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What is Trickle Irrigation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Trickle irrigation is an irrigation technique which is designed to use as little water as possible. This type of irrigation is better for the environment for a variety of reasons, and it is cheaper to operate once it is up and running, although establishing a good trickle irrigation system can be quite costly. Companies which offer irrigation design will often design and install trickle systems by request, and people can also design and install their own system if they feel confident with their irrigation skills.

With trickle irrigation, water is released slowly into a small area with targeted irrigation heads. Instead of spraying water across a wide area, the trickle irrigation system delivers it directly to the plants or root systems. This requires extensive tubing to ensure that all of the plants in a garden are reached by the irrigation, but it results in less wastage of water. The system can be programmed to run on a timer, manually operated, or programmed to respond to current conditions.

Some of the many advantages of trickle irrigation include less water waste due to runoff or water being applied in the wrong areas, along with reduced growth of weeds, since the plants in the garden get most of the water and weeds can't grow. Trickle irrigation also reduces loss of nutrients in the soil, lowers leaching into the water table and local waterways, and reduces water loss due to evaporation. Soil damage caused by spray and other types of irrigation is also reduced. Furthermore, foliar and root disease is reduced because water is not allowed to sit on the weeds or accumulate around the roots.

The primary disadvantage is that installing a trickle irrigation system is expensive. In addition, the irrigation heads can become clogged, impairing the delivery of water to the plants. The tubing can also be damaged by the sun, slips with garden tools, and animals, causing the system to malfunction. Keeping the system running requires constant inspection of the tubes and irrigation heads, to ensure that there are no problems.

Also known as drip irrigation, trickle irrigation is often strongly recommended in areas with limited water resources, or in regions where there can be water shortages during certain times of the year. In some regions, gardeners may be able to receive rebates, reduced water rates, or other benefits in exchange for installation and operation of a drip irrigation system, with government authorities rewarding people who practice water conservation to encourage more people to conserve water.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By miriam98 — On Mar 10, 2012

@allenJo - My neighbors have installed irrigation sprinklers in their front lawn. I don’t know how much it costs to have that system installed but I don’t think that it’s cheap.

Those sprinklers however are on a timer mechanism so they deliver only the amount of water that is needed, at scheduled intervals. That’s a big advantage in my opinion, because I tend to be lazy and somewhat inconsistent in my lawn watering. An irrigation sprinkler system or a drip irrigation system might be just the ticket.

By allenJo — On Mar 09, 2012

We had a severe drought last year. It seemed that we went for months on end without rain. Of course when you go that long without rain then your lawn starts to go dormant.

I tried to keep my lawn alive by dousing it with water from an irrigation house. Eventually however the city started telling us to stop doing that; soon they said we were going to have to start rationing water because there simply wasn’t enough water for regular purposes.

The drought ended but I have thought many times that a drip irrigation system would have been ideal for that situation. That way you give out only the water that you need to keep your lawn and plants going, but you conserve water at the same time too.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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