You might be taking your drip irrigation system for granted. It’s arguably one of the most important components of your greenhouse or garden, but if you’re not cleaning and upkeeping it, you could be doing yourself a huge disservice. Regular maintenance of your drip irrigation system will help prevent it from breaking, getting clogged, and filling up with unwanted things like bacteria and algae.

Checking Your System

The first step in cleaning and maintaining your drip irrigation system is performing a visual inspection. You'll want to look carefully at your system and make sure that nothing is out of place or looking worn. Worn tubing could be leaking over areas you wouldn't want it to, resulting in a big waste of water.

Tubing Lines

checking the system's tubing

Of course, it may be easier to just run your hand along the tubing to identify any existing cracks or leaks. Once you find one, you’ll either want to repair or replace that section of tubing. This decision will ultimately depend on the size of the leak, your particular setup, and your personal preference. Keep in mind that even the smallest leaks can result in a large amount of water loss over time if left untreated.

You may find that your tubes are being slimed from algae and bacteria in your system. This can be rather annoying and can eventually create clogs in your lines. Luckily, there are commercial bacteria and algae control agents you can add to your system that will help you eliminate this issue. A daily rinse of chlorine is another good option, but you’ll only want to use about two parts per million at the end of each irrigation cycle. Alternatively, you can add an automatic valve to your drip lines that flushes the entire system out at the end of each irrigation cycle and reduces the amount of slime buildup inside.

Filter

You’ll also want to check your system’s filter and clean it if necessary. If you currently have screen filters, and you’re finding that they're clogging and hard to clean, it may be time to invest in some disc filters. Disc filters are better at filtering water, harder to clog, and can be backflushed for easy cleaning.

Emitters

drip irrigation emitters

Depending on your water supply (and anything you add to your water nutrient-wise), your emitters may be getting clogged with magnesium and calcium salts. Even if your emitters are only partially clogged, they can still create problems by unevenly distributing nutrients and water throughout the irrigation system. Rinse them out to the best of your ability, but bad build-up problems will usually require a more serious cleaning — something you should usually do near the end of the growing season. One helpful tip on clearing up emitters is to soak them in a vinegar-based solution.

End-of-the-Season System Flushing

Flushing the lines can help clear out the buildup of unwanted material in them like bacteria and residual calcium salts. Use an acid to flush your lines out at the end of the growing season. Nitric, phosphoric, and sulphuric acids work especially well for this, as do most other solutions with a pH of about 4.5. Flush the lines with your acid of choice for about an hour. Afterward, flush the lines with water to clear out any of the remaining acid solution. If you find that the lines still look rough with buildup, you can leave the acid solution in them overnight for an extra good soaking. This flushing should take care of all the microorganisms and particulate buildup in your system.

Use Caution When Working With Acids/Chemicals

always wear safety gear when working with harmful materials

When working with any acid, be sure to wear the proper safety equipment to protect your face, hands, and skin. Safety glasses, gloves, and full-coverage clothing may seem like a little much for a small job like this, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. It can also be helpful to have an approved wash or neutralizer on hand in case an accident does happen. In addition, you’ll want to remember to pour the acid into water rather than doing it the other way around, which could cause it to splash up at you.

Your drip irrigation system is the lifeblood of your garden. Without it, your plants would wither and die, unless you go through the hassle of dragging out the hose to give them the water they need. Keeping an eye on your irrigation system for small problems now can help to prevent big problems further down the road. You certainly don’t want to find out that your emitters are clogged when your plants have already started to wilt or open a water bill that’s larger than normal thanks to a leaking tube.