Switching from hand watering to drip irrigation could be the most beneficial gardening change you make this year. But if your garden primarily consists of raised beds, you might wonder if drip irrigation is the right choice and how it works with raised garden beds.
Gardeners can use drip irrigation systems for raised beds to keep the soil beds moist and encourage healthy root and plant growth. Drip irrigation is a good alternative to conventional watering for raised beds as it saturates the soil much better and deeper.
This guide will explore everything you need to know about drip irrigation for raised beds, ensuring you select a system that’s affordable, easy to install, and suitable for your plants.
Understanding Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation is a watering method that involves slow-moving drips of water. In most instances, drip irrigation is an automated alternative to hand watering. However, gardeners can also choose to operate these systems simultaneously.
There are several types of drip irrigation systems, but their purpose is the same—provide water to plants to keep them healthy!
Advantages for Raised Beds
Installing a drip irrigation system in your raised beds could be exceptionally beneficial, as a drip irrigation system can:
- Reduce the amount of labor required to keep your soil moist
- Decrease weed growth throughout your raised beds
- Lower your monthly water usage
- Ensure that plant roots remain well-hydrated
Reduce the Amount of Labor Required to Keep Your Soil Moist
Hauling a watering can back and forth between your raised beds and outdoor water faucet is back-breaking work. And while you could use a garden hose to keep larger gardens watered, this method can increase water use and weed growth.
Besides, even with a garden hose, you’ll need to make near-daily trips to your garden to keep your plants healthy. That’s not so with drip irrigation systems.
Many drip irrigation systems connect to water timers that automatically activate and deactivate water flow to your garden. These essentially eliminate the labor required to keep your plants watered, allowing you to spend your time on other tasks.
Decrease Weed Growth
Pulling weeds from your raised beds can be time-consuming, which is why many gardeners look for ways to decrease weed growth.
Drip irrigation is one potential solution, as some systems emit water at specific points, keeping the soil between plants dry. Because this soil remains dry, weeds aren’t able to take root and grow!
While this isn’t a primary weed solution, localized watering like this when used in conjunction with other weed control methods can be quite effective.
Lower Your Monthly Water Usage
Do you know how much water you use to water your garden? If you’re growing water-reliant plants like flowers and vegetables, you could use hundreds of gallons of water per month to keep them healthy, even if your garden is small.
A drip irrigation system can reduce water usage by emitting water droplets instead of strong sprays. These systems produce a consistent (or timed) supply of slow-moving water droplets, potentially decreasing the amount of water required to help your garden flourish.
Ensure That Plant Roots Remain Well-Hydrated
One of the most significant benefits of switching to a drip irrigation system is knowing that your plant’s roots are always adequately hydrated.
After all, watering cans and garden hoses splash water over large patches of soil. But drip irrigation can emit water to specific areas, ensuring that water drains directly to plant roots instead of spreading over the soil surface.
Drip irrigation also allows moisture to seep deeper into the soil than normal top watering would. Deeper moisture promotes deeper root growth. In turn, this anchors the plant better and makes it more drought-tolerant.
Disadvantages of Raised Beds
Though drip irrigation systems offer multiple benefits to gardeners with raised beds, they might not be the right choice for everyone.
Some of the most significant drawbacks of these irrigation systems include:
- Drip irrigation maintenance costs can be higher
- Higher initial costs
- Complex installation process
Higher Maintenance Costs
While you might need to replace your watering can due to rust or cracks in the plastic, hand watering is generally a maintenance-free way of keeping raised garden beds watered. But drip irrigation systems require occasional maintenance.
Water emitters can clog with soil or develop calcium build-up due to exposure to hard water, and irrigation lines can occasionally spring leaks. While you might only need to maintain your drip irrigation system annually, replacing and cleaning components can be a burden for those with simple, small gardens.
Higher Initial Costs
A standard garden watering can cost anywhere from $1 to $20, depending on its quality and size. But drip irrigation systems start at about $20 and can cost several thousands of dollars when covering multiple acres.
Consequently, the initial investment cost of installing a drip irrigation system is higher than the initial cost of hand watering.
Complex Installation Process
Though pre-made kits can make installing a drip irrigation system slightly less challenging, there’s no getting around the fact that creating and installing one of these systems is far more labor-intensive than hand watering your raised beds.
While drip irrigation can reduce the amount of time you spend laboring over your garden, in the long run, the initial time and energy required to put a system in place can be overwhelming for some gardeners.
