What Are Common Parts of a Drip Irrigation System?

What Are Common Parts of a Drip Irrigation System?

Jun 14th 2024

In recent years, the gardening and landscaping trend has been rising across the United States, with over 55% of American households now nurturing green spaces. Many gardeners turn to drip irrigation to meet their plants' hydration needs. Delivering water directly to the base of plants at a steady rate, this micro-irrigation technique uses 40% less water while increasing yields by up to 50%.

Drip irrigation is based on a network of tubes transporting water from the source to the plant's roots, minimizing runoff and evaporation. Thanks to this precise water delivery, this method ensures that plants receive the exact amount of hydration they need, promoting healthier growth. Curious about what you'll need to get started? Read on to learn about the common parts of a drip irrigation system, helping you turn your garden into a flourishing green space.

1. Mainline Tubing

Main line tubing is the backbone of any drip system, carrying water from the main source to the irrigation system's subsections. Usually made of low-density polyethylene, this flexible tubing is designed to withstand UV rays, high temperatures, and even pressure variations.

The primary function of mainline tubing is to feed smaller, secondary drip lines called lateral lines. These are connected to the tubing via fittings, such as tees and elbows, which help direct water flow to specific rows within the garden. That said, mainline tubing usually comes in ½ and ¾ inch sizes.

The size of the mainline tubing decides the amount of water that can be carried throughout the garden without losing pressure. Here's a look at the maximum flow rate of each of these tubes, along with the water pressure they can carry:

Tubing Size

Maximum PSI

Maximum Flow Rate

¾" mainline

50 PSI

480 GPH or 8 GPM

½" mainline

50 PSI

240 GPH or 4 GPM

¼" micro tubing

30 PSI

30 GPH or 0.5 GPM

2. Backflow Preventers

Usually, the same water source is used for domestic and drinking purposes in residential settings. This increases the risk of issues like back pressure (when the drip line's pressure rises above the main supply) and back-siphonage (a pressure reduction in the main line).

In both cases, your mainline supply gets contaminated when water is pulled back from the irrigation system. This is where backflow preventers help. These devices stop water from flowing back into the home water supply, facilitating movement in only one direction.

3. End Caps

End caps are small plastic plugs that close off the end of each tubing line to prevent water from leaking. They also help to maintain the pressure within the tubing, which contributes to the efficient functioning of your drip system. Besides, when you want to flush out the lines or remove accumulated debris, remove the end caps and flush the water. Once the system is clean, you can reattach the end caps, and your system will be back up running.

4. Pressure Regulator

Most drip systems operate at a pressure range of 15 to 30 psi (pounds per square inch), whereas household systems may deliver water at pressures as high as 50 to 100 psi. Since drip irrigation is based on slow and steady water delivery to a plant's base, these systems cannot run with residential water supply (due to the high pressure).

Therefore, a pressure regulator is connected to the system, which helps to reduce and stabilize the incoming water pressure from your main supply. The primary purpose of this device is to bring your main line's water pressure down to a level suitable for drip irrigation, thereby preventing any leaks or burst lines.

5. Filters

In a drip system, filters are installed to remove debris and sediments from the water before it travels through the mainline and lateral tubing. Remember, even small particles can clog the tiny openings of drip emitters and sprayers, leading to reduced efficiency. So, installing a stainless-steel screen filter is best if you run a home garden or small-scale irrigation system.

It consists of a fine mesh that catches debris as the water passes through. Disc filters are better suited for those with a higher load of particulate matter. These filters have a stack of thin, grooved discs that trap organic matter and fine sand, delivering the safest-quality water to your row crops.

6. Drip Emitters

Drip emitters are small devices that can be attached to the drip irrigation tubing and regulate the water flow. They are designed to release water slowly at a rate of 2-20 liters per hour, but this can vary depending on the type of emitter and watering needs of your plants. Thanks to their slow-release mechanism, drip emitters ensure water penetrates deeply into the soil, reaching the plant roots rather than running off.

Here are the types of drip emitters available today:

  • Pressure-compensating emitters: These are designed to deliver a constant flow rate regardless of changes in water pressure. Built with a flexible diaphragm, PC drip emitters are perfect for areas with elevation changes, such as raised beds.
  • Non-pressure compensating emitters: These emitters are the basic and least expensive models, but they are best suited for flat gardens where the pressure change along the lines is minimal. They are ideal for low-pressure systems and small gardens.

7. Timers

When it comes to the common parts of a drip irrigation system, one of the most essential ones is a timer. Defined as a programmable control device that lets you schedule your irrigation sessions; a timer takes manual work out of your gardening job.

Since the device works on an automated mechanism, it lets you program when and for how long your irrigation system runs. So, with a timer, you can "set and forget" your drip system and take care of home chores, grocery runs, or even meal preparation in the meanwhile. The best part is that you'll still return to healthy and hydrated plants!

8. Hold Down Stakes

Also known as spikes, fabric pins, or staples, hold-down stakes ensure that the system's mainline and lateral tubing stay fixed in the desired position. They hold the tubes in place and prevent them from displacing due to external factors like wind, gardening activities, or the pressure within the tubes.

Usually made of durable plastics or metals, these stakes have sharp ends that penetrate the soil. When installing these fabric pins, leave a 1-5 ft space between each staple. If you're working with very soft soil, using longer staples to hold the tubing in place is better.

9. Female Hose Starts

In a drip system, a female hose start connects the mainline tubing and a water source, such as a faucet or garden hose. The female hose start fitting is available in various options: easy loc, compression, and barbed. The fitting securely fits around the mainline tubing, ensuring a tight seal that keeps any leaks at bay. The female end of the hose starts screws onto the male hose threads and makes the connection even more secure.

Tip: To ensure a durable connection, stake down the mainline tubing at the first point of contact with the ground. This keeps the tubing from pulling on the connection due to tension or movement.


Understanding the common parts of a drip irrigation system is the first step towards creating a more sustainable, healthier watering solution for your plants. From mainline tubing that distributes water to emitters that deliver it to your crops, each component comes together to ensure the proper nourishment of your garden.

If you're ready to set up a drip irrigation system for the health and well-being of your field, head over to DripWorks today. Providing high-quality drip supplies and equipment, we help you conserve water and boost your yields to enjoy a healthy, hydrated garden. So, contact us today to find the right irrigation solution for your needs.