Your Irrigation System Guide: Types, How to Install, & When to Use
Updated: Mar 30
While irrigation systems may seem relatively straightforward, there are many things to know about irrigation systems that will help you use them properly, enable you to water your landscaping more effectively, and avoid costly repairs as much as possible. Even if you have years of experience maintaining your yard and landscaping, here are a few things you might not know about how to get the most out of your irrigation system.
What Is an Irrigation System?
First of all, an irrigation system is, in general, any structure built or used to supply water to plants. There are a number of different types of systems that have been constructed for the purpose of irrigating fields of crops, residential lawns, decorative flower pots, and so much more. For the purposes of this article today, however, we will be focusing on the types of irrigation systems used to water lawns and landscapes commonly seen in residential landscapes everywhere.
What Are the Different Types of Irrigation Systems?
There are a lot of different types of irrigation systems to fit a wide variety of needs. As you can imagine, a farmer will need a quite different irrigation system to water his fields compared to the watering needs of your neighbor's backyard garden. For the purposes of this blog today, we are going to discuss the three main types of irrigation that are most commonly used in residential properties.
Overhead Sprinkler Systems
This type of irrigation system is perhaps the most common and is the type that most people often think of when they hear the term "irrigation system." Overhead sprinklers distribute water from high-pressure sprinklers that spray water up and out over an area. These sprinklers are positioned strategically to evenly cover an area, usually a lawn or garden. This type of irrigation system is great for effectively covering large areas.
Drip Irrigation Systems
Drip irrigation systems are also very common and are used throughout flowerbeds and landscapes. This type of irrigation system distributes water through thin tubes. These tubes run throughout planting beds and have openings that are strategically placed at the base of plants. When water runs through the tubes, water drips out the openings, providing a slow and steady supply of water directly to the base of your plants. This type of irrigation system is often installed beneath the mulch in a landscape and is very discrete and effective. This type of irrigation system is great for minimizing the evaporation of water and water runoff.
Manual irrigation is perhaps one of the most labor-intensive forms of irrigation and involves watering by hand. This could include watering flowerpots with a watering can, using a hose to water planting beds that are not irrigated, or watering a lawn by attaching a sprinkler to a hose and manually turning it on and off as needed. While there are some situations where manually watering areas of your landscape is necessary, this is the least efficient method and requires the most work. One situation where manual irrigation may be necessary would be during prolonged dry spells throughout the winter season. Colorado is prone to cold and dry winter weather, which can kill some plants. This makes winter watering a necessity during extended periods of time when there is no precipitation. And since this usually occurs in the middle of winter when irrigation systems are inoperable, this makes manual irrigation a necessity.
How Does an Irrigation System Work?
Not all irrigation systems work exactly the same, however, the majority of irrigation systems work by channeling water through tubes or pipes that distribute water to the areas where it is needed. Some use mechanical pumps while others simply use gravity. How an irrigation system works largely depends on the type of irrigation system and the purpose it serves.
How To Install an Irrigation System
Irrigation system installation is very rarely a DIY project. Installing an irrigation system for your landscaping or in your backyard requires a lot of manual labor, knowledge of how the system works, and fine-tuning to ensure that the plants in need of water are receiving just the right amount... not more, not less. Unless you have significant prior experience in irrigation system installation, we do not recommend trying to take on this task by yourself, as improper installation, placement, or setup of irrigation components can lead to issues, malfunctions, and substantially more work down the road. If you are in need of a new irrigation system, have an old irrigation system that needs to be replaced, or are changing the layout of your yard and need to redesign the layout of your irrigation system, Bath Landscape & Irrigation is here to help, providing full irrigation system design and installation services in Northern Colorado and across the Front Range.
When To Use an Irrigation System
Knowing when to use your irrigation system is very important. Using your sprinkler system or drip irrigation system at the right time and appropriate frequency will help with efficient water use and will also greatly benefit your plants.
