Micro-Irrigation Systems: Beginner’s Guide

Micro-Irrigation Systems: Beginner’s Guide

Micro-Irrigation Systems

Plant irrigation is one of the oldest technologies people have invented. Over the years people have developed all kinds of watering systems in order to grow crops or maintain their beautiful gardens. There has been a significant advancement in water irrigation to mirror the changes in the world. There are plant watering systems that use surface irrigation techniques or that can completely flood a field. Now that climate change is on the rise, we need to start using a more controlled and precise plant irrigation system. Thus, micro-irrigation systems have become more and more popular recently.

Person holding a hose used for micro-irrigation of a garden.

What are Micro-Irrigation Systems?

Micro-irrigation is a type of an irrigation system that uses lower pressure and flow than the average sprinkler systems. For instance, the traditional sprinkler system, such as a center-pivot irrigation, can be efficient up to 75-85%. On the other hand, micro-irrigation efficiency can exceed over 90%. It can be used in any kind of growing plants – agriculture, horticulture, landscaping and gardening. From commercial to civic to private landscape projects, micro-irrigation can be applied. You can stumble upon other terminology such as localized irrigation, low volume irrigation, low-flow irrigation, or trickle irrigation, but they all mean the same thing.

How does Micro-Irrigation Systems Work?

Micro-irrigation systems have small openings or emitters that release water at a small rate. Those emitters are very tiny, about the size of quarter, and are arranged in an array in the ground. Thus, they can supply water directly to the roots. This method has to major aspects. Firstly, it allows the soil to absorb the water and supply it only to the plants without running of or evaporation. Secondly, the water is delivered only to those areas that indeed need the water – the plant roots.

Most watering systems include a filter which might even include pre-filters, sand separators, screen filters and others. The intensity of filtration is set by the size of the emitters and the quality of the water source. You can also have a pressure regulator which can minimize the pressure to the needed strength. In order to save even more water, some micro-irrigations have automatic plant watering systems with an irrigation timer for switching to different areas and times of the day. They can also have soil moisture sensors, rain shut off sensors and weather stations. These functions perceive how the weather and soil changes. Thus, the irrigation system can regulate itself on how much water to emit.

Close-up of a hose of a micro-irrigation system that is watering a garden.

“Drip Irrigation” by graibeard is licensed under CC BY 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jobyone/5570650453/

Types of Micro-Irrigation

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation system is a type of micro-irrigation that helps saving water and nutrients by letting the water to drip down slowly to the plants’ roots. It waters the plants directly into the roots which reduces evaporation.

Subsurface drip-irrigation

Here water is transmitted below the soil surface with drip line laterals that should be installed at 12-18 inches underneath the ground.

Micro-spray irrigation

In this case, water is applied to the ground with a small spray or mist by an emitter placed not too high above the soil surface. They can cover bigger areas than the other systems. Thus, they tend to be more expensive and used for large-scale projects.

Hose of a micro-irrigation system watering a garden.

“Drip” by Ryo Chijiwa is licensed under CC BY 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryochijiiwa/4851174533/

When Should You Use Micro-Irrigation Systems?

Micro-irrigation systems can be applied to almost any kind of project. For example, drip irrigation is mainly used in farms, commercial greenhouses and home gardens. It is especially popular in regions where there is water scarcity for growing coconuts, grapes, bananas, eggplant, strawberries, maze, tomatoes and others. Nowadays people who want to maintain an eco-friendly lifestyle also use drip irrigation systems for their gardens. On the other hand, micro-sprinklers are more suitable for bigger and more expensive commercial projects such as growing row crops, three orchards and vineyards. In these cases, plants are expected to grow bigger or in larger areas.

Benefits of Using Micro-Irrigation

          1. Uses the Available Water to the Maximum

          2. Doesn’t Provide Water to the Weeds

          3. Ensures Maximum Crop Yield

          4. It Provides a Joint Management of Fertilization and Irrigation

          5. Minimizes the Costs of Labor and Operation

          6. Prevents Soil Erosion

Disadvantages of Using Micro-Irrigation

Even though the minuses of micro-irrigation are less, they still need to be taken into consideration. If you know them in advance, you’ll be able to prevent further damage to the irrigation system and your plants.

          1. Sensitive to Clogging

Since the water pressure is low, sediment is likely to build up and even algae to grow in the pipe. This issue can be easily prevented by cleaning up the system at least once per year.

          2. Requires High Initial Investment

The materials that you need to set up the micro-irrigation system include tubes, filters, lines, and timers. Moreover, if you are going to use the system for a larger field, the labor cost can be high as well. This all add up to a higher initial investment than regular watering. However, your long-term costs will be significantly reduced due to decreased usage of water.

          3. Can be Complicated to Install

Setting up your irrigation system isn’t rocket science. But if you are new in gardening or agriculture, or just want to save some time, you can always hire a  professionals to install and maintain it. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with a gardening service who can help you with the process and give you advice on using and maintaining your micro-irrigation system.

Sprouted green plants from a field.

Using Micro-Irrigation is Eco-Friendly

Micro-irrigation systems are applied in many plant habitat restoration and environmental remediation projects. It can also be the only irrigation options for remote regions where people get their water from wells or small water tanks. Due to climate change and severe droughts, some countries even encourage the usage of micro-irrigation systems through law regulations.

In conclusion, micro-irrigation is the preferred irrigation method nowadays due to the fact it saves money, time and resources. If you are just getting into gardening or agriculture, it is definitely advised to install a micro-irrigation system now. Or if you already have an old-fashioned watering system, you can always switch to something more eco-friendly when you are ready. Let’s keep growing!

 

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