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DIY Drip System for Drought Gardening

How do I set up my own drip irrigation system during this drought? —Down-on-Being-Dry Betty, Downtown Santa Barbara

Since the dawn of time, there has been rain, there has been drought, and there has been Man, trying to figure out how to feed himself. Where does he fit in the circle of life when the antelope that eat the grass can’t find any more grass to eat? Or when the city he lives in fines him for watering his plants?

Does he starve?

Of course not. He installs a drip irrigation system.

“En este calor, si no les echas agua, se mueren,” explained Gustavo the Gardenator, meaning that, in this heat, if you don’t water plants, they die. “Más calor, más agua. Si son plantas más grandes, más agua.” So base your watering on temperature and plant size. For bigger gardens, drip irrigation is a wise investment to economize your water so your plants stay muy bonita.

He says there are two different kinds of systems: “de gotero y de espray” — the drip kind and the spray kind. Both work well depending on your needs, but he says the drip ones can work anywhere with trees, shrubs, and plants. Drippers are based on gallon-per-hour water usage, so if you have a really big tree, then you could use three to four two-gallon-per-hour drippers six inches from the base. You can also hook up your system to an automatic timer unit, which can range from a cheap $15 version to a programmable $100 unit. There are lots of pipes and hose variations you can use, but the more drippers, adapters, and parts you employ, the more it’s going to add up.

To install, first pot your plants how you want them, and then place the drippers near the base of the plants. You will dig a little trench for your hose/pipe to connect the drippers. You will then turn on the water manually and test that everything is watering properly. When everything works, cover your hoses/pipes and then water the plants approximately two to three times a week for 10 minutes, depending on the size of your garden. Gustavo says you have to really monitor your drip system to make sure it works properly and your plants are getting enough water.

Gustavo Uribe is a fifth-generation agricultural specialist who has worked as a professional gardener in Santa Barbara for more than 30 years. His son, Gustavo Jr., writes this column. Send your gardening questions to

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