How To Design Garden Sprinkler System

Looking for economical, easy ways to a garden sprinkler system? You can purchase an expensive system to keep your landscape lush. Or you can use a DIY method.

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Looking for economical, easy ways to a garden sprinkler system? You can purchase an expensive system to keep your landscape lush. Or you can use a DIY method.

When designing an irrigation system, start by drawing a sketch of your landscape. Determine your home’s water pressure and volume before choosing sprinkler heads and deciding where to place them. Then, create zones to determine proper spacing before installing the heads and backfilling with dirt.

This article will walk you through planning your DIY sprinkler system and installation tips. We will also discuss some basic steps to ensure your design keeps your landscape and garden beds as healthy as possible.

Personally, I’ve always been partial to cheap watering systems, such as soaker hoses connected together with a timer. We also drilled 1/8-inch holes in PVC pipes to create a DIY watering system for my garden beds. Next year, I’ll be using what I’ve learned through research to install something more sophisticated, like the systems below.

Table of Contents

10 Steps to Planning Your DIY Sprinkler Installation

Follow these steps to help you design a watering system that’s both simple to install and cost-effective:

1. Sketch the Space

Draw a sketch of your outdoor space. Include:

  • The home
  • Patios
  • Decks
  • Brick walls
  • Concrete
  • Pathways
  • Driveways
  • Fences
  • Lawns
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • Garden beds

2. Scale the Plan

Check out this article for details on How to Scale a Drawing.

3. Divide the Property

Divide the plan into various areas, such as:

  • Back yard
  • Front yard
  • Side yard
  • Full sun
  • Partial sun
  • Full shade
  • Afternoon shade

This will help you later when deciding what to plant where. You’ll also need this information to help you when creating zones in step seven below.

4. Determine System Capacity

It’s important to know just how much water your home has available before you design a garden sprinkler system. This is called the system design capacity.

Follow these steps when using city water for your garden watering system:

Check Water Pressure

  • Make sure no water is flowing from any faucets on the property
  • Find the outdoor faucet that’s located closest to your water meter
  • Attach the faucet to a pressure gauge
  • Turn the faucet on and write down the number the gauge gives you

Check Water Volume

You’ll need to know two things for this step:

  • Water Meter Size – This is usually stamped right on the body of the meter. Write this down.
  • Service Line Size – Use a measuring tape to determine the circumference of the city main pipe that connects to the house.

5. Choose Sprinkler Heads

For residential DIY sprinklers, there are three main types of systems:

  • Fixed systems for smaller areas – Uses micro sprays, drip emitters, or flexible tubing to water only the bases of the plants
  • Rotating stream sprayers – Usually cover up to about 26 feet or 8 meters
  • Rotors for larger areas – Covers more than 26 feet or 8 meters

6. Draw Locations for Sprinklers

Now that you know the various types of sprinkler systems and how they benefit the landscape, decide where you need and want each one.

  • Large Area Sprinklers – These are outstanding for large lawns. Space them about 26-40 feet or 8-12 meters apart to evenly distribute water throughout the landscape.
  • Rotating Sprayers – These are great for garden beds containing flowers and shrubs. Use them around plants that won’t suffer if the foliage gets wet.
  • Small Area Sprinklers – Place them about 10-16 feet or 3-5 meters apart. These are perfect for watering vegetables, fruits and herbs in garden beds.

Tips for Choosing Sprinkler Types

  • Only use one type of sprinkler in any particular area
  • Don’t space the heads of the sprinklers too far apart
  • Space them so that each head sprays the one across from it as well as the one next to it

7. Create Zones

If you have a very small growing space, you can skip this step. Otherwise, you need to divide the yard up into zones because your home may not have a water capacity high enough to water the entire landscape at one time.

Use the information on your plan from step three, Divide the Property, to do this. Divide the area up based on watering needs. For example, the full shade area won’t need as much water as the full sun area.

8. Indicate Spacing

Referring back to the zones you created in step three again, divide them even further based on water pressure:

  • Use the water pressure digits you wrote down earlier to determine how much pressure you need. This will help you decide how far to space the sprinkler heads based on liter per minute, also known as l/min.
  • Write down the l/min for each individual sprinkler head on the plan.
  • Add each one of the numbers together, then divide that number by the total available l/min.
  • Round that number up to a whole number. That’s the number of zones and valves you will need in that area for the sprinklers.
  • Divide the sprinkler heads to ensure that every zone has about the same l/min. Remember to keep the system’s design capacity in mind.
  • Draw in the locations for each sprinkler head until all the zones are covered.

9. Install Sprinkler Heads

  • Install all of your sprinkler heads except the very last one. It needs to be off to flush properly.
  • To flush the system, use the value to manually turn the zone on, letting all the dirt that may be in the system to flush out. Turn off the water when it is flush and clear.
  • Install the last sprinkler head.
  • Use the controller to turn the water back on within the zone to check for coverage. This also allows you to test the system to ensure the wire connectors and wire are operational.
  • Tweak as necessary to ensure coverage.

10. Complete Backfilling

  • Instead of burying the valves directly into the ground, provide easier access by installing them inside a valve box. Then, set the box in place in the ground while backfilling it with dirt.
  • Remove all rocks and pebbles from near the pipe. Only backfill about one-third of the trench’s depth at a time, making sure the dirt is compact as you do.

