Hartley Magazine

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A Waterwise Irrigation Hybrid—Why You Need Sprinklers and Drip Combined

The summer’s too dry, or the summer’s too wet—weather swings across the U.S. are dramatic. Now more than ever, gardeners should consider steady and efficient water delivery for the times when plants need it.

In the past, a permanent installation involved a choice—either underground pipes with sprayer heads, or drip with flexible half-inch pipe and emitters. Now, says Paul Sassone, an Oregon landscape irrigation specialist. you can marry both systems on the same line. “It gives you more control over your water delivery, and that means less waste.”

Paul tells me that the easiest method for melding the two is to start with the upright sprayers, placed at the usual distance dictated by what the heads put out. The spray patterns should overlap. Then he adds drip, which doesn’t usually affect the pressure on the regular lines.

To do this he places an adapter—called a retro—into the rigid plastic underground pipe. The retro is a drip regulator with a cleanable filter that prevents particulates from clogging the emitters. Paul says it’s possible to simply insert the flexible half-inch drip tubing into the irrigation pipe, but the retro keeps the tiniest drip lines trouble-free.

From the retro he snakes out the drip pipe along the front of a bed, where it’s pinned down and covered with mulch. “The pipe is best on the edge,” Paul says. “Otherwise it gets lost and buried and cut when you are weeding and planting.” Skinny quarter-inch tubing with emitters can be punched into this pipe for individual plants.

With a hybrid water system you can:

Combine delivery on one line. Water a bed with sprayers and also hydrate containers with drip emitters at the same time.

Customize plants’ needs. If a hydrangea wilts days before everything else, drip emitters can bring extra water without over-watering the rest. Or new plants in established beds can benefit from drip hoses directed at their tiny roots.

Prevent runoff and overspray on hillsides. Paul suggests watering hills by installing standard sprinkler heads aimed up the slope. He adds drip at the top where the edge of the spray pattern delivers less. This balances the water supply and keeps it all in the bed.

Avoid dry areas. Ironically, the soil directly beneath a sprinkler is often a desert because each head throws most of its water outward. A drip hose at the base of a sprayer creates an oasis