Caring for your drip irrigation system is probably on your to-do list somewhere, but it’s often not seen as something that’s vital to your set-up until something goes wrong. (A drip irrigation system breakdown that results in your plants being damaged from lack of water is certainly something you’ll notice.)
However, a little TLC in the form of preventive maintenance throughout the growing season can help you stop these breakdowns from happening. Following these tips, you’ll keep your system clean of debris and bacteria while keeping the pieces and parts in optimal condition.
Visual Inspection of a Drip System
One of the first steps you should take is to visually inspect all the components of your drip irrigation system. Do you notice anything that seems like it’s getting worn or doesn’t look as it should? These are the parts that you’re going to want to replace sooner rather than later. After all, that worn tubing may start leaking water out into areas that aren’t benefited by it, costing you money and wasting water.
Cracks and Leaks
Any cracks or leaks you find should be fixed right away. With tubing, you can repair or replace just a section, or replace the whole thing, depending on the severity of the damage. It’s possible that if you repair a section, it could need replacing again in a short time. It may be easier to repair during the season and replace at the end of the season, but it’s all up to you and your set-up.
Algae and Bacteria Buildups
The inside of your drip irrigation tubes can look like a science project gone bad. They can be green and slimy from a buildup of algae and bacteria. Not only does this look gross, but it can also increase the potential for clogs occurring in your lines when some of it breaks off and goes through the tubes.
Adding a commercial bacteria and algae control agent is one way to battle this ongoing issue. You could also do a daily rinse of chlorine in your lines. Two parts per million at the end of the cycle for the day is enough to work on the bacteria and algae without causing it to damage your set-up.
One of the most important components of your system is the emitters, which is where the water is released to your plants. Depending on what is running through your line, your emitters can get clogged up. Even a partial clog can cause your crops to not get the full amount of nutrients and water they need.
Magnesium and calcium salts are often culprits here. You should rinse your emitters out as best you can, but they may require a deeper cleaning. Soaking them for a few hours or overnight in a vinegar and water solution is often a great way to get them clear. This may be an additional chore for your end-of-year flushing tasks.
The next part that you should inspect is your filter. Screen filters and disc filters should both be checked and cleaned periodically. Screen filters often get clogged easier and can sometimes be difficult to clean. Disc filters, in comparison, offer better filtering and easy backflushing in addition to being harder to clog.
At the end of your growing season, you should consider doing a deep clean on your system. You’ll want to flush the lines with a phosphoric, sulfuric, or nitric acid solution. The lines should be flushed for about an hour using your preferred acid. It may take longer if you have a buildup in your system.
Overnight soaking may be necessary for a really stubborn buildup. After you’ve flushed the lines with the acid, you should follow up with flushing the lines with water to remove the acid from your drip irrigation system.
Remember to use caution when working with any acid. Use the proper safety equipment to protect your skin and face. Also, be sure that you don’t pour water into acid as this can cause the acid to splash out of the container. Instead, add the acid to the water.
Your drip irrigation system takes care of you and your crops, so it only makes sense to give it some TLC throughout the growing season. Don’t take it for granted and it should keep running smoothly. It’s better to find a small problem during your visual inspection and maintenance during the year than to ignore it until a big problem arises.