Drip Irrigation vs. Sprinklers: What’s the Difference?

Many gardeners will give you decisive opinions about both drip irrigation and sprinklers. While each has its advantages and disadvantages, the truth is that it really depends on how you plan to use it. What is the land you need to cover? What are the water requirements of your plants? Here we’ll cover when to choose drip irrigation and when to go with sprinklers.

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The Difference Between Sprinkler and Drip Irrigation Systems

While sprinklers systems consist of tubing embedded in the ground with heads above that spray water on your plants, drip irrigation has tubing that runs low along the ground and slowly drips water into the soil around your plants. Each has its value and its issues.

Drip Irrigation Pros:

  • Minimizes water waste: Because drip irrigation systems are low to the ground and have hole punches directly next to the plants, they send water directly to plant roots, minimizing water loss to runoff and evaporation.
  • It’s cost-effective: By saving water, they also save you money on your utility bill.
  • Prevents plant disease: Because it drips to the soil, drip irrigation reduces powdery mildew and other diseases that can develop on wet leaves.
  • Promotes fewer weeds: While weeds can sprout up from wide watering, when the water is meticulously dripped to the soil around each plant, there is less opportunity for weeds to steal water from your cultivated plants.

Drip Irrigation Cons:

  • Remains vulnerable to damage: With the tubing for drip irrigation above ground, it’s easier for gardeners, mowers, or animals to accidentally damage the tubing. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays also can weaken the plastic and cause it to crack.
  • Easily blocked up: Hole punches can become clogged with sediment in the water. If left unnoticed, this could be the death of your plant.
  • Is an eyesore: Again, above ground means the system is visible, making it less aesthetically pleasing than a sprinkler system. Some gardeners fix this by covering it with mulch, but that also limits your ability to monitor and maintain the system.

When to Choose Drip Irrigation:

  • Drip irrigation works best on small plots that have a few specific plants to water. It’s also a good choice for drought-tolerating plants that need infrequent deep watering. Watering will take longer to reach the depth that the roots need, but you will only need to water once to twice a week. A small garden on the side of the house would be an example of a great place to install drip irrigation.

Sprinkler Irrigation Pros:

  • Provides great coverage: Sprinklers can cover a lot of ground and are ideal for large spaces.
  • Stays safe underground: Unlike drip irrigation, sprinkler systems are buried underground and are protected against lawn mowers, animals, and cracking in the sun. Sprinkler heads are still above ground where they can sustain damage and may need maintenance.
  • Can spread additives: Many sprinkler systems can also distribute liquid pesticides and fertilizers evenly over the ground.

Sprinkler Irrigation Cons:

  • Excessive use of water: Spraying water around is not the most water-efficient irrigation method. Plenty of water is lost to runoff and evaporation.

When to Choose Sprinklers:

  • Because sprinklers are far-reaching, they are great for large lawns or gardens. Also, with the ability to bury the tubing to protect it from lawn mowers, sprinklers are a better match for most lawns.

What’s the Best Water Sprinkler System for Plants?

It depends on the plants you’re watering. Oscillating sprinklers offer a wide range of coverage and gentle pressure to care for plants. Many include a selection of adjustments to get the range and pressure just right. Although drip irrigation waters the soil near plants and reduces wet leaves that can develop disease, the hole punches can become clogged with mineral sediment. Often the blockage isn’t apparent until the plant shows signs of drying out.

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Choosing Irrigation That’s Right for Your Garden

Choosing the best irrigation system depends on the size of area you plan to water and the requirements of your plants. While drip irrigation is more water-efficient, it requires more maintenance and isn’t best for large lawns or gardens. Sprinkler systems may lose more water to run off and evaporation, but they can be automated to save time and can water hard-to-reach areas.

If you’re unsure which system suits your property best, one of our professional landscapers at The Grounds Guys can assess your property and develop a plan that works for you. For quality landscaping services you can trust, give us a call at (888) 972-8063 or request a job estimate online.