Keeping up with watering your garden can be a challenge. Vacations, busy schedules, and changing weather conditions can all leave flowers, veggies, and shrubs thirsty. But install one of the best drip irrigation systems, which are sold in kits containing all you need, and you’ll solve this common problem. Drip irrigation is a system of hoses, nozzles, sprinklers, and tubes that deliver the proper amount of water to each plant, which helps you avoid both under- and overwatering.
When set to a timer, the best drip irrigation systems water automatically, and they’re easy to install and maintain. You’ll even find drip irrigation systems geared toward different types of gardens. Keep reading to learn how these worry-free watering systems work and why the following products rank as best in class:
- BEST FOR RAISED BEDS: Raindrip Vegetable Garden Drip Watering Kit
- BEST FOR HANGING PLANTERS: Orbit Hanging Basket Flex-Mist Watering Kit
- BEST FOR CONTAINERS: Orbit Micro Watering Drip Kit
- BEST FOR LARGE PLOTS: Rain Bird Drip Expansion Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Pathonor Drip Irrigation Kit
Types of Nozzles in Drip Irrigation Systems
Drip irrigation systems require several different emitter nozzles. Depending on your garden’s design and needs, some of these nozzles will be better suited than others. Before you attempt to plan out your irrigation system, familiarize yourself with the following types of emitter nozzles, each with strengths and weaknesses worth considering.
Micro-spray sprinklers are helpful devices that can make the most of a low-pressure drip irrigation system. They install alongside taller plants or are used to hit a few plants with greater water needs while leaving less-needy plants alone. They’re designed with improved spray range over other emitter types with the same pressure. Construct micro-spray sprinklers from four pieces as follows:
- Run a length of ¼-inch tubing to the sprinkler’s desired location.
- Attach tubing to a base with a stake driven into the ground.
- Use a piece of stiff tubing to create a riser and attach it to the base.
- Screw a micro-spray nozzle onto the end of the riser.
The riser allows the head to stand above taller plants and makes directing the spray easier. Micro-spray sprinkler heads often have built-in adjustable valves to control the spray.
Often favored by landscape gardeners and great for plants that don’t do well with water on their leaves (like tomatoes and eggplants), point-source emitters are nonadjustable, preset nozzles that distribute a set amount of water to a plant per hour. They’re excellent for use with “satellite” plants in planters and hanging baskets as well as sensitive vegetables. Point-source emitters can be installed via a few different methods:
- Plugged directly into the main hose
- Installed under the plant with a length of tubing connecting to the main hose
- Plugged into the main hose with a length of tubing running to the plant.
Whichever way you install emitters, they’re usually preset at ½, 1, or 2 GPH (gallons per hour). You need to use a manufacturer’s chart to determine the correct nozzle for your particular plants. Too much water could drown plants that prefer to be a little dry, while too little water will stunt a plant’s potential.
In-Line Drip Emitters
For those with a more laid-back approach to garden irrigation, in-line drip emitters are a fast and easy way to distribute H2O. These hoses are smaller in diameter than the main hose but may come in various lengths. Emitters are built into tubing throughout its length, allowing gardeners to weave the hose in between plants and provide water without putting a bunch of emitters in the main hose. This is a low-maintenance and leak-reducing irrigation method.
In-line drip emitter hose watering rates differ from point-source models, as they aren’t determined by GPH ratings. Generally speaking, in-line hoses come in ¼-inch and ½-inch diameters, with spacing set between 6 and 12 inches. Check the manufacturer’s information to determine what you require for your particular gardening needs.
A potentially useful addition to your drip irrigation system, basin bubblers are small, low-pressure sprinkler-style nozzles staked into the ground and connected to the drip system’s main hose. They spray water in a 360-degree pattern, hitting all the plants around them. They’re extremely helpful in a cluster of flowers and plants as they reduce the need for individual nozzles.
These bubblers hook to the main hose with a small length of tubing. They’re simple to install and reposition, and pressure adjustments are easy to make at any time. The bubblers’ heads screw in or out to throttle the water flow.
What to Consider When Choosing a Drip Irrigation System
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of systems and emitters, you can focus on creating your garden’s ideal system. The size and type of garden, along with the type of soil and other factors, are worth noting and planning for. Here are some factors to keep in mind when buying a drip irrigation system.
The size of your garden will determine your system’s setup and the kit that you need. For smaller gardens, a single kit is often enough to install an effective drip irrigation system. Larger gardens may require additional lengths of tubing and emitters. You may even find that you’re better off with two separate systems that run at different times to different locations around your property.
Different plant species require different amounts of water. Depending on what you’re growing, you might have to get creative with a system of in-line and point-source emitters. One of the great values of a drip irrigation system is how flexible they are. If designed correctly, a single system can water a wide variety of plants.