Planning and Designing Your Irrigation System
If you’re thinking of installing a drip irrigation system to keep your raised garden beds hydrated, you’ll need to consider:
- Understand the different types of drip irrigation systems
- Initial cost of a drip irrigation system
- The maintenance required to keep a drip irrigation system functioning
Reviewing these aspects before investing in a drip irrigation system can ensure you select a system that’s well-suited to your raised bed garden. It can also minimize problems during the installation process.
Understand the Different Types of Systems
There are several types of drip irrigation systems, and each offers specific advantages and drawbacks.
Generally, at-home gardeners will need to choose among:
- Porous pipe drip irrigation systems
- Punch-in emitter drip irrigation systems
- Drip irrigation kits
Porous pipe drip irrigation systems can keep the soil in raised garden beds consistently moist. This system doesn’t conserve as much water as other drip irrigation systems, but it’s a fantastic option for larger beds and vegetable gardens.
It works by allowing water to drip out of mesh-like porous tubes. These tubes sit directly on the soil surface, ensuring water sinks into the soil and hydrates plant roots. Overall, a porous pipe system is one of the easiest ways gardeners can keep raised beds watered.
But because a porous pipe expels water from all points, it’s not ideal for covering multiple raised beds. While you can finagle a multi-bed irrigation system using porous pipe, opting for a punch-in emitter system might be better.
Punch-in emitter irrigation systems are slightly more useful than porous pipe drip irrigation systems. This is because gardeners create puncture holes in the irrigation tubing, ensuring they only create water output areas where needed.
This system is also compatible with a wide range of emitter heads. So, whether you’d like a slow drip from emitter buttons or a fine spray from emitter spray heads, a punch-in drip irrigation system could be an excellent choice.
Installing one of these systems requires more labor than installing a porous pipe system. This is especially true of punch-in systems that cover multiple raised beds.
However, unlike porous pipe drip irrigation, punch-in emitter irrigation provides water to specific points. Gardeners hoping to lower their water usage by the maximum amount and decrease weed growth throughout their raised beds might prefer to invest in this system.
Drip irrigation kits are pre-made bundles of tubing, emitters, and connectors. They’re designed to allow gardeners to create a customized drip irrigation system that precisely meets their needs and garden size.
Most of these kits contain tubing for the main water line, tertiary line tubing, and a selection of connectors and emitters. The primary advantage of these kits is that they make it easy for gardeners to set up an irrigation system quickly, without having to shop for individual supplies.
But drip irrigation kits may not be right for everyone. When using a drip irrigation kit, you might end up with components you don’t need. Alternatively, you could run out of components that you do need, necessitating additional purchases.
Evaluating the Installation Cost
After choosing a drip irrigation system type, you’ll likely want to determine the installation cost. Calculating an exact cost can be challenging, but understanding how system costs differ based on type and complexity can help you generate a rough estimate.
Most of the drip irrigation systems available to home gardeners are considered budget-friendly. Drip irrigation kits are a fantastic example, as these products typically cost between $20 and $100 and can cover small-to-medium home gardens.
Porous pipe irrigation systems are also considered budget-friendly, as the tubing and components required to install them are comparatively low-cost. For example, a 50-foot (15.24-meter) length of porous pipe can cost between $5 and $20, and smaller connectors and valves generally cost less than $5 per piece.
Naturally, you’ll want to measure your raised garden beds and create a detailed irrigation plan before investing in irrigation system components. Doing so can help you budget for your system and avoid purchasing excess components.
Mid-tier drip irrigation systems are well-suited to large gardens with multiple beds. Gardeners can opt to create and install these systems themselves, or they can hire technicians to install them.
Most mid-tier drip irrigation systems are punch-in emitter systems. They might feature a diverse array of emitter heads, connection lines, and high-tech water timers.
Installation costs vary depending on the size of your yard and the system’s complexity, but most will cost a few hundred dollars, especially if installed by professional technicians.
Underground drip irrigation systems installed by professionals can keep acres of land well-watered. They typically cost between $500 and $1,200 (per acre) to install, and they require professional installation.
These types of drip irrigation systems are often designed for the agricultural industry. Consequently, they’re an excessive investment for a home garden.
Monitoring and Maintenance
Though drip irrigation systems typically require little maintenance, they don’t last forever.
If you’re thinking of installing drip irrigation in your garden beds, you’ll need to be ready to perform occasional maintenance tasks like:
- Checking for leaks along the tubing
- Checking emitter heads for clogs
- Checking connectors and end closures for leaks
- Replacing the water timer battery
- Ensuring the water input (typically a garden hose) is leak-free
You’ll need to complete this checklist at least once per year, though performing a maintenance check every three months is far better.
After all, if your irrigation system’s emitter heads are no longer expelling water, your plants can begin to wilt and die. Regular checks ensure that your irrigation system and plants stay in the best shape.
