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Beginner’s Guide to Drip Irrigation


So, you’re interested in drip irrigation but you have no idea where to start. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Luckily we here at The Drip Store have been doing this since 1981, so we know a thing or two. 

This guide will give you an introduction to the basics of drip irrigation fit for a true beginner, and we’ll end with a link to our much more in-depth learning center if you want to dive further down the rabbit hole.

Step 1: Watch This Video

Don’t worry if you don’t know what products they’re talking about or understand the technical terms they use, just watch what they’re doing and how they put the various parts together.

Notice how the system starts with a connection to a water source, how the large tubing is laid generally through the area to be watered, and how individual parts are placed at each plant to water them. This is the core essence of drip irrigation, and a basic understanding of how it looks in the real world will help you while reading through the rest of this guide.


What Is Drip Irrigation?

Drip irrigation is the slow, precise application of water directly to the root zone of a plant. 

Unlike sprinklers, which spray water all over the place without a care for what gets watered, drip irrigation is much more directed. Water goes only where you want it to, meaning you don’t waste water helping weeds and other undesirables grow. 

It also applies the water slowly, making sure your plants have plenty of time to absorb the water. Lastly, because the water is directed and slowly applied, less water is lost to evaporation. This all results in a highly efficient, water-conscious system.

How Does Drip Irrigation Work?

Imagine the plumbing in your house. Not the actual plumbing, just the way you imagine it. There’s a big pipe under the street outside your house that supplies the water to your neighborhood (called a water main). Connected to that is a smaller pipe that supplies specifically your house. 

There are even smaller pipes in your house that go to all the places you’ll need water like the shower, the bathroom and kitchen sinks, your washing machine, etc. Eventually the water comes out of the sink faucet or the shower head and you can use it. 

That’s basically how a drip system works. The pipe between your house and the water main is the water supply, like the sprinkler riser in the video or a spigot out on the side of your house.


Basic Components of Drip Irrigation

Drip systems are highly modular, which means you can combine the parts in a number of different ways to achieve a lot of different outcomes with the same selection of parts. There are a lot of different parts, but most home systems share the same basic ones. Below is a list of the most common, most popular drip irrigation products along with a short description of each. You can click the model numbers below to go to the page for each product and learn more about it. 

Note: The below list assumes you’ll be connecting your system to a garden hose or spigot and not a PVC pipe.

1. Head Assembly

“Head assembly” refers to the parts at the very front of the system. We sell some head assembly kits that include all the parts, but we’ll list the common ones below for reference. 

These are listed in order from the hose spigot:

a simple timer (also called a “controller”), this will turn the system on and off automatically based on how you program it. (optional)

a backflow preventer, which keeps water that has gone into your system from flowing back into the plumbing inside your house.

a filter, which keeps particles from entering your system and clogging it. It’s smart to use this even if you’re using good quality well or city water.

a pressure regulator, which makes sure your water pressure isn’t too high. High water pressure can cause leaks and damage to your system components.

Always use one of these!

a swivel adapter, which allows you to attach your ½” poly tubing to the rest of the head assembly.

2. Tubing

Tubing is what lets the water travel throughout the garden. It’s essentially a flexible, inexpensive, easy to use pipe. The main sizes of tubing are ½” and ¼”. ½” tubing has a further designation that describes the outside diameter and inside diameter (OD and ID) of the tubing. The standard size is .700 OD (outside diameter), but some places sell other sizes like .710 OD or .620 OD that will not work with the same fittings as .700 OD tubing. We only sell .700 OD tubing for simplicity’s sake.

a 100’ roll of ½” poly tubing, which is used as the main supply tubing for a drip system.

a 100’ roll of ¼” poly tubing, which is used to reach individual plants that the ½” tubing can’t easily reach. Also called “spaghetti tubing.”

a 100’ roll of ¼” dripline, which is a type of tubing with the drippers already inserted into it.

3. Drippers & Sprayers

Drippers are devices that let a small amount of water out in a very small area. It’s a good idea to put two drippers at each plant you want to water, one on either side of the plant. Drippers plug directly into the ½” tubing (after a hole is punched) or into the end of a piece of ¼” tubing. A sprayer is like a little sprinkler, spraying water over an area. 

All drippers and sprayers have a flow rate shown in GPH (gallons per hour) that describes how much water will come out of it over the course of an hour. Sprayers will also have a spray pattern such as 180 degrees or 360 degrees.

a 1 gph dripper.

a .5 gph dripper.

a .5 gph dripper in a different style.

a 14 gph sprayer with a 360 degree (full circle) spray pattern

a 14 gph sprayer with a 90 degree (right angle) spray pattern

4. Fittings

Fittings are typically used for tubing-to-tubing connections, such as making a right angle or splitting a line in two. Compression fittings work by pushing the tubing inside of the fitting, as shown a few times in the video, and are used for ½” tubing.

Barbed fittings work in an opposite manner, by pushing the fitting inside the tubing, and are used for both ¼” and ½” tubing. All ¼” barbed fittings can be used to connect ¼” tubing to ½” tubing with the help of a hole punch tool.

DIG 1/4" Barbed Connector


a straight ¼” barb, used to connect two pieces of ¼” tubing to each other.

DIG 1/4" Barbed Tee


a ¼” barbed tee, used to connect three pieces of ¼” tubing together.

1/4" Barbed Elbow


a ¼” barbed elbow, used to make a sharp right angle with ¼” tubing.

Goof Plugs, Strip of 10


a strip of ten ¼” plugs, used to plug holes in ½” tubing or plug an open end of ¼” tubing.

1/2" (.700 OD) Compression Coupling


a ½” compression fitting for connecting two pieces of ½” tubing together.

1/2" (.700) OD Compression Tee


a ½” compression tee, used to connect three pieces of ½” tubing together.

1/2" (.700 OD) Compression Elbow


a ½” elbow, used to make a sharp right angle with ½” tubing.

a barbed fitting used to connect two pieces of ½” tubing together. Less expensive than a compression fitting.

a figure-8 line end, used to hold the end of a piece of ½” tubing closed to allow the system to pressurize.

a compression line end, used to close the end of a piece of ½” tubing so the system can pressurize. Seen in the video.

5. Tools and Stakes

Drip systems are very easy to work with because they require few tools. A specialized hole punch tool is needed for every system to ensure clean holes are made to insert drippers and ¼” fittings into, which reduces leaking. A cutting tool is also needed to cut ½” and ¼” tubing to the desired size. A stake is an item used to hold tubing in place. There are a variety of stakes for all sizes of tubing. 

Note: NEVER use anything other than an approved hole punch tool to punch holes in ½” tubing, as unapproved tools (awls, nails, screwdrivers, other sharp objects) will leave jagged edges and result in leaking.

Palm Hole Punch


a basic hole punch tool, seen in the video.

Professional Gun Punch 3mm


upgraded, gun-style hole punch tool, ideal for punching lots of holes.

Tubing Cutter & Hole Punch


a combination hole punch and cutting tool.

Professional Barb Insert Clip Gun


a tool that makes inserting ¼” fittings into ¼” tubing much easier.

A v-stake used to hold ¼” tubing in place.

A plastic stake used to hold ½” tubing in place.

A plastic stake used to hold ½” tubing in place.


Garden shears:
we don’t carry them, but they are ideal for cutting tubing.

So... Think You Understand Drip Irrigation?

Now that you have a better understanding of drip irrigation, watch this video again.

Do you understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing? Do you understand the terms better? Are you able to pick out some of the parts in the video and understand their role in the system? 

If you answered “yes” to any of those then congratulations, you are now officially a beginner at drip irrigation!

Need more help? No problem.