Orchard irrigation can be accomplished in a variety of ways, from low-pressure microsprinklers to dripline formed into rings known as “Tree Rings” to deep watering stakes. Orchard and tree irrigation is easier and more efficient than ever before. There are many ways to ensure your orchard remains not only healthy but productive and bountiful. Below I will discuss the advantages and limitations of these types of systems in regards to orchard irrigation.
Microsprinklers excel over traditional sprinkler methods in that they operate at lower pressure and thus achieve greater efficiency. They operate at a low enough pressure that their droplets are “rain-like” rather than "mist-like", and are thus less prone to evaporation. The volume, while still more than sufficient for tree irrigation, is lower than traditional methods which significantly helps reduce runoff.
Their spray diameter can ensure that all of the roots near the surface, from which most trees drink, receive water. Traditional sprinkler methods often promote disease and rot; their spray gets the bark of young trees wet, and wet bark is an environment in which detrimental conditions can proliferate. Microsprinklers are often equipped with deflectors that force the water in a more downward trajectory while the tree is young. As it matures, this deflector can be removed to allow the microsprinkler to achieve its full spray diameter. When a deflector is not present, something as simple as a stick placed between the tree and the microsprinkler will deflect the spray away from the bark.
Microsprinklers have recently found a use in the prevention of freeze damage. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, soaking the trees during the course of a freeze event can prevent freeze damage. It takes energy for water to freeze, and when it freezes this is expressed as “heat of fusion”. This is not as niche as it may sound; it is considered more economical than overhead impact sprinkler freeze protection systems, more efficient than smudge pots or kerosene heaters, and is seen more and more often in recent years. That’s not to say that during a freeze event you can simply turn on your microsprinklers and protect your plants. Proper planning and calculation are still necessary, but given its growing popularity and success, it merits mention.
- Large diameter for full coverage of root zone
- High volume of water, shorter watering cycles
- Can be used in other applications, such as preventing freeze damage
- Often available with a deflector to help keep the bark of the trees dry and reduce the opportunity for fungus and disease
- Easiest method to install
- The volume of water can quickly overtax the flow rate of a water source
- Insects like to make nests in the spinners
- May not allow for the bark of the tree to remain dry
- Using to prevent freeze damage takes considerable care, planning, and calculation
For more information specific to microsprinklers and their applications, you can check out our Microsprinkler Buying Guide.
To browse some of our popular microsprinklers, see this link: Microsprinklers.
Tree rings are simply dripline formed into a ring that circles the tree. Tree rings are largely regarded as more efficient than microsprinklers, as there is no airborne spray; all of the water drips directly from the inline emitters into the soil. While it may seem like microsprinklers are more thorough in covering more of the root zone, this is basically untrue except in the sandiest of soil types. Beneath the surface of the soil, water will spread pretty far from the point of drip in most soils through its capillary action.
- Gets water to all sides of the tree’s root zone
- Low flow and efficient, delivers water right to the soil, no spray to evaporate or run-off
- Ring size can quickly and easily be changed to accommodate different sizes of trees
- In sandy soils, the coverage from a single ring may not be sufficient
- Takes longer to install than microsprinklers
- Low profile makes it easy to miss when using landscape maintenance or similar tools
Here is a link to our listings for ¼" and ½" dripline. ¼" dripline is the size primarily used to create tree rings, however larger trees stand to benefit from rings made with the larger, ½", dripline size: Polyethylene Dripline.
Here is a link to kits we offer that utilize ¼" dripline to create tree rings: Tree Drip Irrigation Kits
Watering stakes are a method of deep irrigation. The Deep Drip Watering Stakes come in several sizes (8” up to 36”) and are pushed or pounded into the soil near the tree root zone. The holes along the watering stake deliver water to the tree’s roots beneath the surface of the soil. This provides for deep, efficient irrigation. An internal, integrated filter helps keep dirt, rocks, pests, and other debris out.
These do not see as widespread use in orchard irrigation as the two methods illustrated above. Watering stake applications tend to lean towards irrigating large, older trees. However, they can and are used in orchard applications. Like dripline, most of the action with watering stakes occurs beneath the surface of the soil.
There are many ways to get water into the stakes, from drip emitters to garden hoses to uncapped microtubing. Simply run the hose or tubing/emitter over to the stake, lift the cap, insert the desired water delivery method and then secure the cap back in place. If you're using ¼" microtubing as in the illustration above, there is a small cut-out in the cap that allows the cap to slide on over the tubing without crimping it. For fruit tree irrigation, Greenking recommends using the 24"
- Deep, thorough irrigation that also aerates the soil
- Stakes work over a wide variety of tree sizes
- Very efficient, virtually no evaporation or run-off possible
- Not as economical as the other two methods mentioned
- More labor required than methods above
- Not as easy to move from one location to another
Here is the link to the Deep Drip watering stakes: Deep Drip Watering Stakes.
If you would like to learn more, here are some links that will prove invaluable:
Tree Irrigation Sample Layouts -- These illustrations include samples of all the above methods, including some alternate methods of use for the ¼" dripline and ½" dripline.
Tree Kit Selection Guide -- If you are planning on a residential or smaller orchard (up to about 100 trees), this guide can walk you through the selection process to find the most compatible tree kit.
Drip Depot Planning and Installation Guide -- This guide can walk you through almost the entire process of drip irrigation design and installation.
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