How to Install a Porous Pipe Watering System
Porous pipe drip irrigation is one of the most straightforward options available to gardeners. After all, this type of drip irrigation doesn’t require you to punch any holes in tubing or fit on complicated emitter heads.
To install a porous pipe drip irrigation system in your raised garden beds, you’ll need to:
- Purchase porous pipe tubing.
- Gather all necessary tools and supplies.
- Make a header pipe.
- Connect isolator valves to each t-nozzle.
- Place and secure the header pipe.
- Lay the porous pipe tubing across the soil.
- Cut and seal the tubing when it reaches the perimeter of the bed.
- Connect the porous pipe tubing to an isolator valve.
- Attach your garden hose to the header pipe inlet.
- Install a water timer on your outdoor faucet (optional).
- Connect the hose to the outdoor faucet.
Though this might seem like many steps, the final result is a watering system that requires little maintenance and keeps large swaths of soil moist.
Before you purchase porous pipe tubing, you’ll want to plan your pipe placement. To do this, measure the length and depth of the raised bed (or beds) you plan to irrigate. Then, decide how much distance you’d like between each length of tubing.
After this, you can estimate how much tubing you’ll need to keep your raised garden beds well-watered.
Ensure the size of your tubing is at least equal to two-thirds or half of the area of your garden bed. Ideally, you might want a tube that’s at least a few inches (5+ cm) longer than this to make room for any extra allowances. So if you can’t find tubing in the exact length you need, approximate higher, not lower.
Furthermore, it’s important to also ensure that the emitters on your tubing of choice are spaced well enough that water will evenly distribute through the bed.
Once you’ve calculated how much porous pipe you need, you can begin browsing options online or at your local home improvement store. Remember, adding a few inches to your estimate is an excellent idea to ensure you have room to make a few mistakes!
After you’ve purchased porous tubing, you’ll need to gather additional supplies and tools to prepare for the drip irrigation installation process.
Gather All Necessary Tools and Supplies
You’ll need several tools and supplies to install a porous pipe drip irrigation system, including:
- Porous pipe tubing
- Plastic irrigation tubing
- A pair of tubing cutters
- T-nozzle connectors
- Isolator valves
- Hose end plugs
- Plastic anchor stakes
- A garden hose connector
- A water timer (optional)
After you’ve collected these tools and supplies, you can start making the header pipe.
Make a Header Pipe
The header pipe will essentially function as your water command center. The water from your garden hose will enter this pipe first before flowing out into the porous pipe tubing.
Consequently, you’ll want to ensure that your header pipe is made of non-porous plastic tubing and that its diameter is equal to that of your porous tubing.
To construct the header pipe, follow these steps:
Match the Tubing to Your Bed’s Length
Unroll plastic irrigation tubing to match the length of your raised bed. Generally, it’s best to match the tubing to the longest side of your garden bed. This tubing will feed into individual porous pipelines, so making it long can reduce the amount of porous pipe you need for your garden.
Cut the Tubing With a Pair of Cutters
After you’ve got a length matching the longest side of your raised bed, cut it from the excess tubing using a pair of tubing cutters.
Pipe cutters are perfect for cutting irrigation tubing. They have a spring-loaded handle that also reduces the force required to make multiple cuts, making it a helpful tool for those hoping to lay individual lines.
Cut Your Tube Into Several Sections
Next, cut this newly fashioned plastic tube line into multiple sections. Each section represents the width between each line. So, if you’d like to have a foot of space between each line of porous pipe, you’ll need to cut your non-porous tubing into one-foot segments.
Connect the Tubes to the Connectors
After creating individual segments, connect the openings of each newly-cut tube to t-nozzle connectors. This step will help you re-form the cut tubing into a single channel with openings on each end.
Remember, the bottom section of each nozzle should face in the same direction, as these openings will feed into isolator valves and porous lines.
Connect Isolator Valves to Each T-Nozzle
Isolator valves give you extra control over your drip irrigation system. When they’re shut off, water cannot enter the porous pipe. These valves can help prevent overwatering.
Be sure to attach an isolator valve to each t-nozzle’s opening and double-check that the on/off knob is facing upward before continuing.
Place and Secure the Header Pipe
When you’ve finished constructing your header pipe, place it against the perimeter of your raised bed. This pipe should sit snugly atop the soil against the border of the garden bed.
Secure the header pipe by placing anchor stakes every 12 in (30.5 cm). Before moving to the next step, ensure that the isolator valve openings are facing toward the soil facing the sections where you plan to lay your porous pipe.