There are six types of soil—clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky, and loamy—all with varying nutrient contents and drainage characteristics. It’s important to understand the type of soil you have so you can choose the best drip irrigation system for your needs. Generally speaking, garden soil is a nice mixture of these soil types and tends to offer a good blend of nutrients and water-holding capabilities. If you’re watering raised or flower beds filled with garden soil, you shouldn’t have much issue making a drip irrigation system work for you.
Once you’ve determined the plants and soil you have, you can figure out the plants’ water needs and choose the correct emitters.
Even plants with low water needs can suffer in fast-draining, fast-drying soils. In this case, you’ll need to increase the size of point-source emitters or use in-line tubing with closer emitter spacing. Consider a 1-GPH emitter or 9-inch spacing for these scenarios. You might even consider amending the soil with fertilizer or peat moss to increase nutrients and slow the drainage.
Plants with high water needs in poorly drained soils can also suffer if overwatered. If this is the situation in your garden, you may be better off purchasing half-gallon emitters or 12-inch spaced in-line tubing to help keep your plants from drowning. You might want to work some sand into the soil as well to increase drainage.
The amount of pressure that flows through a drip irrigation system can fluctuate, depending on hose length and garden bed elevation, among other factors. This can cause emitters to flow differently than designed, with more or less water flow depending on pressure.
To combat this, the best drip irrigation system emitters are pressure compensating by design. They’ll emit the same amount of water regardless of the pressure at their inlet (where they attach to the main hose). They provide consistent watering conditions and ensure that all plants along the system stay watered.
You might not consider a filter important for your drip system—until you get a clog in your ¼-inch tubing. Water systems often contain sediment, dirt, or even scaling from metal pipes, all of which can result in obstructions that limit water flow.
An in-line screen filter protects your system from these pressure-blocking particles. They install at the hose faucet and catch obstructions before they can make it into the system. If you notice water flow starting to reduce throughout your system, it’s a safe bet that you need to remove the screen and clean it out.
Dirt, small insects, and other obstructions can make their way into a drip irrigation system through the emitters—and in-line screen filters can’t prevent these intruders. Some systems, however, come with automatic flush valves that help reduce the possibility of a clog. These valves install at the end of the system and will automatically open when the pressure in the system drops (like when the water shuts off). Residual water drains out of the system through these open valves, clearing some of the sediment that has collected.
Built-in Check Valves
The water to your home could be compromised if the water pressure suddenly drops when your drip system is running. In such a case, the hose faucet can back-feed water from the drip system into the house, resulting in a contaminated water system that isn’t safe to drink or use for bathing.
To reduce this risk, install a check valve in your system. These valves allow water to flow in one direction and shut off automatically when any backpressure occurs, or the pressure in the system behind it drops. If your drip irrigation system doesn’t come with a check valve, it’s important to purchase one and install it at the hose faucet.
Not all systems come with automatic timers, but most systems will benefit from one. These programmable valves turn on at a set time and run for a specific interval. You can choose the exact amount of water your system gets without activating the system manually. You’ll have remarkably consistent results in your garden, and you’ll be able to regulate your water usage perfectly. Plus, you needn’t remember to turn your system on or off.
Our Top Picks
These top picks for best drip irrigation systems factor in all the considerations mentioned above. Whether it’s raised beds or hanging baskets, there’s a drip irrigation system on this list for your needs.
This kit makes watering raised beds straightforward and easy. It comes with a length of in-line emitter hose (spaced at 12 inches) and stakes to hold it in place. It simply screws onto a hose faucet or the end of a garden hose. This simple setup will have you watering your garden in minutes.
There’s not a ton of flexibility with this system, though. It doesn’t include any fittings for creating hose grids; it’s purely a plug-and-play kit that will keep your garden’s raised beds irrigated.
- Length: 50 feet
- Filter: None
- Additional Features: None
- Very simple to install
- Long 50-foot hose
- No filter, so may clog over time
Get the Raindrip drip irrigation system at Amazon, Ace Hardware, Shell Lumber, or Walmart.
Hanging baskets add considerable beauty, but they can be a hassle to water. This drip irrigation kit from Orbit automatically waters your baskets, leaving you to sit back and enjoy them. This system includes an automatic timer that will turn your system on and off according to your settings. It also features clips to pin the hoses in place so you can run them directly over your hanging baskets and tie in the nozzles.
Perhaps the best part of this system is its “Flex-Mist” flexible nozzle tubing that will hold its position, creating pinpoint accuracy and minimizing water waste. While this system works very well for hanging baskets, it will be difficult to retrofit it for other uses. The clips won’t keep hoses in place in a flower bed, likely leaving the nozzles in the dirt.
- Length: 50 feet
- Filter: None
- Additional Features: Pressure reducer, faucet timer, mist sprayers
- Comes with a faucet timer for easy use
- 6 mist-sprayer attachments included
- Robust system can last for years
- Users may need more elbows and clips
Get the Orbit hanging basket drip irrigation system on Amazon or at Lowe’s.
