One of the main benefits of drip irrigation is efficient water conservation. Instead of supplying water to the unnecessary areas of the landscape, drip irrigation applies water to the roots of plants alone. When the summer comes, you may want to conserve even more water, but can you do so by covering drip irrigation with mulch?
You can cover drip irrigation with mulch to conserve moisture by reducing evaporation. However, mulching your drip irrigation before seed germination can lead to poor germination uniformity. Therefore, you should only cover the drip lines and the surrounding areas with mulch after seed germination.
As a concerned farmer or gardener, you want to learn how to keep your drip irrigation working efficiently, conserve water, and keep your crops safe. Therefore, it’s essential for you to get to know the dos and don’ts of covering your drip lines with mulch. In the following sections, I’ll be taking you through everything you need to know about covering drip irrigation with mulch, along with some additional tips and tricks on caring for your irrigation system.
Why Is Mulching Good for Drip Irrigation?
Mulching is good for drip irrigation because it conserves moisture by reducing evaporation. This helps reduce your water bill while keeping your plants healthy.
According to a study by Texas A&M University, mulching reduces water loss by up to 25 percent. Because drip irrigation applies water according to a plant’s specific needs at a given time, the rate at which the water drips reduces when the soil has more water.
Other Ways To Hide Drip Irrigation
Mulching materials like grass clippings and hay can be challenging to find, especially if you have a large garden. If you can’t find mulching materials, there are other ways to hide your drip irrigation system as discussed below:
Run the Drip Irrigation Lines Beneath Raised Bed
This is a popular method among farmers with small landscapes (or gardeners). If you have raised beds, you can run the drip irrigation lines beneath them. This way, the lines will be hidden from view, and your plants will get some much-needed water.
The placement of the raised beds is crucial when it comes to hiding drip irrigation lines. Place the beds so the lines pass through or below them.
Use Color Camouflage
Drip lines come in various colors and sizes. If you want to hide your drip irrigation system, you can use color camouflage by choosing one that will blend in with your landscape’s surroundings.
For instance, if your garden has dark earth, you can choose a black or brown drip irrigation line. On the other hand, if you have lighter soil, you can choose a light blue line.
Use Drip Tape With Mulch
Drip tape is a type of thin-walled plastic tubing used for irrigation. It’s cheaper and easier to install than other types of irrigation tubing.
Drip tape is available in various colors, sizes, and lengths. You can choose one that will best suit your needs in terms of landscape size, water quantity, and pressure.
Mulching the drip tape will help keep it hidden from view while providing the necessary irrigation to your plants.
Do’s and Don’ts When Hiding Drip Irrigation
Hiding drip irrigation lines with mulch is beneficial to your garde and crops. However, the practice doesn’t just consist of waking up one day and covering your drip lines with mulch; you’ll do more harm than good to your plants, and the drip irrigation system this way. You need to know what to do and what to avoid.
The following are the do’s and don’ts when hiding drip irrigation:
Do Water After Mulching
After applying the mulch, you need to ensure it settles into place to serve its intended purpose, hiding your drip irrigation. For the mulch to stay in place, you need to water it. The water will help the mulch stick to the ground and provide additional protection for your drip irrigation system.
Moreover, watering after (instead of before) mulching prevents soil erosion which can degrade your soil’s fertility. Remember, apart from retaining water, you want to keep your crops healthy and well-fed.
Do Apply a Thin Layer of Mulch
You don’t want to suffocate your plants with too much mulch because they need air too. According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, a 4-inch mulch (10.16 cm) layer is ideal for most crops. This layer will help regulate soil temperature, conserve moisture, and prevent weeds from growing.
Weeds not only consume the water meant for your plants but also compete with crops for essential nutrients in the soil. You don’t want that on your farm or garden.
Do Use Organic Mulches
Organic mulches like wood chips, bark, leaves, and straw help improve the fertility of your garden. They decompose and release essential nutrients into the soil, which help crops grow healthy and strong.
On the other hand, inorganic mulches like black plastic prevent air and water from getting to the roots of plants. They also increase the soil’s temperature, which could be detrimental to some crops.
Do Run the Line at an Angle Down the Slope
When hiding drip irrigation on a sloped garden, you need to make sure the line runs at an angle down the slope. This way, water will be evenly distributed throughout the area regardless of the incline and gravitational pull.
If you run the line parallel to the slope, all the water will flow to one side, and your plants on that side will be over-watered while those on the other side will be under-watered.
Don’t Hide the Entire Drip Irrigation System
Hiding the entire drip irrigation system can reduce its efficiency. The emitters need to be visible for water to drip through. If you cover them with mulch, the water will have a hard time getting through, and in some cases, it might not drip.
If the water doesn’t drip as needed, your plants will dry out, and in severe cases, they might die.
Don’t Use Wet Mulch
Wet mulch is hard to spread, and it can damage your drip irrigation system. Waterlogged mulch is also a breeding ground for pests and diseases which can ruin your crops.
It’s best to wait until the mulch dries out before using it. Dry mulch ensures even distribution and prevents root rot due to waterlogging.
