Drip Irrigation Helps Nursery Save Water & Labor

Original post by Mississippi State University (Susan Collins-Smith)

Standing Pine Nursery is growing flowers – and its profit margin – by experimenting with an irrigation system designed for field crops.

The low pressure drip irrigation system helped increase the nursery’s efficiency and sustainability by reducing labor demands and water usage.

This past summer, Geoff Denny, who is an assistant Extension professor of horticulture in Mississippi State University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a few horticulture students installed a small test of the system at the Raymond nursery. Denny modified the system especially for potted plant crops and installed it on part of this year’s mum crop. The test system is now being used on one greenhouse of poinsettias.

Nursery owner Jody Ogletree is pleased with the results and plans to expand the system next year.

“The system has worked really well for us so far,” Ogletree said. “We really appreciate that Geoff came and helped us get the test installed. I seriously doubt that we would have tried this system out if it weren’t for Geoff being as hands-on as he is.”

The irrigation system consists of an injector pump that mixes fertilizer and water. Pipes carry the mixture to each greenhouse bay or table. The pipe holds valves that secure one end of the rubber irrigation tubing. The tubing is stretched tightly over a row of potted plants and secured on the opposite end.

“The system takes some time to set up initially, but once it is installed, it can dramatically reduce the number of hours employees spend watering plants,” Denny said. “During the hot summer months, one employee could spend about 9 hours per day hand watering one 65-foot by 100-foot bay.”

Ogletree said the test has proven to him that the system can save a substantial amount of time for his small staff, which cares for three and a half acres of production greenhouses.

“The drip irrigation system is a gigantic labor- and time-saver,” Ogletree said. “In this business, labor is the biggest expense. While we can’t eliminate labor by using this system, we can free up our employees to do other tasks, such as pulling an order or cleaning foliage.”

Denny said the system not only helps nurseries reassign labor, but helps them become more sustainable.

“Hand-watering and overhead systems waste a lot of water,” Denny said. “Hand-watering can be helpful for some crops, but it is almost always inconsistent.”

Water usage is difficult to measure, Ogletree said, because Standing Pine Nursery’s water comes from a pond on the property instead of from a community or town system.

“I know we are using dramatically less, but I just don’t have a good way to measure it,” he said. “With any type of drip irrigation, every drop of water and fertilizer is going directly into the pot. That is not the case with any overhead system or hand-watering.”

Ogletree was pleased with the simplicity, flexibility and price of the system.

“Our crops change pretty quickly sometimes. We were growing mums just a few weeks ago, and now we’re growing pansies in trays,” Ogletree said. “The pansies need to be watered by hand so we have consistent growth. With this system we can unhook the irrigation lines and roll them up out of the way when we don’t need them and put them back when we do.”

Denny said drip irrigation helps relieve some disease pressures and other negative effects on the crops.

“With hand watering or overhead systems, you get splashing that can encourage certain foliage diseases or cause foliage burns from fertilizer,” Denny said. “With drip irrigation, the tension of the tubing also helps hold the pots upright, keeping the plant from turning over and getting broken.”

The system is inexpensive and can be made from off-the-shelf parts. Denny said a 9,000-foot roll of irrigation tubing costs about $280. Other parts, such as valves, can be purchased at a hardware store.

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