How to Winterize your Drip Irrigation System
The winter months for most gardeners are a time to put up the garden tools, turn off the water, and wait for the warmer days of spring. However, this is not a time to leave a drip irrigation system to the snow and icy cold weather.
Winterizing one’s drip irrigation system is essential for the longevity of this useful - yet fragile - system. By taking the time to prepare it for the winter months, one may not have to run to the store to buy new hoses, tubing or timers during the spring and summer months (especially if budgets are tight).
What is a Drip Irrigation System?
The Drip irrigation system is an automated watering system that uses precious and fragile materials. Water drips from a hose that's positioned above or near a plant or flower's roots. In some cases, the system is a converted sprinkler head that connects several flexible tubes that run the length and width of the garden in numerous directions
In most cases, a timer is used to set a time when the dripping can start or end. However, other systems will use a manual valve to control the water output.
Its purpose is to keep plants and flowers watered on a regular basis and to conserve water at the same time.
These systems come in various shapes and sizes. Some are made for small backyard gardens, while others are created for farms (note: for this article, the focus will be on the smaller backyard type of drip system).All of them have a water source -- whether it's a garden hose or faucet, or a portable water barrel.
Water trapped in this system during the winter can turn to ice and cause damage to the tubing
The Threat of Winter Upon this System
To some degree, winter can be unpredictable depending on the climate and location of the household and lawn. It doesn’t matter exactly where the locale is, winters nearly everywhere in the U.S. can present many unique challenges to one’s lawn and drip irrigation system.
For instance, the high desert area of Southern California can experience extreme temperatures during this season. Night can fall below freezing levels while the day can shoot up to the high 70 or 80 degrees Fahrenheit . Also, this particular region will experience snow flurries, harsh, cold rains and strong winds.
Water trapped in this system during the winter can turn to ice and cause damage to the tubing. Since winter temperatures can fluctuate greatly (especially in the Southern California’s high desert area), this can stress the tubing and possibly cause ruptures or brittleness. Also, the weight and moisture of the snow can ruin the timer if it is exposed to the elements..
Throughout most of the U.S, however, cold frosts, snowy conditions, freezing temperatures are common during winter.
What to Do?
There are measures one can take to prevent winter from destroying this system. The website, Learnabout.Info, lists several tasks one can take to winterize a drip irrigation system:
- Bring timers, filters, regulators and electronic valves indoors. These items are extremely vulnerable to the cold and wet conditions of winter.
- Cover up or plug the main line tubing. Find the beginning or opening and cover it with a plastic bag and rubber band or a HPLUG. (Hose plug). Either way, the tubing shouldn’t be left open
- Shut off the main water supply and open all manual valves.
- Unscrew the fittings and drain any water from the system. Afterward, replace the fitting. This is imperative to remove the water from the hose. If any is left there’s a possibility that the trapped water will freeze, expand and ruin the system’s tubing.
- Next, remove water from the lines to prevent it from settling in “low spots” in the system. Low spots can be areas where the hose bends downward, forming a catch basin. This can be a problem, considering that water can collect here. Be sure to raise it to a point that it can drain away from this area or that it is not sagging when stored.
- The site suggests that an air compressor can be used to blow air through the lines after opening the end cap. This is known as the Blow Out Method. Other items that can be used in place of an air compressor are flush valves or emitters. They can be placed at the low points of the hose. Often, this may require service from a professional.
A video of this method can be viewed here:
Using the Blow-Out Method
Protect Your Asset
A drip irrigation system is meant to place water strategically at a slow rate and use up to 50% less water than what would usually be used in conventional watering. It’s meant to save the consumer money on the water bills.
However, if this system is not taken care of – especially during the winter years -- one will have to spend more money trying to fix or replace the system rather than reaping its benefits
More on Drip Irrigation Systems
© 2016 Dean Traylor