Lay the Tubing Across the Soil
Once your header pipe is secure, you can begin unrolling the porous pipe onto your raised bed. If it helps, you can use an anchor stake to hold the opening of the tubing close to the header pipe as you move back toward the perimeter of the bed.
When you reach the perimeter, you’ll need to sever and seal the porous pipe.
Cut and Seal the Tubing When It Reaches the Perimeter of the Bed
Cut the line from the remaining porous pipe using your pipe cutters. Then use a hose end plug (also called a goof plug) to seal this opening.
At this point, your line of porous pipe should have one opening facing the header pipe. Repeat the cut-and-seal process for each line you lay across your raised beds.
Connect the Tubing to an Isolator Valve
Before attaching your garden hose to the header pipe, you’ll need to connect each line of porous pipe to an isolator valve. Be sure that each line’s opening is securely attached to the valve’s output before moving on to the next step.
After attaching and sealing your lines, you can secure them using anchor stakes.
Attach Your Garden Hose to the Inlet
After your porous pipe is laid across your raised beds, it’s time to attach your garden hose to the header pipe’s opening. This step is simple.
All you’ll need to do is twist the garden hose into the connector inlet. If you’re concerned about leaks, you can wrap some plumber’s tape around the garden hose output before connecting it to the header pipe.
Install a Water Timer to Your Outdoor Faucet (Optional)
Would you like your drip irrigation system to activate at the same time each day, regardless of whether you’re at home? If so, you’ll likely want to invest in a water timer.
These devices are essentially clocks that can activate water flow. When you attach one to your outdoor faucet, you can set it to activate for specific periods throughout the day.
Usually, all you need to do to install a water timer is twist it onto your outdoor faucet, turn it on and, choose your desired settings, then attach your garden hose to the bottom output. After that, the timer will water your raised garden beds according to your chosen settings!
Of course, a water timer isn’t necessary. If you’d prefer to activate your drip irrigation system manually, you can opt to go without it and move on to the next step.
Connect the Hose to the Outdoor Faucet
The final step is connecting your garden hose to the outdoor faucet. When you turn the faucet on, water will flow through the garden hose and into your header pipe. Depending on your isolator valve settings, the water will flow through each porous pipe, watering your garden.
If you’re a visual learner, you may prefer to watch an instructional video about installing porous pipe drip irrigation in your raised beds. This guide is particularly helpful:
How to Install a Watering System With Punch-In Emitters
Although a porous pipe is a fantastic way to keep the soil in your raised bed moist, it doesn’t keep water localized to specific plants or areas. As such, it’s not the best option for those who want to discourage weed growth or keep their water usage at an absolute minimum.
If you’d prefer, you can create and install a drip irrigation system with punch-in emitters that only output water at pre-chosen points.
To do this, you’ll need to:
- Gather all necessary tools and supplies.
- Unfurl the tubing across the raised bed.
- Use a punch tool to create holes along the tubing.
- Insert button emitters into the holes.
- Connect the hose to the tubing.
Gather All Necessary Tools and Supplies
The first step is gathering the necessary tools and supplies.
For punch-in emitter drip irrigation systems, this means:
- Plastic irrigation tubing
- A faucet connector
- A multipurpose punch tool
- Button emitters
- Plastic anchor stakes
- A pair of tubing cutters
- Hose end plugs (optional)
- T-nozzle connectors (optional)
- A water timer (optional)
If you’d like to keep things simple, you can choose to install a single length of hose across the raised bed, bending it slightly as it nears the perimeter of the bed to form another line across the soil.
However, if you’d like to keep your irrigation lines straight, you’ll need to purchase tube cutters, hose end plugs, and connectors for each hose line.
Either way, after you’ve purchased and gathered your tools and supplies, you’ll want to unfurl the tubing to begin planning your placement.
Unroll the Tubing Across the Raised Bed
This step is easiest if your garden bed contains no plants, as you won’t risk damaging your plants while laying down the tubing. You can install irrigation tubing in a garden full of plants, but you’ll need to be more careful to avoid stepping on or knocking over plants.
Here’s what’s involved in this step:
Create a Zig-Zag Pattern With the Tubing
Take the plastic tubing and unfurl it to create a curved zig-zag pattern (don’t bend the hose to form sharp angles) along your garden bed. But if you’re satisfied with a wavy zig-zag type of coverage, you can lay the tubing on the soil to form your irrigation system, with no cuts of header pipes necessary.
Instsall Anchor Stakes
Anchor stakes can keep your tubing in place while you work, so consider placing these at one-foot (30.48 cm) segments along the hose. You can readjust them later, so don’t worry about being precise.