Don’t Cover the Seeds Before Germination
Mulching the seeds before germination is one of the causes of poor germination uniformity along drip lines. The mulch can prevent the water from getting to all the seeds, making the germination poor.
It’s advisable to wait until the plants have germinated before applying mulch around them.
Types of Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation systems are classified according to the type of emitter they use. Based on this classification, there are four types of drip irrigation systems:
Porous Pipe Drip Irrigation System
This irrigation system is also known as drip hose irrigation or the soaker hose system. It’s the most common type of drip irrigation system, mainly used on small farms or gardens.
The system allows water to seep through a porous pipe when the spigot is turned on. The water then flows out through holes or emitters along the hose length to the plants’ roots.
Porous pipe drip irrigation is easy to install and doesn’t require much maintenance. However, it’s not as efficient as other drip irrigation systems.
Micro-Misting Drip Irrigation System
This system combines a traditional sprinkler system and the regular drip irrigation system to apply water at low pressure as a fanlike spray. Thus, the system is efficient for large portions of land like vineyards and orchards that need a constant moisture supply.
One disadvantage of this system is that it’s prone to evaporation. Therefore, it increases the risk of water loss.
Emitter Line Drip Irrigation System
This is the most common type of drip irrigation system.
The emitter line drip irrigation system waters the garden by pre-installed tubes through evenly distributed emitters. In most cases, the emitters are spaced 15 inches (38.1 cm) apart.
This system is efficient and can be used on small to large garden. However, one disadvantage of this system is that it’s more expensive than other varieties.
Punch-In Drip Irrigation System
In this system, emitter holes are hand-punched in the tubing before fitting the emitters. Therefore, this system is more customizable to fit the specific irrigation needs of the garden. You can place the emitters anywhere along the tubing according to your desired spacing.
Benefits of Mulching for the Garden and Crops
Apart from reducing water loss and hiding the drip irrigation system, mulching is essential for your garden in the following ways:
Preventing Weed Growth
Weeds are a common problem in most garden as they compete for water and space with the plants. Mulching is an effective way to prevent the growth of weeds by blocking sunlight and interfering with their germination process.
As discussed by AgriLife Today, organic mulches like leaves, grass, and hay are efficient at managing weeds compared to newspapers. Weeds can push through light mulches like newspapers and make their way up to receive sunlight and flourish. Therefore, your work would be in vain.
Keeping your garden free from weeds ensures:
- The healthy growth of your crops.
- An excellent appearance for an aesthetic garden.
- Reduced time spent on weeding.
Maintaining Soil Temperature and Moisture
Mulching helps regulate soil temperature by providing insulation against the sun’s harsh rays during summer and retaining heat during winter. This protects your plants’ roots from extreme temperatures that could lead to plant death or stunted growth.
Mulching also helps the soil retain moisture by slowing evaporation. This is essential as it prevents plants from wilting and dying due to a lack of water. When the soil is dry, it becomes loose, exposing your plants’ roots to the sun and wind, which could damage them.
Improving Soil Fertility
Mulching can improve the fertility of your soil as it replenishes essential nutrients in the earth. For example, when you use leaves as mulch, they decompose and release nitrogen, a necessary nutrient for plant growth.
You can also use manure as mulch to improve your soil’s fertility. When you spread it on your garden, the manure enriches the soil with nutrients like phosphorus and potassium, which are necessary for plant growth.
Although you can use mineral fertilizers to enhance soil fertility, an article by Ngosong, Justin and Tening discusses that you need organic inputs for sustainability. Mineral fertilizers alone can worsen soil fertility by hastening soil carbon loss.
Encouraging Biological Activities
According to the Ohio State University Extension, biological activities in the soil cycle nutrients, add organic matter and enhance biodiversity.
Mulching can encourage these activities by providing a conducive environment for soil organisms. For instance, it provides the perfect habitat for earthworms, which are essential for aerating the soil and breaking down organic matter.
Improving Soil Structure
The soil’s structure is essential as it affects how water and air move through it. Healthy soil has large pores that allow air and water to enter and exit easily.
Mulching can improve your soil’s structure by increasing its pore space. This is because mulch decreases compaction, which would otherwise make it hard for water and air to move through the soil.
A well-structured soil is essential for:
- The deep growth of your plants’ roots into the ground, which strengthens and prevents them from being uprooted by strong winds or floods.
- Draining excess water quickly after rainfall to prevent your plants’ roots from rotting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Bury Drip Irrigation?
You can bury drip irrigation lines underground with great care to avoid squeezing the irrigation tube. A squeezed irrigation tube will not supply enough water to the plants. I did write a complete in-depth article about burying drip irrigation lines here.
Can You Bury Emitter Tubing?
You can’t bury emitter tubing due to the risk of clogging the emitters. The best way to hide emitter tubing is through mulching, as doing so doesn’t compromise the health of your plants and soil.
Mulching benefits your drip irrigation system by conserving water and improving soil fertility. Therefore, this agronomic practice can help you improve your farm or garden’s yield and appearance. You can use organic materials like leaves and manure to hide your drip irrigation system.