PVC Drip Irrigation is an inexpensive and easy-to-build method for watering your backyard garden. After adding a PVC drip irrigation system to your garden you can expect stronger vegetable plants, fewer weeds, and a lower water bill!
Building your own PVC Drip Irrigation System
Let me start out this post by strongly stating my opinion about drip irrigation systems. I think some type of drip irrigation system is the ONLY way to water a garden of any size. In fact, I even know market growers with “gardens” over an acre in size that use drip systems.
There are several reasons I feel so strongly about drip systems. First, they use a ton less water. Drip systems deliver water directly to the plants and don’t water all the surrounding empty space so they save water. Second, because you are only watering your plants, you are by default not watering weeds. This makes a big difference in the amount of work you have to do weeding your garden. Third, they are much more flexible in allowing you to change the configuration of your garden each year.
There are really 3 types of drip systems each has its own advantages & disadvantages:
- Kit systems that use distribution systems and tubing for individual plants.
- Soaker Hoses
- PVC Drip Irrigation systems
Kit systems are great for bigger plants.
You can run the tubing to each tomato or squash and get the water right where you want it. But kit systems are very expensive; to do a garden my size would take hundreds of dollars.
Soaker hoses are great for row crops
But they waste some water when you are dealing with larger individual plants. They are also very expensive as you have to buy a lot of hoses to water a big garden.
You can deal with larger plants and row crops based on the number of holes you drill in the pipes. They are cheaper to build for larger gardens. PVC systems can also be very flexible. The one disadvantage is the initial setup (the first year) can take a while because you have to drill a lot of holes in the pipe. So let’s take a look at my PVC drip irrigation system:
Here’s a shot of it covering my whole garden. Notice it works for both the row crops like carrots, peas, beans, potatoes, and corn. PVC Drip Irrigation also works perfectly for larger crops like tomatoes and squash.
Here’s a shot of the drip system we use at our second “borrowed” garden. Again it works perfectly for all the row crops we grow here. The first-time setup is easy but time-consuming. The biggest time commitment comes from having to drill hundreds of holes in the pipe. But after the first year set up and takedown of the system is quick and easy!
To get started you need pipe, several connectors, elbows and tees, a drill with a couple of small drill bits, and something to cut the pipe (a PVC pipe cutter or just a hacksaw).
What size of pipe should you use?
So let’s talk pipe first. The first PVC system I set up I used ½ inch PVC pipe. The ½ inch pipe works great for shorter lengths, but when I have to cover big long rows of 20 feet or more they don’t work quite as well.
I have now slowly started converting all my long row crops to ¾ inch pipe. Those pipes hold more water so the water seems to get to the end of the pipe a little better. So for a garden like mine, if I were to do it all over again I would use all ¾ inch pipes. If you are dealing with shorter beds, like 4 x 8-foot beds the ½ inch pipe will be fine.
For row crops, I drill a 1/16 inch hole in the pipe every 6 inches. The water from each hole soaks out about 3 inches from the center so each hole’s water meets in the middle.
For larger crops, I drill maybe 1 or 2 slightly larger holes maybe 1/8 inch right where the base of the plant is. Then when I put in my plants I form a small basin of soil around the plant to help keep the water right around the base. Then I simply lay out my watering system BEFORE I plant each year, then I know where to put the plants so they will have a water hole close by.
Most of the time I will use 2 or 3 rows of pipe in my 4-foot beds. The number really depends on the crops I am growing. So I use some 90-degree elbows and 3 sided tee’s to create a little distribution system at the top of the bed as you see in the picture above. DO NOT under any circumstance glue the pipes together. This will be a low-pressure system and the pipes will stay together WITHOUT GLUE. If you glue the pipe together then you lose the ability to move pipes around to deal with different planting configurations.
For longer stretches of pipe, I simply join the pipe with a coupling piece. Then I, of course, add an end plug on one end.
Getting Water to your System.
You can go as simple or complicated as you want to get the water into the pipes. I simply have this little connector that attaches to my hose and fits over the end of the pipe. The hose is then moved from bed to bed with the hose. I’ve found that with my longer 25-foot beds I can only water one bed at a time and still have the right amount of pressure.
You can also be more complicated and add a mainline that connects up to each bed and has a valve that you can turn on at each bed. The mainline would be under more pressure so you may want to glue those pipes. Or you could even be really fancy and add a filter system and an electronic valve box and timers. The sky is the limit!! I like having my system attached to a hose bib. That way I can control the amount of water pressure using the bib.
You want just enough water running through the pipes for it to get to the end and drip or ooze out of the pipe. If you have the water pressure up too high the water will spray out of the pipes with too much force. That will drill holes in the ground and possibly damage plants. Also, too much pressure tends to mean the water will be coming out too fast and it will run off the beds instead of soaking into the soil.
How much does it cost?
PVC pipe is cheap, over the years I have maybe spent $75 to $100 to get my system to where it is now. It waters 100% of my garden. Since going away from sprinklers and flood irrigation the amount of time we spend weeding the garden has also gone way down. Especially in the summer when there is no rain in the garden to sprout the weed seeds.
One Warning-PVC systems are not good for Hills!
Before we finish up let me give you one warning. PVC Drip Irrigation is not the ideal system to use if your garden beds have an extreme slope. My beds are pretty flat, there is a bit of a slope to the east in my garden but it is very minor. If your garden beds have an extreme slope the PVC system may not work for you.
If that is the case I would suggest buying only a few pipes for an experiment. Maybe spend $10 to see if it will work in your garden, before going crazy and buying enough pipe for the whole thing. The problem with slopes is getting even water pressure. If your slope is too severe you may have too much pressure at the bottom of the slope and none at the top! So test it out in your garden before you spend a lot of money!
To finish off I just want to say thanks for reading this post. It is by far my most popular post ever with thousands of visitors every month!! So much interest inspired me to film an instructional video course on this PVC Drip system. The cost of the course is only $20. The course is now hosted on my own video site, The Online Gardening School! If you would like to buy the course just click on the ad below!