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How To Install A DIY Drip Irrigation System For Potted Plants

An automatic watering system for outdoor plants makes life easier, and saves you tons of time. It’s also very easy to install your own, and doesn’t take much time (it’s totally worth every second!). Follow these easy step-by-step instructions to install a DIY drip irrigation system for potted plants.

We have an area behind our house that gets full sun that I always thought would be perfect for growing, but it’s under the eaves of the house so it doesn’t get much rain.

My husband put a few pots of peppers there last year, but hand-watering all of those pots became a major chore in the heat of the summer. We were in a drought last year, so we had to manually water these pots a few times a day. Not fun!

My husband told me he wanted to line the area with pots of peppers this year, so we decided to add a drip irrigation system to make watering our container plants easy.

It turns out, putting in a DIY drip system for potted plants is just as simple as it was to add overhead sprinklers to our greenhouse.

Plus we had some of the poly tubing left over from that project, so we were able to use that for this project – bonus!

Installing drip irrigation system for potted plants

Table of Contents

What Is A Drip Irrigation System?

Think of a drip irrigation system as an automatic watering system for pots and containers. It hooks right into your garden hose or spigot so when it turns on, all of your pots will get watered at the same time.

You could turn the water on manually, or set it up on an automatic timer to create a self-watering system for potted plants (trust me, a timer is totally worth it, and it’s not very expensive to buy yourself one!).

Benefits Of Installing DIY Drip Irrigation For Containers

Installing a drip water system for potted plants has lots of benefits to you, and to your plants. The main benefit is convenience, and let me tell you, an automatic drip irrigation system makes container gardening SO MUCH easier!

Not only do self-watering pots make your life easier, but it’s better for your plants too, and ensures they’re getting exactly the right amount of moisture.

Consistent watering not only keeps your potted plants happy and healthy, it also helps to prevent problems like blossom end rot.

Healthy plants have less problems with pests and diseases, and produce TONS more yummy food for us? What’s not to love?

Drip Irrigation Kit For Potted Plants

Depending on how many potted plants you have, a drip irrigation kit might be all you’ll need in order to install your entire system.

You can buy a smaller kit if you have 8 pots or less, or you can get a larger kit like this one that will work to automatically water up to 20 containers.

Drip irrigation kits are a great way to get started, and will include full instructions for setting everything up. Some kits even come with a timer.

But keep in mind that even when you start with a drip irrigation kit, you might still need to buy a few additional parts (for example, most don’t come with a pressure regulator). So be sure to read the details of what’s included in the kit.

Some contents of a drip irrigation kit for potted plants

Of course, you can also make your own custom drip irrigation system design, which is what we did for our setup since we already had the mainline tubing and a few other parts to get us started.

DIY Drip Irrigation Supplies Needed

  • Drip irrigation kit (optional – but if you want to use it to get you started)
  • Mainline drip irrigation hose (1/2″ poly drip irrigation tubing)
  • Drip irrigation backflow preventer
  • Garden hose connector (1/2″ faucet fitting)
  • Pressure regulator
  • Poly tubing end cap
  • Irrigation micro tubing (1/4″ vinyl)
  • Irrigation drippers with spikes, one for each pot (we used these 360 degree adjustable drippers)
  • Drip irrigation hole punch
  • Drip line connectors
  • Drip irrigation spikes (1/2″ tubing stakes)
  • Drip hose goof plugs (just in case)
  • Garden watering timer for drip irrigation
  • Garden hose splitter (optional, comes in handy if you want to hook up another hose to the same spigot)
  • PVC pipe cutting saw or a PVC cutting tool (for cutting the thicker tubing)
  • Tape measure

How To Install Drip Irrigation For Potted Plants

Step 1: Attach connectors to faucet, hose or spigot – It’s easier to hook everything in if you attach the connectors to your hose or spigot first. So grab the backflow preventer, the pressure regulator, and the faucet hose fitting for this step.

Start by attaching the backflow preventer onto your hose or outdoor spigot (it simply screws on). Next, you’ll attach the pressure regulator, and last the faucet fitting (this just screws on too – no tools needed!).

