Low-volume and drip irrigation components deliver water at slower rates but targeted to the right places. They use less water and are much better for plant material than conventional irrigation.

Drip irrigation—the choice of a new generation?

The demand for drip irrigation is growing. According to one contractor, a new group of homeowners is leading the charge. “Over the past five years or so, a new, very savvy bunch of clients has popped up,” said Mike Garcia, owner and founder of Enviroscape L.A. in Redondo Beach, California. “I call them ‘The Internet Generation.’” “These people are very educated about sustainability and saving our planet. They come to me already understanding the benefits of drip irrigation, but they’re also full of questions, such as, ‘Do these systems use recycled or recyclable materials?’” This group doesn’t want anything installed in their yards that could potentially harm their children or pets. Garcia says that one of the most frequent questions these clients ask is, “What about root intrusion?” They already know that some drip components are pre-impregnated with root-killing herbicides.

“And they don’t want that. They want to know their kids can roll around on the grass without being exposed to chemicals, having read all this stuff about chemicals possibly causing autism and ADD.” Accurate or not, that’s their perception, and it’s one that motivates sales.

Garcia explains to these clients that the drip systems he will install have pure copper in their emitters, because roots won’t grow next to the copper. Once they hear that, they’re practically sold. He’s also seen a lot of business come through his door be cause of the state’s five-year drought, and the big water bills and fines that follow.

Drip systems—either subsurface or above ground—are usually confined to shrubbery beds and planters. Garcia, however, installs a lot of subsurface drip in lawns, oftentimes under existing turf, a prospect many landscape profession als shy away from.

He says that as long as you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and do a bit of math, it can be done, and done efficiently. “You have to read the directions; you can’t just ‘wing it,’” he says. “I guarantee that’s a recipe for disaster.”

He goes on to say that, oftentimes, installers go astray installing drip systems by trying to get too many linear feet out of a certain manifold, zone or valve. Put too much line on a valve, and it won’t push out enough water. Don’t put enough line on a valve, and your installation may not be cost-effective.

“If it’s an existing lawn and short grass, then we’ll use a little trencher machine that only digs down about two inches. We lay the tubing in and staple it to the ground. We’ve become so fast at installing drip systems that we can put them in as quickly as we used to put in PVC pipes and spray heads.”

Does it pay off in the long run?

What’s the return on investment (ROI) for property owners who install drip systems? Garcia says they’ll make back what they paid for it in just one to two years.

“Most of my customers, though, aren’t motivated by money,” he insists. “They’re going for it because they’ve seen hard-core scientific evidence that we need to start implementing changes in how we use water. Even if there was no ROI, it’s still a feel-good thing for them.”

Any downside?

One of the problems with a drip setup, particularly a buried one, is that you can’t see it working. Homeowners, maintenance people, and others may assume that the system has been turned off, or isn’t watering enough. So, off to the controller, they trot, to crank up the volume.

Suddenly, the whole purpose of installing drip in the first place— to save water—has been defeated.

Some manufacturers have gotten around this problem by creat- ing pop-up indicators; roughly analogous to the little things that tell you your holiday turkey is done. When the system is on, these signposts rise up out of the ground to signal, “I’m working here!”

A greater need for maintenance is another objection to drip that’s often raised. Garcia says that concern is exaggerated. Maintenance isn’t hard, he contends; it’s simply a matter of cleaning out the filter once a year.

Changing one’s landscape service provider could prove problematic. Let’s say a new lawn maintenance – does aerate the lawn, not realizing that there’s drip tubing two to four inches below the grass. Garcia claims that aeration isn’t even necessary with subsurface drip systems.

“Every time you turn the water off, the lines fill with air. As soon as you turn it back on, the air flows out of the lines. That lawn’s getting aerated every time you turn on the system.”

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