Drip systems are one of the biggest time savers in any garden. They are also easy to design and install and are relatively inexpensive. Once set up, plants are fed regularly and precisely on the schedule you choose. In my own gardens I have found that not only do drip systems save me a whole lot of time but they have also saved my garden from sure death when life gets busy and I don’t have time to spend with my plants. Another great thing about a drip system is that they have relatively few problems. But when they do the results can be devastating. In this article we will review some simple steps on how to identify the common problems with a drip system and general maintenance of the drip system that will help insure healthy plants and a full harvest.
The most common problem with drip systems is clogging. Dirt is the enemy. The smallest contaminants can lead to many problems to your drip system. To avoid this there are many things you can do to help prevent clogging:
Use a “Y” Filter or inline filter (for ½” vinyl hose) before any drippers – using an inline filter catches large sediment before reaching the drippers resulting in less clogging. Occasionally check the filter and clean as necessary with a hose and brush. “Y” filters have 100 micron screens which are recommended for best control. Inline filters have 150 micron screens.
Use a water pump that has a mesh filter. If not use a pump bag – Most fountain and aquarium style pumps have an internal mesh filter which catches dirt and other large pieces of sediment. Anything that gets through should get caught in your inline filter.
Try not to run thick organic nutrients through your drip system – In general, organic nutrients are thicker and stickier than inorganic nutrients. One great way to grow organic with drippers is to brew nutrient teas which done properly shuold leave little or no sediment.
Flush your feed lines regularly – Simply open up the end of your feed line and turn on your water to wash out any sediment or particles in the line. This should be done at the beginning of the grow season, when setting up a new drip system or adding more drippers and at the end of the grow season or any time you fear dirt has got into your lines.
Use a salt leaching solution in your reservoir – Some products can be added to your reservoir and run through your drippers with the nutrient solution. These products break down salts as they accumulate as hard water deposits or unused excess salt from synthetic fertilizers. Popular salt reduction solutions are SM-90 by Nutrilife and Drip Clean by House and Garden.
So you made all the necessary precautions when you set up your drip system and that is very important. But you should still check your system periodically for clogging and other problems. We suggest doing a walk over at least twice a month. Here’s what to check for:
Check each dripper for clogging – Drippers clogging up are the number one problem with drip systems. Check each drip site with the system on. If a dripper is not working replace it. If a dripper seems slow, put a cup underneath it and another cup under a working dripper for 5 minutes and compare. If the slow dripper is in fact not fully functioning, replace with a new one.
Check and clean mesh micron filter – Hopefully you are using a filter at the beginning of your feed line to catch particles. Check and clean the filter at least once a month.
Look for kinks in the feed lines – If you’re using vinyl hose or hard drip line, a bent or kinked feed line can reduce pressure to an entire length of drip sites. Straighten feed tube for max pressure.
Top off nutrient solution reservoir – Allowing your stock reservoir to get too low can increase salt build-up, cause more sediment than usual to flow through the pump and/or cause your pump run dry causing complete pump failure.
Check the first dripper and last dripper for even water output – Again, get two cups and put the first dripper and last dripper into a cup for 5 minutes. Compare total water volume output. If the last dripper is slow you may need a pressure regulator if you have high pressure or a larger water pump if you have low pressure (for indoor gardening).
Even though this article concentrated on ways to prevent and fix problems with your drip system, there is actually very little to worry about. Drip systems hold up well and generally have few issues. A few last things we recommend when building a drip system are:
Use a timer and adjust water time regularly according to plant size and temperature changes.
Do not overwater. Time your first watering until you see about 10-15% run-off from your pots or containers. Plants in the ground can be heavily soaked but make sure not to water again until the soil has properly dried out.
Do not extend feed lines more than 150 feet.
When using pond or aquarium water pumps, use as large a diameter feed line as possible for max head pressure.
Make your life easy and build a drip system. If you need help just go down to your local garden or hydroponic store. The sales staff should be able to help you buy all the parts you will and need and give you instruction on how to set it up. If they can’t do that, find a new store. If you live near a Gardening Unlimited hydroponic store stop by or give them a call. They will be happy to get you growing the right way.