Basically, you’ll end up chaining the garden hose attachments together in this exact order (backflow preventer, pressure regulator, faucet fitting).

Drip irrigation hose connectors attached to faucet

Step 2: Attach the 1/2″ poly tubing to the hose fitting – Take one end of your 1/2″ poly mainline tubing, and push it into the open end of the faucet hose fitting. Once you’ve pushed it in, pull down the collar on the hose fitting piece, and tighten it to secure the tubing.

You might want to kink the tubing and turn on the water to make sure there’s no leaking at this point, otherwise you can wait to test everything later on in step 7.

Attaching poly tubing to faucet hose fitting

Step 3: Figure out your drip irrigation system design – The next drip system installation step is to determine how far apart the drip heads will be, so you know exactly where to install the micro tubing.

Figuring out the drip irrigation design sounds hard, but it was actually really easy.

We simply spaced out the pots where we wanted them to be, and then laid down the poly tubing hose in front of them (Tip: let the tubing sit in the sun for a while to warm up first, it’s easier to lay it flat when it’s warm).

Measure spacing between irrigation drippers

Then we measured where each pot was, and marked the poly tubing where we needed to add the drip tube lines for each of the drippers.

Once we measured it all out, we cut the tubing at the very end using using our PVC cutting tool (you could use a PVC pipe saw to cut the tubing instead), and caped the tube with the end cap.

Hose end cap closes off mainline tubing

Step 4: Figure out how long the drip lines will be – Next we measured how long each piece of the micro tubing needed to be for the drip lines.

That’s simply the length from the spot you marked on the mainline tubing, up to the spot where the drip head will be inside the pot.

We added several extra inches to the length of each piece of the micro tubing so it would be loose enough to allow room for us to move the pots around a bit if we wanted to (which we have done, and it works out really well).

Measuring micro tubing for drip lines

Step 5: Install the micro tubing – It’s easy to add the drip lines and the micro sprinkler heads.

For drip line installation, you simply punch a hole in the mainline poly tubing (using the drip irrigation hole punch) where you want to add the drip lines (these are the spots you marked on the tubing in step 3).

Poke holes in drip irrigation tubing to install drippers

Don’t panic if you punch a hole in the wrong spot. I know that making a mistake isn’t ideal, but if you do end up punching a hole in the wrong spot… well, that’s why they make goof plugs! It’s good to have them on hand just in case.

Next you’ll attach the drip line connector first to the mainline tube, then attach the micro tubing drip hose onto the other end of the connector.

Drip irrigation micro tubing connected to mainline hose

Step 6: Install the irrigation drippers – Installing the dripper heads is super easy too. You basically just plug them into the open end of the micro tubing, and then put them into your container.

Our dripper micro heads came with spikes to hold them in place, so they stay where we put them.

We centered the micro heads in each of our pots, just to one side of the base of the plant(s). Be careful not to damage any tender roots or seedlings when you’re pushing the irrigation spikes into the soil though.

Installing the irrigation drippers

Step 7: Test out your irrigation setup – Before burying the mainline, test everything out to make sure it’s all working with no leaks. You definitely don’t want anything leaking.

At this point it’s also a good idea to adjust the drip heads. The tops of the heads twist so you can control the amount of water that comes out.

We adjusted each one to make sure they weren’t spraying outside the pots, and that they were all working correctly.

Micro heads for drip irrigation

Step 8: Secure the poly tubing – Once everything was installed and tested, we secured the mainline tubing into the ground with some 1/2″ drip irrigation tubing stakes.

The stakes clip onto the mainline tube, which makes securing it easy. Then we simply buried the tubing in the mulch to give it a cleaner look.

Drip irrigation spikes hold poly tubing in place

Note, you can install your poly tubing behind your pots rather than in front of them like we did here. That way, the micro tubing will run up the backs of the pots, and won’t be so obvious.

But it’ll work just fine either way. (We just installed ours in front to make it easier to take photos for you)

Buried the main irrigation tubing

Step 9: Set the timer for automatic irrigation – Last, we set our hose timer to run on a schedule so we never have to worry about watering these pots again (which is especially nice while we’re on vacation!).

