Even with the much needed rains this summer, many landscapes may still require supplemental irrigation during the fall dry season. In many parts of Florida, watering restrictions continue to be in effect, but landscape plants may catch a break from a different type of irrigation system.
Micro-irrigation, commonly referred to as low-volume or drip irrigation, provides a way of watering plants (with the exception of turfgrass) to maintain landscape quality while saving water. Sounds too good to be true? Well, you can’t just install it and walk away, but for the potential water savings, it is well worth the proper planning and maintenance.
For many, an initial glance at a micro-irrigation system may cause you to think it’s nothing more than a soaker-hose. However, micro-irrigation tubing is made of a flexible polyethylene material that allows you to shape the tubing according to your landscape beds and layout of the plants. All of the emitters are pressure-regulated, meaning that an emitter 150 feet away from the connection to the water source will put out the same amount of water as an emitter closer to the water source.
There are several advantages to a micro-irrigation system over a traditional in-ground sprinkler system. Because low-volume emitters are either placed directly on the ground or on very short stakes, there is decreased water loss from evaporation, wind, and runoff. There is also less erosion when watering plants on slopes because water is being applied at a much lower rate. By applying water to the roots of the plants rather than on the foliage, there are fewer pests, weeds, and diseases. Micro-irrigation systems are very flexible, offering options for meeting plants’ water needs, whether they are newly installed, maturing, or established in the landscape.
And the best quality of all? Micro-irrigation complies with all local water conservation codes and ordinances and is not restricted by current water restrictions.
Some of the disadvantages of a micro-irrigation system include clogging of emitters, especially if the water quality is poor (e.g. well or reclaimed water); undetected leaks, if tubing is buried under mulch; and inadvertent damage to micro-irrigation tubing by gardening tools or machinery.
There are three primary types of micro-irrigation, and you may choose to utilize one or all of them in your landscape, depending on your (and your plants’) needs:
Drip Emitters – Used for precise applications, such as in potted plants, hanging baskets, or where plant materials are spaced further apart. May or may not be visible in the landscape.
As with any irrigation system, ongoing maintenance is needed for efficient operation. Periodically inspect your plants for signs of over- or under-watering to signal a need to change the system run times or indicate a possible leak. Check the soil wetting patterns around each plant; make sure at least half the root zone area is receiving water, although whole root zone application is preferable. Flush the system every few months to clean debris in the lines, and inspect and clean emitters for possible clogs. Finally, determine if emitters need to be moved or added as plants grow.
When designed, used, and maintained correctly, micro-irrigation can improve the efficiency of landscape irrigation through the precise application of water. In more urban areas of Florida, an estimated 70 percent of existing single-family homes have traditional in-ground irrigation systems. Retrofitting existing systems and expanding the use of micro-irrigation in newly installed irrigation systems – along with proper maintenance practices – are key factors in increasing irrigation efficiency and contributing to Florida-friendly landscaping.
For more information about micro-irrigation and other Florida-friendly landscaping practices, contact your local county Cooperative Extension office or visit http://FloridaYards.org.