Watering containers can be tricky, but Orbit has figured out how to get the job done effectively with its Micro Watering Drip Kit. It includes eight bubblers and all the necessary hoses and fittings to hook them up in pots and containers. The hose can hide behind a pot or run through it from the bottom. Either way will feed a bubbler to water an entire pot.
The kit will cover 250 square feet, but it only has eight bubblers. For this reason, large multiple- container gardens may require more kits. Perhaps the best way to use this Orbit system is as an expansion kit for an already-installed system.
- Length: 50 feet of ½-inch tubing and 50 feet of ¼-inch tubing
- Filter: None
- Additional Features: Hole-punch tool, micro-bubblers
- Easily expandable for larger areas
- 100 feet of tubing included
- Helps save water
- May clog over time without a filter
Get the Orbit micro watering drip irrigation system at Orbit.
While some folks run multiple drip systems, an easier approach for an extensive garden may be to expand the system you already have. The drip expansion kit from Rain Bird has all the fittings, nozzles, and tubing you’ll need to run extra sections of drip irrigation across your property. It includes 40 pressure-compensating, self-piercing emitters and features a clever installation and removal tool that makes putting emitters and fittings into the lines much easier.
Just keep in mind that this is an expansion and repair kit; it doesn’t come with any faucet connectors or valves. It’s meant for making additions or fixes to your established system, not installing a brand-new one.
- Length: 250 feet
- Filter: Faucet adapter and filter included
- Additional Features: Bug guards, emitters
- Plenty of tubing
- Comes with a filter and bug guards
- Has accessories for most situations
- Can be tricky to keep tubing lines organized
Get the Rain Bird drip irrigation system at Amazon, Ace Hardware, The Home Depot, or Shell Lumber.
Drip irrigation costs can add up quickly. For home dwellers looking for the best drip irrigation system on a budget, the well-priced Pathonor kit features 50 feet of tubing (enough to cover a small garden), five nozzles, several three-way connectors, and stakes for holding the nozzles in place. It also has both universal and threaded hose connectors, making the kit flexible enough for various applications.
The kit’s faucet connector, while threaded, isn’t high quality, however—and those with high water pressure may find it pops off the faucet. This could cause your garden to flood while the valve is open.
- Length: 50 feet
- Filter: None
- Additional Features: Misting nozzles
- Easy to install
- Adjustable nozzles
- Plastic adapters are less durable
Get the Pathonor drip irrigation system at Walmart.
For moderate-size gardens that have a number of raised beds to be watered, the Raindrip drip irrigation system includes up to 50 feet of tubing and is simple to install. Shoppers with hanging baskets will appreciate the flex-mist Orbit hanging basket drip irrigation system, which also includes a handy auto-timer to set and forget your daily watering schedule.
How We Chose the Best Drip Irrigation Systems
When curating our list of recommendations, we looked at the best brands on the market for drip irrigation systems, with tubing made from durable materials that are less likely to wear out in harsh outdoor weather. We made sure to include options for both small and large areas, with 50-feet tubing ideal for moderate-size gardens and up to as much as 250 feet for larger spaces. We also included some options that are easily extendable when needed for budding green thumbs looking to install new planters.
Our research also took into consideration the various types of systems required for different gardens. Our top picks include solutions for hanging planters, raised beds, containers, and large garden plots.
The Advantages of Owning a Drip Irrigation System
From easy installation to automatic watering to low maintenance, drip irrigation systems will help create a better garden space for your home.
Drip irrigation systems are easy to install because they require little to no digging. The main distribution hoses come in colors that match your mulch, and they tack into place with landscaping staples. The emitters install with barbed fittings that push into the distribution hose by hand. They can then be installed anywhere in the garden by inserting a stake into the ground.
Automatic watering is undoubtedly the biggest advantage of drip irrigation. When it’s tied into an automatic timer, you can rest assured that your garden is getting water every day, whether you’re home or not. Also, by pairing the right emitter to the plants, you’ll know exactly how much water each is getting per hour.
Drip irrigation systems are low maintenance; simply flush the system any time you notice reduced flow and you’ll be back in business in no time. Repairs are simple, too. If a hose breaks, simply cut either side of it and install a hose connector. Even home dwellers with very little DIY experience can handle maintaining a drip irrigation system.
Because drip irrigation systems and their various parts may be unfamiliar to many people, here are some answers to the two most common questions folks often have about them.
Q: How do you install a drip irrigation system?
Irrigation systems are typically sold in kits with all the fittings needed to tie into your home’s hose faucet. Then it’s merely a matter of choosing how to run the main hoses and where you’d like your emitters to be. The emitters install along the main hose by poking their plastic barbed fittings wherever you choose, ideally near the plants you’d like watered.
Q: How do you lay out a drip irrigation system?
The simplest method for laying out a drip irrigation system is to use in-line emitter hoses. These hoses can snake around a garden bed between plants and flowers. Another approach, somewhat more complex, is to create zones (i.e., a stand of several plants in one area) and run branches of emitters to them, off the main distribution hose.