Once your automated drip irrigation system is running, I recommend checking on your pots regularly to make sure they are getting the right amount of water. Then you can adjust your timer accordingly to get it just right.

We’ll turn the drip irrigation timer off when we get a lot of rain, and increase the length, or how often the drippers run during dry periods or hot spells.

Garden hose timer for drip irrigation system

Not only is this DIY drip irrigations system great so we don’t have to water these pots, but it makes it much easier to ensure our peppers and tomatoes are getting a consistent amount of water.

Hopefully this will help prevent blossom end rot, which was a problem for our container grown peppers last year. Drip irrigation systems are great for potted plants, as well as the garden.

Self-watering container garden

Installing drip irrigation for potted plants is simple, and doesn’t take much time. (It will actually end up saving you a ton of time and effort!) I know it seems like there are a lot of steps involved with drip irrigation installation, but trust me it really is very easy to do! Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can!

Products I Recommend

More Container Gardening Posts

  • How To Make Potting Soil For Containers (with recipe!)
  • 15 Best Container Vegetables For Pots & Planters
  • Container Flower Gardening Design Tips & Ideas
  • How To Fertilize Outdoor Potted Plants & Containers
  • Choosing The Best Potting Soil Mix For Container Gardening

Share your tips and experiences for installing a DIY drip irrigation system in the comments section below.

About Amy Andrychowicz

I live and garden in Minneapolis, MN (zone 4b). My green thumb comes from my parents, and I’ve been gardening most of my life. I’m a passionate gardener who loves growing everything from vegetables, herbs, and flowers to succulents, tropicals, and houseplants – you name, I’ve grown it! Read More.

Comments

Is there a maximum length for doing this? I have pots that are quite far away.

Amy Andrychowicz says

As far as I know, there’s no maximum length for adding a drip irrigation system to potted plants. I ran a hose out to my garden, and that’s at least 50′ away from the spigot. I also have a 15 pot drip system set up along the back of my house, which is probably 60′ or more long, and there’s no problems with water pressure there either.

Julie Traxler says

How can one hide the hose attachments? Mine are out in the open where it will detract from my garden.

Amy Andrychowicz says

I burying the mainline under the mulch, and that works great. That way, you’ll only see the hose where it comes up to attach to the spigot. Then I run the drip lines up the back of the pots (I have them in the front of the pots in these photos for demonstration purposes). They are hardly noticeable, especially once the plants fill in.

Thank you so much for this! It really makes watering my pots so much easier. I have installed one with different zones because of various plant needs. I think I’m overwatering my plants and I have no idea how long to run the system. Do you have like a rule of thumb to share? Thanks!

Amy Andrychowicz says

You’re welcome, so glad you were able to set up your own drip irrigation system for your pots. That’s awesome! There’s not really a rule of thumb to follow for how long to run them. I only run mine for about 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night. I will run the drippers longer during periods of drought, and turn the system off when we get a lot of rain. The best thing to do is to check your pots daily to see how damp the soil is. If it seems really dry, then run them a little longer. If it seems too wet, then run them for less time. It doesn’t take long to find that sweet spot.

An automatic plant watering system makes life easier. Follow these easy step-by-step instructions to install a DIY drip irrigation system for potted plants.

Irrigating Your Container Garden

As I mentioned in my last post, automated irrigation for container gardening is crucial. Containers need to be watered frequently (up to three times per day in hot, dry weather) and that much hand watering can be hard to keep up with, especially if you plan to go out of town. Smaller containers require more frequent watering because there is a limited amount of soil and that soil can hold only so much water at a time. Also, in small containers, more of the soil surface area is exposed to the sun so the water evaporates quickly.

The good news is that setting up irrigation on an automatic timer can actually be really simple! If you have a number of pots clustered close together, then the best option is to set up a drip irrigation system. The framework of the system is the same as for any garden (see Drip Irrigation Q+A); the only difference is the drip lines themselves. Here’s a simple way to set up a drip system for containers, using 1⁄4 in. emitter tubing:

Run a 1⁄2 in. main line from your hose end timer, brining the main line as close as possible to your containers.

