your plants. Then I'd use the rainwater in a watering can to water the inside plants by hand. But that's just me. I do highly recommend drip in place of sprays. It conserves sooooooo much more water.
posted by Shohn at 8:42 AM on July 2, 2010

yeah I've never seen a professionally done drip system for landscape these days that wasn't Netafim or something similar.
posted by JPD at 8:46 AM on July 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so far. Once, a long time ago, I found an instructable or something that basically used a 3 liter bottle and an aquarium pump on a timer to generate line pressure for a gravity fed, indoor system, I believe in that case it was dropping into perlite and returning the drips back to the primary reservoir, which you were to fill weekly. I was kind of hoping that someone had a great indoor setup for something like that.

My laziness is that I spend a lot of time away from home, unfortunately, and so it would be hugely convenient to just add water to a primary location and let the plants get watered that way---they will be spread all over my office here, high and low.

The soaker hose idea is a good one, I hadn't ever heard of anyone submerging them before that would be nice, as my hose bib is kind of smack in the middle of the plants that need a-watering.

So add-on question...

I've got a neighbor who is...well, I don't have any good words for him. He called code enforcement on me for 40 days in a row because I had the audacity to dump grass clippings into a mulch bin @ the back of my property. I didn't get into trouble, but he's...well, unpleasant at best. There is a chain link fence between our properties, and I apparently own about 2 feet on his side of the fence. What can I plant that will happily climb that fence w/o ripping it apart? The goal here is to create a pretty, perhaps nicely smelling visual barrier across the next few years. My boss suggested knock-out roses. We're talking 8, 8 foot sections of fence.
posted by TomMelee at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2010

Knock-out roses are an awesome plant. They won't climb the fence, but they should obscure it. Take care of them, and they'll take care of you.
posted by Shohn at 9:21 AM on July 2, 2010

Windowfarms has instructions to make indoor gardens using plastic soda bottles watered by aquarium pumps. They sell kits too, if you live too far from a hardware store.
posted by jamaro at 9:48 AM on July 2, 2010

Also, regarding that misplaced fence: I don't know about your state but in some states (like mine), if a boundary fence is left too long in the wrong place, your land on his side of the fence will legally become his property via adverse possession.
posted by jamaro at 9:53 AM on July 2, 2010

Response by poster: What's funny is that we just bought this house and didn't have it surveyed in the process. I had no idea the grass was mine until the neighbor threw a fit about my cutting the grass on that side. Which, by the way, I must do w/o getting 1 blade of clipped grass on his yard, and without standing on or touching his yard. I don't think I'm in any danger of losing the property. (Honestly, I wouldn't care.) He's been in place about 40-50 more years.

Thanks for the note, though. I'm considering putting up wooden-slat (6-foot) on that side of my chainlink, and leaving the chain just b/c I like how it keeps the dogs in.
posted by TomMelee at 10:16 AM on July 2, 2010

I've had good luck over the years with ordering from The Drip Store, which I think is one of several California-based drip irrigation retailers. Out there, the focus is on serious water conservation. In WI, where I live, I often have enough rain that I use the system only a couple of times per month (more on the zoned areas where I've got seeds starting or growing shallow-rooted things). Last Month I watered my huge tomato patch only twice. But it's still worth it, because when I leave town, I can give very simple and convenient instructions to my house-sitters about watering. So if you get a lot of rain where you are in WV, then I'd guess that the larger your plantation the more it's worth the investment.
I myself have used some drip components inside only in a converted shower space, and wouldn't do it anywhere else, FWIW. Outside, I use an in-hose timer, followed by a 4-way switch that lets me move the water where I want it, followed near the beds by backflow preventers, presure regulators, and then the standard black feeder hoses (I think they're 1/2 inch) and usually (for tomatoes or other large, discrete plants) then the really flexible little hoses with an adjustable emitter on the end. (For greens and things the laser-drilled soaker lines of the same diameter are pretty nice.)
I feel really geeky when I set things up in the spring, but then really smug when I water the tomatoes while barbecuing or lying in the hammock (or, you know, eating tomatoes).
Most of the retail web sites have pretty clear instructions about the systems and what you need. I wouldn't buy a kit, as it's pretty easy to figure out what you need a la carte .
posted by Mngo at 12:09 PM on July 2, 2010

Just a quick comment on soaker hose. It doesn't work well at all if you have very sandy soil. Here in Denver, the spread is only a few inches; the water simply drops through the soil. It needs to be closely spaced to work well.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 1:46 PM on July 2, 2010

« Older Retro photo filters software for Mac?   |   MechanicFilter- Help w/ an '01 Corolla Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.