How to Create Your Own Drip Irrigation System

DIY drip irrigation is the cheapest, most sustainable way to water plants.

Commercial farm set up with large-scale rows of drip irrigation system

Treehugger / Dan Amos

Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $3.00 - $20.00

Drip irrigation applies water through small holes called emitters in a network of hoses or pipes rather than through broadcasting sprinklers or hoses. It delivers the water more closely to the root systems of plants, reducing water waste, controlling weeds, and promoting plant growth.

Some 4.5 billion gallons of water are wasted every day in the United States due to inefficient irrigation—about 16% of all household water use—leading to the depletion of groundwater at unsustainable rates. Wasted water ends up in waterways, washing fertilizers with it, which can lead to dead zones and algae blooms in lakes and oceans. It takes energy to treat and pump that freshwater to households—energy whose production contributes to climate change. As climate change raises average temperatures and increases demand for water, while water-stressed plants absorb less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, compounding the climate crisis.

drip irrigation setup in a garden full of growing garlic

Treehugger / Dan Amos

Drip irrigation is a more efficient way to irrigate crops, gardens, and even potted plants, and is something homeowners can install themselves at a relatively low cost. With a 25-50% reduction in water use compared to sprinkler irrigation, drip irrigation allows homeowners to lower their water bills, time their water use, and regulate its application. The slow application of water leads to less evaporation and runoff, as nutrients are delivered directly to the root zone. Compared to watering indiscriminately throughout a field or garden, drip irrigation sends more water to the intended plants and less to the weeds, reducing the need for weed control.

What You'll Need

Tools

  • 1 drill, push pins, or emitter tool
  • 1 garden hose
  • 1 hose cap

Optional Materials

  • 1 timer (to control the timing of water delivered)
  • 1 to 20 stakes (to keep hose in place)
  • 1 to 10 tees or hose splitters (to direct water flow into different hoses)
  • 1 backflow preventer (to prevent water from flowing back into the water supply)
  • 1 to 10 clamps (to attach hoses to tees and backflow preventer)
  • 1 hose filter (to keep irrigation lines clear)
  • 1 pressure regulator (to reduce incoming water pressure to prevent hose breakage)

Instructions

While complex drip irrigation systems can water entire agricultural fields with networks of tubing or piping either buried or above ground, creating your own backyard DIY drip irrigation network is simple and inexpensive.

  1. Position Garden Hose

    hands in gardening gloves place hose around plants in garden

    Treehugger / Dan Amos

    Lay out a garden hose around plants.

  2. Attach Hose Cap

    A white hose cap is attached to end of hose in garden

    Treehugger / Dan Amos

    Attach a hose cap to the end of the hose.

  3. Create Emitter Holes

    An electric drill is used to puncture holes in old hose for drip irrigation

    Treehugger / Dan Amos

    Drill or punch small emitter holes in the hose at desired locations. Be careful to drill through only one side of the hose.

  4. Optional: Use Backflow Preventer Valve

    a backflow preventer valve is attached to main black hose in dirt

    Treehugger / Dan Amos

    Attach a backflow preventer valve to the faucet to keep water from flowing back into the water supply.

  5. Connect Your Tools

    hands connect hose to timer

    Treehugger / Dan Amos

    Attach the hose to the faucet or backflow preventer.

  6. Turn on Water

    hand uses metal circular handle attached to green hose to turn on water

    Treehugger / Dan Amos

    Slowly turn on the water until the desired pressure is reached.

Options

hands attach a timer and pressure regulator to the main hose line
Consider a timer and pressure regulator for your drip irrigation system.

Treehugger / Dan Amos

You can create a more complicated network of hoses by attaching tees or hose splitters as junction points between multiple hoses; another option is cutting sections of your original hose to redirect the water supply along multiple tracks. If using tees, clamp the hoses to each tee. Be sure to use stainless steel or other rust-proof clamps.

The older your hose or the longer or more complicated your network, the more likely you will want to install a pressure regulator valve in between the faucet and the hose. This will reduce pressure on the network, especially at junction points where clamps might loosen or break.

Adding a hose timer to your irrigation system allows you to "set it and forget it." However, this can easily lead to water waste when you end up irrigating your garden during a rainstorm.

Create a fabric cover for your hose to distribute the water more slowly and evenly. Sew together 5-inch-wide pieces of scrap cloth or canvas to form a tube that you can slip over your hose at its emitter points.

Create metal stakes to hold your hose in place. Use a wire cutter to cut old coat hangers into 6- to 8-inch pieces, then use pliers to bend them into U-shape stakes.

Tips for Successful Drip Irrigation

long view of complicated multi-row drip irrigation system in outside garden

Treehugger / Dan Amos

  • Especially if your hose network is buried under mulch or soil, flush the system at the beginning and end of each growing season by removing the hose caps and turning on the water.
  • Place the emitters less than one foot away from the plants to be watered.
  • Cover the hose with a mulch to reduce evaporation.
  • Punch holes no closer than 6-8 inches apart to reduce the possibility of the hose ripping.
  • Infrequent, full soakings are more efficient than frequent but shorter waterings. This will conserve water, reduce evaporation, and increase the amount of water reaching plant roots.
  • Unless it is damaged beyond use, re-purpose an old garden hose if one is available. Check organizations like Freecycle or Craigslist (search the "free stuff" section) to see what may be locally available. Or just look around your neighborhood in early spring, when most people discard old garden hoses.
View Article Sources
  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Outdoor Water Use in the United States;” Famiglietti, James and Grant Ferguson. “The hidden crisis beneath our feet.” Science, 372:6540 (April 23, 2021), 344.

  2. Lamm, F. R., and T. P. Trooien. "Subsurface Drip Irrigation for Corn Productivity: A Review of 10 Years of Research in Kansas." Irrigation Science 22:3–4 (2003), 195–200.