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Drip irrigation system watering planted flowers

Drip watering tips

Because plants have different watering needs than grass, your irrigation clock should allow different settings for drip and sprinkler stations.

Drip irrigation is truly beneficial to plants in desert environments. Drip irrigation systems should run longer than sprinkler systems because they deliver water more slowly and efficiently.

Determine the amount of time to water based on the rate of flow of your drip emitters, the types of plants you are watering and the condition of the soil. Find out how you can find the rate of flow of your drip system below.

Rate of flow

To find out how fast your drip emitter produces water, measure how many seconds it takes to fill a tablespoon:

  • 14 seconds equals 1 gallon per hour (gph)
  • 7 seconds equals 2 gph
  • 4 seconds equals 4 gph

How much to water

Drip irrigation is usually needed less frequently than sprinkler irrigation. The following frequency is recommended by SNWA and should provide most plants with sufficient water:

  • 1 day per week or less during the winter
  • 2 days per week during spring and fall
  • 3 days per week during the summer

In general, the higher the gph flow of your emitter, the shorter your drip system run time will be.

Common drip emitters

Emitter type Length of each watering
High-flow emitter (Up to 20 gph) 12 minutes
Low-flow emitter (Up to 4 gph) 30 minutes
Low-flow emitter (Up to 2 gph) 60 minutes
Low-flow emitter (Up to 1 gph) 90 minutes

Cycle and soak

You can use the cycle and soak method with drip irrigation, but let the cycle run much longer. The length of watering time for plants on drip systems varies depending on the type of emitter, plant types and soil conditions. In addition, experts agree that running drip irrigation less frequently is much better for plants than daily watering. The Water Authority recommends a single, long drip cycle.

Drip emitter flow Watering time
4 gallons per hour 30 minutes
2 gallons per hour 60 minutes
1 gallons per hour 90 minutes

If you have a high-flow emitter (up to 20 gallons per hour), limit watering times to 12 minutes each.

Check the soil moisture if your plants appear stressed. Wet soil means your plants may be over watered. Water less often or for less time. If the soil is dry, check that all emitters are working properly. If they are, increase the watering time or add emitters only near the stressed plants.

Designing and planning your drip system

A new plant may require only one emitter initially. As the plant grows, so does the demand for water. When a drip system is installed, it should be designed so it has the flexibility to change the amount of emitters and the location of the emitters in the landscape. Each emitter should give you at least a 30-minute run time without runoff. Trees may also need more drip irrigation adjustments as they mature. See below for general drip emitter quantities.


Check your drip line periodically for breaks and check emitters for clogs or heads that have broken off. Ensure that each emitter is releasing the proper amount of water.

  • Hold your finger over the emitter's outlet for a few seconds, so that the water can flush back and clean the emitter to help unclog it.
  • Change the drip irrigation lines and filters at least twice a year, or whenever you change your irrigation schedule.
  • Find the "end cap" on your drip line. This should be at the furthest point from your valve box. Open the cap and briefly run the system to flush out any debris that could be clogging your line. Turn off the water before trying to recap your line.

Watering restrictions for drip irrigation

The mandatory watering restrictions also apply to customers with drip irrigation systems, and the restrictions limit the number of days you can water per week. In addition, landscape experts agree that running drip irrigation less frequently than sprinkler irrigation is much better for plants.