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In most parts of the country, trying to keep yards watered throughout the summer requires an open tap like you haven't seen since your last fraternity kegger. Which isn't so great if you live in a conservation-conscious area that restricts sprinkler use. If the best defense is a good offense, the way to beat the heat is with micro irrigation. This system of drip tubing and tiny sprayers delivers aqua right at the base of plants.

You don't need a sophisticated irrigation network to supply micro irrigation—a spigot for a hose will do. Setting up a system to feed a backyard's worth of plant beds, shrubs, and trees takes just a few minutes of designing and a couple of hours of connecting the various components. Then before you can pop open a cold one and admire your handiwork, your garden will be thanking you for its own liquid refreshment.

Step 1

Drip Irrigation Overview

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Most of micro irrigation is drip tubing, ¼-inch or ½-inch hose fitted with tiny plastic nubs, called emitters, that allow water to drip out at a regulated pace without clogging. The tubing snakes around and among plants and trees to get water into the soil at the roots. You can buy that tubing either prepunched, with emitters factory-installed under the surface every 18 inches, or unperforated, which requires you to punch the holes and attach the emitters to the outside of the tubing yourself. Unperforated tubing can be used to customize a system to an unusual layout or to connect sections of tubing where you don't need water. Some companies also sell soaker hose, laser-perforated rubber that weeps water into the soil without emitters.

All manufacturers have accessories that are specialized for different types of plants—sprays for ground cover, foggers for hanging containers, and single emitters for reaching plants off the grid. But few offer a kit with everything included. You will need to draw a plan of your garden — because micro irrigation requires so much tubing, it is not appropriate for lawns—and map out a configuration of the tubing and accessories, then buy some parts separately. Or contact the drip kit's manufacturer; many will take your garden plans and provide you with an efficient design and materials list free of charge.

Step 2

Connect to an Outdoor Faucet

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Screw the vacuum breaker to the pressure regulator, if your hose bib doesn't already have its own vacuum breaker. This part will prevent contaminated hose water from backwashing into the house's supply lines.

Attach the filter to the pressure regulator. Connect the hose swivel to the threaded opening jutting out from the side of the filter. This has a barbed end to accept the cut end of the tubing and hold it tight. Screw the entire assemblage to the hose bib.

Step 3

Lay out the Tubing

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Attach a length of unperforated tubing or garden hose to the hose bib, long enough to reach from the bib to the plant beds.

Using barbed connectors, attach the roll of ½-inch tubing with emitters to the unperforated tubing at the edge of the plant bed.

Snake the tubing with emitters around the plants, near their roots. Keep the lines of tubing about 12 inches apart.

Step 4

Install Ground Stakes

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Once you've got the tubing in position, use plastic ground stakes to hold it down. Be sure the hook at the top of the stakes fits over the tubing.

Wherever the tubing has to turn at a sharp angle or branch out to another section, cut it and reattach it with tee or elbow connectors. Cut the end of the tubing when you are finished; leave it open so you can flush it with water later.

Step 5

Lay Tubing Around Shrubs and Trees

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Position loops of ¼-inch tubing around the trees and shrubs.

Use a hole punch to pierce the ½-inch tubing where the loop will begin. Insert a small tee connector into the hole.

Attach one end of ¼-inch tubing with emitters to one side of the tee. Now make a lasso shape around the trunk of the tree. The loop should be big enough to extend halfway out to the edge of the tree's canopy.

Cut the tubing and attach the end to the other side of the tee.

Step 6

Position Sprayers for Ground Cover

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Where the plantings are so dense it's difficult to snake tubing at the roots, branch out with micro sprayers.

Pierce the ½-inch tubing with a hole punch, then insert a small straight connector. Attach a length of unperforated ¼-inch tubing long enough to reach the location of the micro sprayer. Connect the other end of the ¼-inch tubing to the micro sprayer.

Clip the sprayer to a stake and position it in the ground cover.

Use a similar method to branch out with single emitters (to rose bushes, for example), foggers, or other specialized drip heads.

Step 7

Close off the Tubing End

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Once all the tubing and attachments are placed, turn on the water for a minute to flush dirt out of the tubing.

Turn off the water. Slide a ½-inch end clamp onto the open end of the tubing. Fold the end, then slide the other loop of the end clamp over the folded piece to hold it in its crimped position.

Step 8

Cover the Tubing with Mulch

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Clean up around all the tubing and make sure all connections are tight and no emitters are blocked or clogged. Turn on the water and check for leaks or bad connections.

To keep the water from evaporating before it reaches the plant roots and to give the garden a manicured appearance, cover all the exposed tubing with about two inches of mulch.