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You are here: Home > Sprinkler School™ > Drip System Irrigation > Drip Irrigation System Design And Installation > Drip Irrigation - Benefits and How it Works
What is A Drip Irrigation System?

Drip Irrigation – Benefits & How it Works

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Drip Irrigation Overview

Drip irrigation, which is also sometimes referred to as micro-irrigation or trickle irrigation, consists of a network of pipes, tubing valves, and emitters.

Drip irrigation is defined as any watering system that delivers a slow moving supply of water at a gradual rate directly to the soil.


Drip irrigation, which is also sometimes referred to as micro-irrigation or trickle irrigation, consists of a network of pipes, tubing valves, and emitters. Drip irrigation is defined as any watering system that delivers a slow moving supply of water at a gradual rate directly to the soil. It is becoming increasingly popular, and is considered one of the most water and energy-efficient methods of irrigating. Drip irrigation offers several great benefits, including conserving water and energy, saving money on energy and water bills, increased plant health, and design flexibility – the tubing can be laid out to conform with any oddly-shaped landscape layouts, extend to hanging planters, or extend down rows in a vegetable garden. Other applications include flowerbeds, ground cover, and street medians.

Example of Drip Irrigation Picture of Crops with Drip Irrigation

Drip Irrigation, Micro-Irrigation, and Sprinkler Systems


Although frequently used interchangeably, some would argue that drip irrigation and micro-irrigation are two distinctly different things. Drip irrigation is defined as all low-pressure, “drip” methods of delivering water to the soil using either porous pipe or emitter tubes, whereas micro-irrigation is defined as all watering systems which use low-pressure sprays or misters. How you refer to these forms of irrigation is not really relevant, as long as you are familiar with the options and benefits of both.


That said, it is important not to confuse traditional sprinkler systems with micro-irrigation. Traditional sprinkler systems, whether they use an impact, stationary, or rotary spray head, differ from micro-irrigation in that they operate at much higher pressures, and are designed to deliver large quantities of water for a fixed amount of time, usually with long intervals between watering times. Although micro-irrigation uses spray heads, they operate at considerably lower pressures, and are designed to deliver much smaller quantities of water at frequent intervals.

Picture of Micro Irrigation

Micro Irrigation

Picture of Micro Irrigation

Micro Irrigation

Picture of Sprinkler Spray Head

Sprinkler Spray Head

Sprinklers Spraying, Water Runoff

Water Conservation


Typical sprinkler systems are, on average, about 75% water efficient, while drip irrigation systems have 90% or higher water efficiency. This is due to several key design differences. High-pressure sprinkler sprays frequently deliver too much water too fast to be absorbed by the soil, and are also prone to wind-dispersal. Because the water can’t be absorbed, it either puddles, which can be unhealthy for plants, or it runs off and is wasted. The slow delivery rate of drip irrigation allows the soil to absorb the water laterally, and maintain a uniform moisture level. The direct delivery of water to the soil also removes the risk of wind dispersal.

The increasing popularity of conservation, environmental friendliness, and the “green” movement has made drip irrigation a trendy choice, but it is a sound option for increasing plant health and saving money, as well. Drip systems are also pretty easy to design and install, as they don’t require any trench digging and the above-ground tubing can be easily conformed to a variety of landscapes. This makes them a great option for avid do-it-yourselfers, and installing the system yourself will save a considerable amount of money.

Overall, drip irrigation is a great option, whether your goal is environmental and economic conservation, plant health, design simplicity, or all of the above.

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