Trim Any Excess Tubing
After you’ve covered the raised bed with a single wavy line of tubing, cut off the excess tubing using a pair of tubing cutters.
Seal the New Opening
Once you’ve cut off the excess length of the hose, seal the new opening with an end closure plug. The best closure button for your system depends on the width of your hose. The closure plug should be the same width as your tubing.
Side note: If you’d prefer single lines connected by a header tube, you can refer to the instructions for porous pipe installation to learn how to make a header tube, lay individual hose lines, and connect them into a single system.
Use a Punch Tool to Create Holes Along the Tubing
After laying the tubing, it’s time to create drip holes. Before you start, consider where you’ll place plants in your raised beds. If you already have plants in the soil, you can skip this step and begin punching holes along the line.
The goal is to create a drip hole as close to each plant as possible. If you’ve yet to add plants to your raised beds, take a moment to research your chosen plant’s preferred spacing. Doing so can help you decide where to place holes and emitters.
When you have an excellent idea of where you’d like to place your emitter openings, grab your punch tool and approach the section of tubing you plan to puncture. With one hand, hold the tubing firm. With the other, press the tip of the punch tool into the line, creating a hole.
Insert Button Emitters Into the Holes
After punching a hole in the tubing, insert a button emitter into the hole. You can use your punching multi-tool to make short work of this step, as most have a rear section that can hold onto button emitters for easy access.
Be sure to choose button emitters that are the correct size for the hole you’re punching. For example, if punching ¼ in (0.6 cm) holes into your tubing, select button emitters with an identical-sized insert.
Note: You don’t necessarily need to use button emitters to water your raised beds. You could use a variety of emitter heads that spray or drip. But these alternative emitters require additional tubing that’s much smaller, as well as connectors.
If you’d like to forego using button emitters, a drip irrigation system kit may be the better choice.
Connect the Hose to the Tubing
When you’re happy with the look of your drip irrigation system, you can push a garden hose connector into the opening of the hose (the one without the closure plug) and connect the hose to this connector.
For convenient watering, place a water timer onto the outdoor faucet that feeds your garden hose, then attach the hose to the timer. This extra step will keep the watering process hands-free, as the timer will activate and deactivate the irrigation system at predetermined times.
How To Install a Drip Irrigation Kit
If you’d like to minimize installation labor, you might want to choose a pre-installed emitter drip irrigation system. These systems typically have everything you need to install drip irrigation in raised beds, including tubing, connectors, and emitter heads.
To install one of these systems in your garden, you’ll need to:
- Choose a pre-installed emitter drip irrigation system.
- Unpack your drip irrigation kit.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions.
While this is a simplification of the steps required to install one of these systems, precise instructions vary depending on which system you choose. That’s why you’ll want to spend a little extra time on the first and last steps.
Choose an Emitter System
Some pre-installed emitter systems are tubes with pre-drilled holes, while others are comprehensive kits with emitter heads and connectors. If you’d like to minimize maintenance, you’ll want to opt for the kits instead of the pre-drilled tubing.
After all, the small holes in pre-drilled tubes can quickly clog with wet soil. On the other hand, emitter heads are far less likely to clog, ensuring that you don’t have to spend your afternoons poking soil out of tiny holes in your system’s line.
Unpack Slowly and Carefully
Many gardeners can unintentionally complicate the installation process by failing to unpack their chosen kit slowly and carefully, keeping each component in groups. Most drip irrigation kits are packed with components, and losing only one of these can result in a faulty system.
So, when you receive your drip irrigation kit, clear a large, clean space to unpack it. If possible, unpack your kit in a spacious room free of pets or children. Doing so will make it easier for you to lay out all the parts, and you’ll be less likely to discover that some of your components have gone missing.
Read the Manufacturer’s Instructions
Almost every drip irrigation kit comes with a set of instructions to help guide you through the setup process. If your chosen kit doesn’t come with an instructional booklet or guide, you might be able to find a video tutorial online.
Either way, studying the instructional information before cutting tubing, connecting emitters, or bringing your components outside is essential. Doing so can prevent mistakes that could render your drip irrigation system useless.
Most guide booklets have step-by-step instructions to walk you through drip irrigation installation. Review these instructions before you grab your scissors or measure tubing.
Drip irrigation systems can minimize the labor required to keep your garden well-watered. They can also reduce water usage and keep your plant’s roots adequately hydrated.
Your choices include porous pipe, punch-in emitter, and drip irrigation system kits. Porous pipe systems are generally the easiest to install, though they’re not as precise as punch-in or pre-installed systems.
Installing each of these systems requires different tools and supplies, so be sure to review your budget and measure your garden before making your decision.