Choosing the Right Irrigation System

Did you know that about half of the water used at the average home goes towards landscape irrigation, and that about half of the landscape water is wasted? Most sprinkler systems are inefficient and tend to waste a lot of water.

The most water-efficient irrigation system is you! That’s right, people who water by hand tend to use the least amount of water on their landscapes. The drawback with this method is that people are not always available when the plants need watering, so the latter become unhealthy and the former unhappy. Fortunately, you can design your landscape to incorporate the most drought-tolerant plants, requiring no more than once per week watering, even during the summer (certain short-rooted plants in hot sunny parts of the landscape).

But when the convenience of an in-ground irrigation system is needed, it’s important to know that different types of systems are more water-efficient than others. Below are the major types of water-efficient irrigation systems.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is a precise, slow, direct system of applying water to the soil, which makes 100% of the water available to the plant. Where drip systems release so many gallons of water per hour, traditional sprayheads release up to four or more gallons per minute. The environmental and water-saving benefits of drip include decreased run-off, evaporation, and overspray. Drip irrigation is often preferred where you have relatively few plants spread over a large area (for example, a few large bushes with a lot of open space between them) or where you have hard-to-water areas such as narrow planters. When installing drip, you must include a devise to lower the water pressure and a special filter to keep the system from clogging up.


Bubblers are a form of precise watering that delivers water deep into the soil – hence, it is especially useful around plants that have deep roots, such as trees. Bubblers are also useful in certain planter boxes where traditional sprinklers will not work. Bubblers are durable, require little maintenance, require minimal filtration, minimize overspray and evaporation,and have an easily adjustable flow rate.

Stream Rotor Pop-ups

Stream rotors replace traditional pop-up sprayheads – that is, you simply screw the old top (the nozzle) off the pop-up and screw the stream rotor back in its place. Compared to traditional sprayheads, stream rotors are fairly water conserving and only release about 25 percent of the water per minute: reducing evaporation and reducing runoff. Stream rotors work well where you need to water a lot of plants that have fairly short root systems, like many groundcovers and bunchgrasses. The alternative irrigation system is to run an extensive drip system.

The information on this page can be found in greater detail in the Metropolitan Water District Irrigation Handbook. There is also an online irrigation class at For more information on any of these irrigation methods, go to the websites of the big irrigation manufacturers, such as Rainbird and Toro, and go to:

  • Home Depot
  • Lowes

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