Typical Spray Irrigation system

One of the biggest obstacles holding homeowners back from removing their high-water turfgrass and installing xeriscape is believing that setting up the irrigation system is difficult. Luckily, it is not as hard as you may think.

If you have an automatic irrigation spray system, you already have an existing valve and, most likely, an AVB backflow preventer. It may look something like this.

irrigation valve
Desert Friendly Xeriscape with spray to drip conversion.

The first thing to do before converting to drip is to get the valves checked out by a professional to make sure they are in working order. When you know they’re fine, add a pressure regulator filter combo just past the existing valve and backflow preventer. Then attach ¾”polyline, snaking it around the yard to the new plants and inserting flag emitters at each plant. 

The existing underground piping and spray heads are no longer needed. Simply remove all the existing spray heads. There is no need to dig up any existing pipe.

(For a Drip Cheatsheet, download our handy .pdf that shows you all the Drip irrigation components.)

You may have seen the spray-to-drip retrofit kits locally available and wonder if this is a good approach. We don’t recommend this approach because studies show that nearly half of the water saved from converting a lawn to a healthy xeriscape comes from abandoning leaky underground piping and fittings. A Sprinkler system’s lifespan is less than 20 years. If you are not sure how old your system is, or if it is older than 10 years, it’s best to not rely on old underground piping. Since sprinklers typically run for 8-12 minutes and drip often runs for 45-60 minutes, if you have a leak in your old sprinkler piping and it is now part of the drip system you could be wasting a ton of water – negating the savings from getting rid of your thirsty lawn.

Drip irrigation tubing is very inexpensive per foot and only needs to be in a shallow trench. Properly converting to drip irrigation is not as expensive as many people think, while converting your sprinklers to drip the cheap and easy way with a retrofit kit is likely to cost more in the long run.Contact AskAnExpert@abcwua.org to learn more.

Learn more by checking out these other useful drip irrigation articles:

Simple Irrigation Maintenance Techniques

Yes, You Can Afford an Irrigation System

Use Drip Irrigation for your Trees and Shrubs

Author:  Amos Arber, Xeriscape Rebate Inspector with the Water Resources Conservation Department for the Water Authority. Have a question about the article? AskAnExpert@abcwua.org