by Kristen Andersen
One of the most important aspects of growing is also one of the most challenging: watering.
In all production systems, it is important that the crop receives the appropriate amount of water at the right time and frequency. This can become an overwhelming task to accomplish when working with a variety of crop species at different growth stages as each will likely have a different water requirement.
In certain situations, like when starting seedlings, hand watering will be the best choice; however, watering can be best accomplished using a drip irrigation system in many cases.
Benefits of Drip Irrigation Systems
These systems are efficient, easy to install, and customizable to meet your specific watering needs.
Irrigation system components vary depending on the growing environment in which they are used. Emitter stakes are a great option for greenhouse or nursery operations that care for a large quantity of potted plants, such as perennials.
In these situations, a network of pipe runs alongside the pots and emitter stakes are attached directly to the pipe with customizable spacing. These emitters can provide a steady drip of water directly into the soil or spray a small area with water droplets.
These options allow for customization of the system to meet specific crop needs and grower preferences.
For field grown crops with high water demands, like peppers and tomatoes, a similar network of irrigation tubing can be used. In these cases, drip tape is most commonly used. Drip tape is a plastic tubing that has evenly spaced water emitter holes along the entire length of the tubing.
It is typically placed on top of the soil, directly adjacent to the base of the plant, and is a great option for use with mulches. In landscaping irrigation systems, button drip emitters are a common choice. These drip emitters are attached directly to the main pipe, with spacing determined by the plant locations.
Drip irrigation systems make it easy to water a large area of plants at once and the emitters deliver a precise amount of water every time, making these systems reliable and easy to monitor. Irrigation systems can also be paired with fertilizer injectors or water timers that can make watering even more efficient and time-saving.
Applying water precisely to the plant root zone minimizes the amount of water lost to evaporation and runoff, reduces the spread of certain pathogens, and limits the water available to weeds.
When installing an irrigation system, don’t forget to include a water filter to prevent sediments from entering the lines and plugging emitters, as well as a pressure regulator and gauge to ensure that appropriate water pressure is maintained.
If water pressure is too high, the system can be damaged; however, if pressure is too low, inconsistent amounts of water may be applied. In larger networks of irrigation line, valves can also be installed to permit selective watering of certain areas or to better manage water use and pressure.
Soil Type Considerations
Another important consideration is the soil type in the irrigated area. Areas with lighter soils may require closer emitter spacing or a more frequent watering schedule.
While the initial installation of a drip irrigation system may seem intimidating, it is an investment with the potential for valuable returns and time savings. When properly maintained, a drip irrigation system can last many years and can be easily added to or modified to meet the changing needs of a production system.
Kristen Andersen is the Trials Manager at Harris Seeds and GardenTrends. She has a Master’s Degree in Plant Breeding and Horticulture from Michigan State University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Plant Science from SUNY Cobleskill. Kristen comes from a multi-generational farm where she developed a passion for agriculture and gardening. She arranges all Harris Seeds trials at our location in Rochester, NY, as well as with grower cooperators located around the country, to ensure that we offer varieties and products of the best quality that will make our customers more successful.