By Benjamin Raines
Due to the current state of the economy, the landscaping industry is being forced to step back from typical business practices and start to think outside the box. Both potential and existing customers are just as affected in this market, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to offer new services for which they will part with their hard earned money. How can you make your business more profitable in a stagnant market and increase sales?
An important factor to consider is that water restrictions are becoming increasingly prevalent nationwide, and there needs to be more of a focus on water efficiency and conservation practices. Drought ordinances, along with restricted watering schedules, are being adopted in many regions as a response to the insufficient water supply. In some cases, irrigation is restricted entirely. Along with water restrictions, the cost of water is going to be greatly increased (if it hasn’t been already in your area). Being proactive by educating and offering your clients valid solutions to these predicaments can easily be translated to profit. Installing drip irrigation in all non-turf areas is a great place to start.
Drip irrigation (a.k.a. low-volume/micro irrigation) when installed correctly can save up to 60 percent of water costs over conventional sprinkler systems. Many other benefits are associated with drip irrigation, including elimination overspray and water run-off, less weed growth, and healthier plants due to the slow delivery of water. In addition, water restriction laws are typically bypassed when drip irrigation is used, allowing customers to irrigate even on non-watering days. This opens up a great opportunity to increase sales.
When first looking into drip irrigation it can tend to be a little overwhelming since there are many options to achieve a functioning drip system. Once you understand the basic and necessary components, you’ll find that assembly and installation is fairly simple.
There are multiple ways to install an efficient, water-conserving drip system. For first-time installations and even retrofitting an existing system, it is important to start the system correctly with a proper head assembly. A drip zone head assembly will include a valve, followed by a filter then a pressure regulator. Perhaps the most important part of a correctly operating drip system is the pressure regulator. Drip systems must have a low pressure range (25 to 35 psi) or they will not function properly. A correct pressure range can insure that each drip emitter is producing the gallon per hour (gph) that it states. Often, systems will be installed and a pressure regulator is forgotten or missed, resulting in inconsistencies in flow rates and emitters popping off the mainline. To avoid frustration, it is essential to have a pressure regulator when starting a drip system.
Starting at the water source, run poly tubing throughout the areas that will be irrigated with drip. Poly tubing, available in 1/2-, 3/4- and 1-inch diameters, is considered the primary lateral line with drip irrigation. The poly tubing allows the ability to insert drip emitters directly into the poly tubing with a small handheld punch or branch off to plants using 1/4-inch microtubing. Poly tubing can be buried or left on the surface, depending on your aesthetic preference, and can be cut with scissors or pruning shears. If left in the sun for a few minutes the poly tubing becomes more pliable and easier to work with. UV inhibitors within the poly tubing protect it from direct sun exposure so that a long life is ensured whether or not you decide to bury it. After the desired length of poly tubing has been run, close off the end of the line using a figure-8 end closure or a compression end cap, leaving the end of the poly tubing above ground to enable periodic flushing to remove debris from installing drippers.
Point source drip emitters are most commonly used in a drip irrigation system. There are many different types of drip emitters available to choose from with multiple flow rates — though the most popular are pressure compensating emitters (PC). PC emitters contain internal diaphragms that are self-cleaning and regulate to the specific flow rate stated. Installing PC emitters can be beneficial for long runs and uneven landscapes because they will consistently provide an accurate flow rate.
Soil type should be considered when installing drip irrigation. Emitter flow rates should be chosen based on how well the soil absorbs water. Select dripper flow rates based upon the site soil type. With heavier clay soils, use 1/2- or 1-gph emitters, with lighter, sandy soils, go with 2- or 4-gph emitters.
Existing sprinkler systems can be easily converted into multi-outlet drip systems. Retrofit drip manifolds mount directly onto 1/2-inch risers in place of existing sprinkler heads, and are available in four to 12 outlets. Drip manifolds come with pres-set and adjustable flow rates (1/2 to 20 gph) and do not require an inline pressure regulator if your existing pressure is at or below 60 psi. One-quarter-inch poly or vinyl microtubing is used to run from to the drip manifold to the plant in lengths up to 25 feet. Also used for first time installations, drip manifolds are typically set within plant groupings, and placed below the surface inside 6-inch valve boxes.
Emitter line (a.k.a. dripline) is another method of installing drip irrigation. Drip emitters come pre-installed within the poly tubing and the line is easily rolled out along the desired area to be irrigated. With multiple flow rates and various dripper spacings, dripline is an uncomplicated installation that is perfect for row plantings and densely planted areas. The pre-installed drip emitters are self flushing and typically contain two outlets per drippers in order to minimize clogging. In addition, dripline is available with pressure-compensating drip emitters to ensure consistent flow rates.
Drip irrigation systems use compression fittings that require no glue; and a hand punch tool for installing drip emitters is the only drip-specific tool necessary. This makes for simple repairs and modifications due to changes in the layout of the landscape. To change the location of a drip emitter, simply pull out the emitter, insert a goof plug, and use a punch to install in a new location.
Drip irrigation is not just an option to save water, but also has the potential to save your clients money as well. This method of irrigation can become a valuable sales tool that allows you to promote your business. All of the incentives drip irrigation offers can produce fantastic sales opportunities in addition to creating a new strategy to expand and remarket your business.
Benjamin Raines is marketing specialist at DIG Corporation, a Vista, Calif. provider of quality low-volume irrigation products. For more information, visit www.digcorp.com.