6 Different Types of Landscape Irrigation Systems

As the summer months kick in, some homeowners may find it too hot outside to hand water their lawns and gardens. So, they turn to automatic irrigation systems to get the job done. But there are different types of watering systems on the market to choose from, including the six we’re covering in this article:

  • Drip Irrigation Systems
  • Sprinkler Systems
  • Bubbler Irrigation Systems
  • Rain Catchment Drip Systems
  • Surface Irrigation Systems
  • Blended Irrigation Systems

1. Drip Irrigation Systems

A drip irrigation system is an effective choice for landscapes with a wide variety of trees, shrubs and plants. It allows you to set the perfect time of the day to water. Plus, you can decide exactly how much water your landscape gets each day.

Spongy hoses are used to deliver the water straight to the roots of the plants. So, there’s never a need to stress about the leaves getting splattered by water during irrigation. And evaporation is minimal due to them being shaded out by various plants.  

You can connect drip systems to a timer for more convenience. Attaching emitters allow you to water certain areas of the garden more than others when needed. Just set the timer to save you from the back-breaking work of watering with the hose.

2. Sprinkler Systems

Sprinkler systems are popular for people looking for a go-to-traditional way to irrigate. They are outstanding for large lawns and in areas where there are many plants of the same variety planted because they all require the same amount of water.

When using these irrigation systems during the hot summer months, it’s best to turn them on close to sunset and early mornings. Watering with them during mid-day hours may cause the water to burn your grass and plants or simply evaporate before the root systems can take it in.

If I can only water once per day, I prefer the evenings. There is less chance of evaporation. Plus, this allows the plant roots to soak it all up throughout the night. For the best results, install a timer to ensure the irrigation process occurs at optimal hours.

3. Bubbler Irrigation Systems

A bubbler irrigation system is much like a cross between a drip system and a sprinkler system. Bubblers are used to provide large amounts of water from around six inches above the surface of the soil. Adding timers and emitters allows you to water only the plants that need it at optimal times. They are perfect for smaller areas where many plants of the same kind are planted. This is also true for raised beds and areas with trees and shrubs.

Drip Irrigation vs Bubbler Irrigation

To determine which of these two is best for your landscape, pay attention to the plants you need to water:

  • Drip Systems – Versatility makes it great for areas with many different types of plants
  • Bubbler Systems – Better for areas with larger plants or many plants of the same variety

There are times when it’s best to use both of these for your irrigation needs. You can also convert various areas of the yard to the bubbler method by simply adding a bubbler nozzle to your system’s heads while using a sprinkler system in other areas.

4. Rain Catchment Systems

Rain catchment systems are a dream for eco-friendly gardeners doing their best to conserve water. They are not all that versatile. But they use gravity to deliver rainwater to the landscape, which is always the best water for your plants.

When it rains, the water that would otherwise cause your roof to cave in goes down the gutter. Instead of allowing this water to just leak to one area of the ground, capture it in buckets or barrels. Then, when the summer months kick in, water your plants with that water instead of the water from your tap. This will save you a great deal of money on costly summer water bills.

Three Steps to Using a Rain Catchment System

Step One: Clear Gutters and Downspouts

As the water hits your roof, it makes its water to the gutter. From there, it enters the downspout and down to the ground. It’s vital that you keep both the gutter and downspout free from all debris and leaves to ensure the water flows as intended.

There are special gutter systems designed to keep them from getting clogged. You can also add a filter or screen at the very end of your downspout to keep debris out.

Step Two: Install Rain Barrels

Most people who practice rain catchment irrigation use 55-gallon drums. But you can use whatever size barrel or bucket you choose. The amount of containers, barrels or drums to keep on hand depends on how much water you would like to collect.

To install, simply place it under the end of the downspout to allow the water to run off into it. To avoid mosquitoes getting into your fresh rainwater, use tulle or some type of mesh screen to cover the downspout. You can even install some type of attachment to direct the water directly into the rain barrel if the spout is attached to the wall.

Step Three: Use Your Rainwater

These are four common methods for getting the rainwater from the barrels to your garden:

  • Watering Can – Just stick the can inside the drum and scoop up the water.
  • Water Hose – You can pull water from the bucket right through the hose. Just install the barrel up higher than the area you’re trying to irrigate. Then, let gravity do its job. Check out this YouTube video for details.
  • Drip Irrigation System – Attach it to the barrel and add hoses, timers and emitters as needed. This automates the irrigation process for you.
  • Sprinkler System – Because they need a lot of pressure to function, you may have to also install a pump to get the water where you need it.

5. Surface Irrigation Systems

Surface irrigation is commonly installed by homeowners with smaller landscapes. The water is applied to the surface of the soil. This allows it to slowly drip down into the soil and the plants’ root systems. When you water the soil’s surface using a watering can or hose, this is also known as surface irrigation.

Although a very common trend in landscape watering, this method requires a lot of labor and is very inefficient. Some plants can become waterlogged or thirsty because the water doesn’t always get dispersed evenly.

It also leaves the landscape vulnerable in emergency situations where the homeowner can’t get out and physically water. Automated irrigation systems are much better in these cases.

6. Blended Irrigation Systems

A blended irrigation system is a very effective way to irrigate your landscape while using less water. Instead of watering every area the same, combining sprinklers with drip systems allows you to give each location the specific amount of water that it needs to thrive.

For example, you might use sprinklers for your front and back lawns. Then, install drip irrigation for plants, flowers, trees and bushes. This is the perfect way to save water while still effectively watering your softscapes.

Smart Irrigation Controllers

If you decide to go this route, I highly recommend installing a smart irrigation controller. These systems have built-in features designed to schedule and coordinate watering durations and times for each individual zone in your landscape.

A smart irrigation timer comes with a sensor that takes weather forecasts and current conditions into account. This allows it to adjust how long sprinklers run in various zones based on these conditions.

The system helps keep your landscape in shape through more efficient watering. Plus, it reduces the amount of water you use each day in the process, saving both water and money.

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