At each container, punch a hole in the main line and attach solid 1⁄4 in. line (often called microtubing- it doesn’t have emitters!). Run this up to the lip of the pot.

Attach an elbow fitting at the lip of the pot.

Attach 1⁄4 in. tubing with emitters spaced at 6 in. to the elbow, and circle it around the container. For 1⁄4 in. tubing with 8 in. or 12 in. spacing, or if you’re working with containers with a surface area that’s larger than 18” across, add a few extra coils. The goal is to never have your crops further than 6 inches away from a drip line. If you plant to grow direct seeded crops, coil the tubing in your containers so that the tubing is spaced 6 inches apart (see header image), this will help you maximize your growing space and improve germination.

Seal the end of the hose with a plug, and hold the line in place with a stake.

Here are a few not-so-gorgeous, but hopefully helpful images of this process:

To water your containers, start by running the system until water just starts to seep from the bottom of the containers. Note how long this takes (probably between 5 and 15 minutes): That will be your watering duration.

Now set the timer to run twice a day. If you have the option of scheduling when it will run, try setting it at around 6:00 am and 2:00 pm. With larger containers (10 or more gallons), watering twice a day may be sufficient, but if you have smaller containers and are experiencing very hot, dry weather, consider watering as often as three times per day. When you are getting started, make sure to check the moisture in the soil with your finger each day and adjust the system as necessary.

An alternative option:

I do feel really strongly about the benefits of installing a drip irrigation system and think it is by far the most efficient and effective way to water your garden, no matter the size (more on this in Drip Irrigation Q+A). With that said, the goal is to get you growing food at home and if you’re feeling like setting up a drip system is beyond the scope of work you’re willing or ready to take on right now, setting up an oscillating sprinkler on an automatic hose bib timer (We use these ones from DIG pretty much exclusively) is the next best thing.

When using a sprinkler, you will want to water in the morning, as early as possible. This allows the water to soak thoroughly into the soil, and the leaves of the plants to dry off, before the hottest part of the day. Watering at midday is less efficient, since you will lose more water to evaporation. And watering in the evening can promote disease in the garden, since the water sits on the leaves of your crops throughout the night.

An oscillating sprinkler is a good choice for a beginning gardener, and the type most people are likely to have on hand at home already. They’re the type that sprays out water in a fan-shaped curtain with a metal that arm oscillates back and forth to cover a rectangular area. You can usually lock the oscillating arm in place so it only sprays in one direction, and depending on the orientation of your containers, you may want to do this to focus the water stream on your plants and reduce water waste.

If you don’t already have one, oscillating sprinklers are inexpensive, and with some adjustment you can get them to water over the top of tall crops later in the season. You can vary the watering area by turning your water pressure up or down at the hose bib, and by adjusting how far the sprinkler head moves back and forth.

To set up an oscillating sprinkler on an automatic timer, you’ll need:

An oscillating sprinkler

A hose end timer

You may also want a y-valve for your hose bib, so that you can leave your timer on one side of the valve while keeping the second available for use.

Connect timer to the hose bib (with batteries)

Connect the hose to the timer

Connect the sprinkler to the end of the hose

Place your sprinkler near your containers and run the water to see where it’s landing. Adjust until you find the most efficient configuration. You might weigh the sprinkler down with rocks or bricks so you’re less likely to accidentally move it.

The following are products we recommend using to get his project done! As long as your containers are within 50 feet of your water source, the irrigation kit from Dripworks should have everything you need to set up drip irrigation in around 18-20 containers, depending on the size/shape/height of each container. If you don’t need that much, in my opinion, it’s still a better deal to buy the kit and have extra then to piece it all together. The link here doesn’t list every piece included, but I’ve verified with Dripworks that it includes micro-tubing and all of the necessary connection pieces.
As always, you can find more information on everything discussed in this post in our books, Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard and High-Yield Vegetable Gardening.

Containers need to be watered frequently (up to three times per day in hot, dry weather) and that much hand watering can be hard to keep up with, especially if you plan to go out of town. In this post I discuss two ways to set up an automatic watering system for your container garden.