Spray Irrigation Vs Drip Irrigation

Oct 6, 2020 | Agriculture, Commercial Landscapes, Domestic Gardens, Retirement Villages, Turf

Is spray irrigation better than drip irrigation or the other way around?

People ask us these questions all the time! Universities and manufacturers around the world conduct research that theoretically answers these questions.

I wanted to answer these questions based on 20 years of experience rather than what works in theory. I will also answer them based on our expertise in landscape rather than agricultural irrigation. The answer is that both have their rightful place within a landscape.

What I love about spray irrigation:

  • Problems with the system are more accessible to spot than the dripline; if you have a broken irrigation head, there is a good chance that none of the sprays on that zone will work. It will instantly alert you to a problem with the system.
  • Longevity: Spray irrigation systems are easier to maintain and tend to have a longer lifespan than drip irrigation
  • You can see the irrigation system at work. Sometimes, it’s nice to hear the system running for peace of mind that it came on.

What I dislike about spray irrigation:

  • Landscape architects don’t tend to design their jobs based on irrigation sprinkler uniformity! Creating a spray irrigation system with uniform coverage in large open turf areas is easy. However, designing a spray irrigation system with consistent coverage in landscapes with curves, angles, trees in the way, plants with thick foliage, and hard surfaces everywhere can be challenging.
  • Vandals love breaking sprinklers. They also tend to be in parks and gardens when sprinklers turn on at night.
  • Sprays and wind don’t work well together.
  • During water restrictions, authorities often prohibit the use of spray irrigation. 
  • To effectively use spray systems, your mains must have adequate pressure. Unfortunately, many regions in Melbourne, especially newer estates, suffer from low mains pressure. You might need to boost your pressure with a pump to utilize spray irrigation.

What I love about drip irrigation:

  • Shapes, curves, and hard surfaces in the landscape are less of an issue with dripline
  • Less likely to be vandalized (If appropriately installed)
  • Less skill required for installation
  • Can run at lower pressures than sprays
  • Easier to get good irrigation coverage in difficult areas
  • Not wind-affected
  • It can be very efficient (it can also be very inefficient if not maintained properly)
  • It can be used to safely distribute lower-quality water in public areas (See EPA guidelines)

What I dislike about drip irrigation:

  • It is often installed without consideration for quality workmanship
  • If not installed correctly, it can quickly become a tripping hazard.
  • Shorter lifespan than sprays
  • Can be difficult to find problems (Think of a dripline that has been cut through by a shovel and then hidden under mulch and thick plant coverage)
  • Easier to get good irrigation coverage in difficult areas
  • Not wind-affected
  • If not looked after and maintained, it can quickly become inefficient (Over dripline can get chewed by rodents and pets, a thick tree root can rip a fitting out, a section of dripline can get blocked with debris, drip filters get clogged, the Dripline is not flushed regularly, etc.). As soon as these things happen, your dripline becomes completely inefficient, and you tend to find out when you get a huge water bill or plants start dying. From my experience, most landscape drip irrigation systems need to get the care they desperately need and become far less efficient than a spray system.
  • It doesn’t tend to be as effective as sprays in sandy soils.
  • The method of watering with drip irrigation has yet to be understood by many people who schedule irrigation systems. In dry conditions or hot weather, the drip system run times often get “Ramped up,” but often, this method does very little to get much-needed water to where it’s needed. The Sprinkler Nerd is an excellent resource for learning more. To listen to their podcast, click here.

So, is drip irrigation or spray irrigation better? Well, it can be challenging to answer. However, I will install a spray irrigation system when we move into our new home in 6 weeks.


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