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Drip Irrigation vs. Overhead Sprinklers

Drip Irrigation vs. Overhead Sprinklers

Before selecting the components for automatic irrigation systems, it is important to learn the difference, and some of the pros & cons of drip irrigation vs. overhead sprinkler irrigation.

From water conservation to healthier plants, drip irrigation offers vital solutions for efficient and effective irrigation even in the most challenging residential or commercial landscapes. Mostly selected for smaller & irregular areas, drip irrigation offers precision irrigation directly at the root zone.

Netafim, Rain Bird, and Hunter all focus on developing innovative products for efficient irrigation. Their well-equipped water-saving devices combine efficient water use with sustainable design, allowing the products high endurance that would last for years in extreme outdoor environments. These irrigation systems will help save water, no matter what type of property is being irrigated or its location.

Not only can drip irrigation be applied on top of the soil, but drip irrigation can also be installed and applied subsurface - watering the roots completely underground.

What is Drip Irrigation?

Drip irrigation is also referred to as micro-irrigation or trickle irrigation consists of a network of pipes, tubing valves, and emitters. Drip irrigation is described as any watering system that gives a slow-moving supply of water at a progressive rate directly to the soil. It is becoming increasingly popular and is rated one of the most water and energy-efficient ways of irrigating.

Not only can drip irrigation be applied on top of the soil, but drip irrigation can also be installed and applied subsurface - watering the roots completely underground. This irrigation method can be even more effective because it is buried, thus removing the potential for surface evaporation and the structure of weeds. When installed subsurface drip irrigation, be sure to only use products that are specifically designed for subsurface applications. These products include Netafim Techline CV, Rain Bird XFS Dripperline with Copper Shield, and select others brands. Not all drip tubing can be installed subsurface.

Drip Advantages

Drip irrigation is very efficient when it comes to plants using the water supplied to it. This method of irrigation system can be designed and installed in both new and existing commercial landscapes. Here is a list of a few advantages of drip irrigation:

  • Irregularly formed or sloped landscapes can be easily accommodated (no overspray from overhead sprinklers)
  • Lesser weed prevalence
  • Reduced soil erosion
  • Uniform water distribution
  • Fertilizer targeting is enhanced; run-off risk is removed
  • Lessens water contact with foliage reducing disease risks (plant foliage does not need water - this is a big myth).
  • More cost effective and quick to install in small landscaped areas

Drip Disadvantages

Although there are lots of advantages to adding a drip irrigation system to your home or commercial landscape, there are also a few disadvantages:

  • Extreme sun rays can damage the tubing if not UV rated.
  • Tubing can be clogged without proper filtering
  • Not suitable for agricultural frost control, unlike sprinkler systems
  • Tubing can be easily damaged by shovels & digging
  • Rodents can sometimes eat at the tubing
  • Real-time watering effectiveness can be tough to observe
  • More expensive and difficult to install in large landscaped areas

What is overhead Sprinkler Irrigation?

Not similar to drip irrigation, which can go relatively unnoticed in the landscape, sprinkler or “overhead spray” irrigation systems are quite the opposite. Water is scattered by a system of pressure-regulated spray heads and rotors, and advanced head nozzles are utilized to break water up into small water drops that are dispersed through an efficient spray pattern.

Overhead sprinkler irrigation is a process of applying irrigation water which is comparable to rainfall. Water is spread through a system of pipes generally by pumping, or pressurized municipal water supplies. It is then sprinkled into the air and covering an entire soil surface through spray heads so that it breaks up into small water drops which fall to the ground.

Overhead Watering Advantages

Sprinkler irrigation can cover large areas such as turf lawns, commercial properties, and athletic sports complexes. Here are various benefits of an overhead sprinkler system can provide:

  • Visible confirmation of system uniformity
  • The application has a larger area of coverage
  • Used for germination of grass seed, fertigation, and frost control (agriculture)
  • Short irrigation intervals (keeping seed wet)
  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Spray patterns can be modified


Overhead sprinkler irrigation will require professional adjustments to accomplish adequate coverage to a specific areas. When maintenance is deferred, or equipment is tampered with, one broken piece of the sprinkler system can make things unproductive or worse, inoperable.

Other disadvantages of overhead sprinkler irrigation include the following:

  • Higher potential for evaporation and wind drift issues compared to drip
  • Higher potential for runoff and erosion compared to drip
  • Uneven water application from wind and extreme temperatures
  • Wetting of foliage can raise the risk of disease and fungi growth
  • Poorly maintained spray angles near buildings and walkways can damage fixtures and cause slippery platforms
  • Can stain hard surfaces if the water is dirty
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