Due to the current state of the economy the landscaping industry is being forced to step back from typical business practices and start to think outside the box. How can you make your business more profitable in a relatively stagnant market and increase sales? Both potential and existing customers are just as effected in this market, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to offer new services in which they will part with their hard earned money.

An important factor to consider is that water restrictions are becoming increasingly prevalent nationwide, and more focus needs to be directed to water efficiency and conservation practices. Drought ordinances are being adopted in many regions as a response to the insufficient amount of water supply along with restricted watering schedules, and in some cases irrigation is restricted entirely. Along with water restrictions, the cost of water is going to be greatly increased if it hasn’t been already in your area. Being proactive by educating and offering your clients valid solutions to these predicaments can easily be translated to profit. Installing drip irrigation in all non-turf areas is a great place to start.

Drip irrigation (aka low volume/micro irrigation) when installed correctly can save up to 60% or more of water over conventional sprinkler systems. Many other benefits are associated with drip irrigation include eliminating overspray (no more watering sidewalks), no loss of water from run-off (due to the slow application of water), less weed growth (water is focused on a specific plant’s root zone unlike typical overhead sprays). All of these factors result in healthier plants. In addition, water restriction laws are typically bypassed when drip irrigation is used allowing customers to irrigate even on non-watering days. This opens up a great opportunity to increase sales.

When first looking into drip irrigation it can tend to be a little overwhelming since there are many options available to achieve a functioning drip system. Once you understand the basic and necessary components you’ll find that assembly and installation are fairly simple.

There are multiple ways to install an efficient, water conserving drip system. For first time installations, and even for retrofitting existing systems, it is important to start the system correctly with a proper head assembly. A drip zone head assembly will include a valve followed by a filter then a pressure regulator. Probably the most important part of a correctly operating drip system is the pressure regulator. Drip systems must have a low pressure range (25-35 psi) or they will not function properly. A correct pressure range can insure that each drip emitter is producing the gallon per hour (GPH) that it states. Therefore, installation of a pressure regulator prior to installation of a drip system is essential. Systems installed without a pressure regulator will result in flow rate inconsistencies and emitters popping off the mainline.

Starting at the water source, run poly tubing throughout the areas that will be irrigating with drip. Poly tubing, available in ½ in., ¾ in. and 1 in. diameters, is considered your primary lateral line with drip irrigation. The poly tubing allows the ability to insert drip emitters directly into the poly tubing with a small hand held punch or branch off to plants using ¼ in. microtubing. Poly tubing can be buried or left on the surface depending on your aesthetic preference and can be cut with scissors or pruning shears. If left in the sun for a few minutes the poly tubing becomes more pliable and easy to work with. UV inhibitors within the poly tubing materials protect it from direct sun exposure so that its durability is ensured whether or not you decide to bury it. After the desired length of poly tubing has been run, close off the end of the line using figure 8 end closure or a compression end cap leaving the end of the poly tubing above ground. This will enable periodic flushing to remove debris from installing drippers.

Point source drip emitters are most commonly used in a drip irrigation system. There are many different types of drip emitters available to choose from with multiple flow rates, though the most popular are the pressure compensating (PC). PC emitters contain internal diaphragms that are self-cleaning and that regulate the specific flow rate stated. Installing PC emitters can be beneficial for long runs and uneven landscapes because they will consistently provide an accurate flow rate.

Soil type should be considered when installing drip irrigation. Emitter flow rates should be chosen based on how well the soil absorbs water. Select dripper flow rates based upon the site soil type. With heavier clay soils, use ½ or 1 GPH emitters, with lighter, sandy soils, go with 2 or 4 GPH emitters.

Existing sprinkler systems can be easily converted into multi-outlet drip systems. Retrofit drip manifolds mount directly onto 1/2 in. risers, in place of existing sprinkler heads, and are available in 4 to 12 outlets. Drip manifolds come with pres-set and adjustable flow rates (1/2-20 GPH) and do not require an inline pressure regulator if your existing pressure is at or below 60 PSI. ¼ in. poly or vinyl microtubing is used to run from to the drip manifold to the plant in lengths up to 25 ft. Also used for first time installations, drip manifolds are typically set within plant groupings and placed below the surface inside 6 in. valve boxes.

Emitter line (aka dripline) is another method of installing drip irrigation. Drip emitters come pre-installed within the poly tubing and are easily rolled out along the desired area to be irrigated. With multiple flow rates and various dripper spacing, dripline is an uncomplicated installation that is perfect for row plantings and densely planted areas. The pre-installed drip emitters are self flushing and typically contain two outlets per drippers in order to minimize clogging. In addition the dripline is available with pressure compensating drip emitters to ensure consistent flow rates.

Drip irrigation systems use compression fittings that require no glue. A hand punch tool for installing drip emitters is the only drip specific tool necessary. This makes for simple repairs and modifications due to changes in the layout of your landscape. To change the location of a drip emitter, simply pull out the emitter, insert a goof plug, and use a punch to install in a new location.

Drip irrigation is not just an option to save water therefore becoming more “green” focused but has the potential to save your clients money as well. This method of irrigation can become a valuable sales tool that could allow you to promote your business. All of the incentives drip irrigation offers can produce fantastic sales opportunities in addition to creating a new strategy to expand and remarket your business.