Different Types of Irrigation Systems Explained

We’ve made it our business to be experts in irrigation systems, but we understand that not everyone knows the difference between the different types of irrigation systems.

There are many different ways to supply water to a large body of plants. Water is provided in different volumes and reaching different areas, which can affect plant growth. Some systems are better for certain plants than others, which is why we’re discussing irrigation system differences and the advantages and disadvantages for each system.


Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is one of the most popular types of irrigation systems. Simply put, drip irrigation is the process of lacing your garden area with irrigation lines that feed directly into the root systems of your plants, “dripping” water into them gradually.

The roots have the direst need for hydration, so a drip irrigation system essentially cuts out the middleman and supplies water directly to the roots.

Advantages of Drip Irrigation

  • Reduces weed growth
    A drip irrigation system is placed explicitly through the plants that you want to water, so it’s tough for the water to stray away from its intended target. As a result, rogue weeds in your garden won’t benefit from the water, ultimately reducing the overall number of weeds.
  • Efficient water usage
    Drip irrigation is by far the most efficient irrigation system regarding water usage. It typically uses less water, and the water it does use is less prone to evaporate.

Disadvantages of Drip Irrigation

  • Requires precise installation
    Drip irrigation is only useful if it’s been installed correctly, which takes expert precision and experience. An improperly installed drip system could cause drought conditions, which causes your plants to grow shallow instead of deep. Make sure you have professional help when you’re setting up the drip irrigation system.
  • Requires maintenance
    A drip irrigation system sometimes requires more maintenance than another type of irrigation system. The drip irrigation equipment is vulnerable to debris, mineral buildup, and damage from outside forces like lawnmowers.

Sprinkler Irrigation

Sprinkler irrigation is more or less the opposite of drip irrigation. Instead of applying hydration directly to the roots, the water is supplied overhead by the sprinklers.

While drip irrigation is more up close and personal irrigation, sprinkler irrigation allows you to hydrate a larger area of land like an athletic field.

Advantages of Sprinkler Irrigation

  • Able to cover large areas
    Sprinkler irrigation is probably the most cost-effective way to cover a broad swath of land, like a farm with acres and acres of plants to water.
  • Can be used anywhere
    Sprinkler irrigation is versatile. Drip irrigation is difficult to maintain over a large space, while surface irrigation relies on the slope of the land to work properly. Sprinklers can be used just about anywhere.

Disadvantages of Sprinkler Irrigation

  • Expensive upfront cost
    When it comes to the initial installation, sprinkler irrigation systems can be the most expensive. The general cost goes down once it’s up and running, but the upfront cost could be hefty.
  • Susceptible to wind
    The biggest drawback for sprinkler irrigation is that wind can scatter the spray, resulting in inconsistent watering. This could be a minor inconvenience occasionally, but it can become a serious problem if you live in an excessively windy area.

Surface Irrigation

Drip irrigation waters the root of the plant, sprinkler irrigation waters from above, and surface irrigation is somewhere in the middle.

There are different forms of surface irrigation, but they all take advantage of gravity and the shape of the land to “flood” the soil. Put more simply, water is poured onto the ground, and the land allows it to distribute itself across the soil naturally.

Advantages of Surface Irrigation

  • Easiest and most affordable
    Surface irrigation is an ancient irrigation technique that has been refined by modern technology. It doesn’t necessarily require sophisticated technology to work, and if you want something with a lot of variety, surface irrigation is for you.
  • Best utilization of rainwater
    You’ve probably shaped your property in such a way where natural water flows reliably to irrigate your plants. For that reason, areas where surface irrigation is used are very effective at utilizing rainwater.

Disadvantages of Surface Irrigation

  • Dependent on terrain
    For surface irrigation to work correctly, you have to make the terrain accommodate it, whether it’s by creating channels for the water or relying on the natural slope to let gravity do its thing. Unexpected changes or disturbances in your land could affect the effectiveness of surface irrigation.
  • Waterlogging risk
    Surface irrigation could channel too much water into your crops, which can drown the roots and be counterproductive. You need to take care to ensure your surface irrigation system doesn’t overhydrate your plants.

Get the Best Irrigation System for Your Needs

Regardless of what type of irrigation system you choose for your property, one thing you’ll need to have is the right team to install the equipment. Professional Irrigation Systems is already St. Louis’ and Saint Charles’ irrigation system leader for residential and commercial clients.

We only use the best parts and hire and train professionals who can live up to our name. We believe that quality, service, and value still matter, and we are proud to bring our customers a 5-star experience with every project. Contact us today for a consultation.

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