When To Use a Lawn Sprinkler System
Irrigation systems used to water a grass lawn are primarily overhead sprinkler systems. This is the easiest and most consistent way to evenly water a large area. It is best to water your lawn during the coolest part of the day to help minimize the evaporation of water. Most sprinkler systems are automated and can be programmed to have your turf sprinkler system turn on at night when you are sleeping.
When To Use a Drip Irrigation System
Drip irrigation systems are most often used to water trees, shrubs, perennials, and other plants that are part of your landscaping. Since drip lines are usually installed under mulch and distribute water directly to the base of your plants, water loss due to evaporation is not a concern. Because of this, it is actually best to use your drip irrigation system during the hottest part of the day. This will benefit your plants significantly, cooling their root systems and providing them with moisture when they need it most.
Do Not Water Every Day
Another important thing to know about when to use your irrigation system is to avoid using it every day. While you may think your lawn and landscaping need water daily, especially throughout the hottest part of the summer, running your irrigation system every day can actually lead to soggy soil, overwatered plants, and weak root systems. It is better for your plants if the soil has a chance to dry out slightly between watering. This will keep the roots of your plants from drowning in overwatered soil and will also encourage deeper root growth as the roots of your plants have to grow deep in search of the water they need. Deep root growth leads to stronger, healthier plants that will be more capable of enduring the hot summer as well as cold winters.
Consistent Watering is Key
Another key tip regarding when to use your irrigation system is to develop a consistent schedule. Watering at the same time of day and on a consistent basis will benefit your plants greatly. Most irrigation systems are automated, making it easy for you to create a watering schedule for your turf irrigation as well as your drip irrigation system. This takes much of the work out of it for you and leads to strong and healthy plants.
Avoid Watering When There is Natural Precipitation
While it is easy to program your irrigation systems and forget about them, be aware of precipitation in the weather forecast. Watering your lawn while it is raining is rather pointless and can lead to the overwatering of your lawn and landscaping. Some irrigation systems these days are fancy enough to be able to detect precipitation and not turn on, however, if you have a normal irrigation system that follows its programming regardless of the weather, you will want to be aware of the weather and turn off your sprinkler system or drip irrigation system on rainy days.
Other Tips for How to Use an Irrigation System
Here are some other quick tips regarding irrigation systems and how to use them that we thought would be good to mention.
When To Turn On Your Irrigation System
Because of our seasons here in Colorado, irrigation systems cannot be used year round. Any water left in any components of an irrigation system throughout the winter poses a threat as water will freeze, expand, and cause cracks and other damage. In general, irrigation systems can be turned on after the average last frost date, which usually lands some time around mid-May. Turning your system on any earlier could risk significant and costly damage to your irrigation system.
When To Turn Off Your Irrigation System
Similarly, your irrigation system will need to be turned off and winterized at the end of every season. This is usually done sometime in October before the average first frost of the season. It is always important to be aware of the weather and to take the necessary precautions in the event that freezing temperatures arrive sooner than expected. Using your irrigation system too late in the season or failing to properly winterize it can easily result in significant and costly damage.
Water Slowly and Deeply
When watering any plants in and around your landscaping, it is best to water slowly and for an extended amount of time. This allows the water to soak deep into the soil around the roots of your plant, which then encourages the roots of your plants to grow deep and strong. Watering quickly and for a short amount of time causes water to spread out across the surface of the soil instead of soaking into the ground, causing shallow root growth. Shallow roots will not be able to withstand hot summer temperatures or cold winter temperatures, are easily uprooted by windy conditions, and often experience health issues. Watering slowly and deeply especially during the first couple of years after planting is very important for the longevity of your trees, shrubs, and perennial plants.
Sprinkler System 101
We hope you have found the information in this article useful! If you have any questions about types of irrigation systems, how to use an irrigation system, and the like, we are here to help. Our Residential Irrigation Services include the design and installation of irrigation systems, so if you are in need of a new system, contact us to get the process started. We look forward to hearing from you!