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All Things Garden,  Beginner Basics,  Irrigation

How to Set Up Drip Irrigation for Pots, Wine Barrels, Containers

Don’t spend hours hand-watering all your potted plants! Instead, read along and learn how to set up an automated drip irrigation system to water pots, wine barrels, grow bags or other containers. Drip irrigation will save you time, water, and energy. This is also the perfect solution for when you go out of town. Plus, containers have the tendency to dry out more quickly than raised garden beds or in-ground plots, making it even more helpful to have auto drip. Then your potted plants will get the consistent moisture they need to thrive!


This article will cover three different options to set up drip irrigation for containers or pots:


  • SECTION 1: First I’ll show you how to easily connect drip irrigation emitters to pots, wine barrels or other containers from an existing drip system
  • SECTION 2: If you don’t have an existing drip line to connect to, we’ll also cover how to set up a brand new drip irrigation system for pots – right from an outdoor faucet or garden hose.
  • SECTION 3: Finally, I’ll share how we set up a drip irrigation system for containers connected to existing PVC pipe.


Looking to set up drip irrigation for raised garden beds? See this tutorial. Or stop by this guide for more tips on gardening in wine barrels – including how to prep them for planting, soil, example plant spacing, and more.


Option 1: Connecting Drip Irrigation to Pots from an Existing Drip Line


If you already have an existing drip line nearby (you know, the ½” black irrigation tubing) then you’re in luck! That’s the easiest way to add drip irrigation to containers. If your ½” main line tubing is within 5 to 10 feet of your pots, you can simply add ¼” micro-tubing from the main line right into the containers. Follow the simple instructions below.

Or, if your existing drip ½” main line is a bit farther away, you can easily extend it to be closer to your pots. Simply cut the existing main line with sharp scissors, add a ½” coupler or tee, and then connect a new section of ½” irrigation tubing to extend the existing line where needed. Cap the open end of the new main line with a figure 8 clamp. Avoid distances much over 100 feet to maintain good pressure in the lines.


A tall blue ceramic pt with a marigold planted in it is next to a black fence. Drip tubing is visible a couple feet away from the pot with 1/4 inch micro tubing running along the fence towards the pot. Two orange lines have been superimposed on the photo to show the line in which the drip tubing is running to connect drip irrigation to the pot.
See the existing 1/2″ irrigation line to the right. To add drip irrigation to the blue pot, we simply connected solid 1/4″ microtubing from the existing 1/2″ line and ran it up the side of the pot. (The orange line traces the 1/4″ tubing since it’s hard to see here)


Supplies Needed



Instructions


  1. Use an irrigation punch tool to add a hole to the ½” main line somewhere close to the pot or container you wish to water.
  2. Insert one end of a barbed coupler into ¼” microtubing, and the other end into the hole you made in the mainline.
  3. Run the micro-tubing over to the base of the pot and secure it there with a landscape staple. Then continue to run the tubing up the outside of the pot and into the top. Cut the microtubing where you wish to attach an emitter, such as at the base of a plant or in the center of the pot.
  4. For an even more clean appearance, you can add a barbed elbow connector to the microtubing at the top rim of the pot, enabling it to sit more flush against it. Simply make a cut in the tubing at the top and insert the connector to create a corner (shown below).
  5. Finally, attach a drip emitter of choice to the end of the microtubing. Emitter options explained more below. 
  6. Pin everything in place with landscape staples.


A three part image collage, the first image shows a tall blue ceramic pot with a marigold planted in it. Drip tubing is visible leading into the top of the pot. The second image shows the 1/4 tubing connected to 1/2 inch drip tubing with a barbed connector. The third image shows a drip emitter at the end of the 1/4 inch micro tubing that will water the pot.
For this narrow pot, a single 1 GPH drip emitter is sufficient. We run this particular system for an hour 3x a week, so that would deliver 3 gallons of water per week to this pot.
An agave plant in a pale green ceramic pot is shown with 1/4 inch brown poly tubing inserted into the center of the pot with a brown emitter at the end of the line. Drip irrigation in pots can be fine tuned to the plants that need watering.
You can control the amount of water various potted plants receive on the same drip system by using different emitters. For instance, this agave (low water needs) has a single 1/2 gallon per hour (GPH) emitter tucked inside its pot, while the larger, more thirsty plants on the same system have 1 or 2 GPH emitters.
A four part image collage, the first image shows a hand punch tool being used to create a hole in 1/2 inch drip tubing, the second image shows a barbed 90 degree angle on the end of 1/4 inch micro tubing, the third image shows a barbed valve next to half inch tubing, the fourth image shows the barbed valved connected to 1/4 inch micro tubing on each end which can be used to turn on or off the valve.
Top left: using a punch tool to create a hole in the 1/2″ main line at ground level. Top right: Adding an elbow connector at the top rim of the barrel to make the micro-tubing sit flush against the side. Bottom photos: We added these 1/4″ valves so we could shut off water to each wine barrel as needed. The valves can be inserted right into the 1/2″ main line (with microbubing connected thereafter) or cut and inserted somewhere more accessible along the microtubing line.


Drip Emitter Options for Containers


It’s easy to customize a container drip irrigation system to meet the unique needs of your plants, climate, or pot size! However, it’s hard for me to say exactly how much you’ll need to water. There are just too many variables. In general, most plants prefer a consistent watering schedule that dampens the soil deeply, but is also allowed to dry out ever-so-lightly between watering. Plants breathe through their roots, so most do not enjoy constantly soggy soil. The emitters you choose and the duration you run your drip system will influence how much water each plant receives.

For larger containers or plants that enjoy ample moisture, use a bubbler or micro-spinkler (several if needed). Those offer a higher GPH flow and will water more surface area. For smaller pots or drought-tolerant plants, a single 1 GPH or 2 GPH drip emitter may be sufficient. 

You can also find specialized drip emitter rings that are made for watering containers – like this 5 inch ring, or this 10 inch option. Or, see how we make our own drip rings below! They can be customized to any pot size, including wine barrels or extra large grow bags. Another optional step is to add a 1/4″ valve to the line feeding each container so you can shut off water to individual pots if needed. 


1/4 inch micro tubing running between a rock border to a half wine barrel to connect drip irrigation to the pot.
Looking pretty sleek if you ask me! You can also hide irrigation lines completely within the pot by running the irrigation tubing up through the bottom drainage hole of the container (before filling it with soil). However, that makes it much more difficult to make adjustments or repairs in the future as needed. 
DeanaCat's hand is holding a drip ring that was constructed with 1/4 drip emitter tubing and a barbed tee.
To create our own dripper rings, we used these 1/4″ barbed tees and this emitter tubing. Simply cut the emitter tubing to create a circle that fits well within your container or around a plant, insert the barbed tee into each end of the emitter tubing to make a loop, then attach solid 1/4″ micro-tubing to the remaining inlet barb of the tee.
A close up image of a drip ring that was made with 1/4 drip emitter tubing that is watering a wine barrel. Set up drip irrigation in pots for easy watering.
Unlike solid 1/4″ micro-tubing, this emitter tubing had pre-installed drip emitters every 6 inches
A half wine barrel with half inch drip tubing trenched in gravel next to it. 1/4 inch tubing is connected to the half inch tubing and is running up the side of the barrel to water the container with a circular 1/4 inch drip emitter tubing.
Once assembled, each DIY drip ring has a total of eight 0.5 GPH emitters. If we run the system for an hour, each barrel would receive 4 gallons of water. You can change the water amount and surface area by cutting your rings smaller or larger, which will eliminate or add more emitters.


Option 2: Creating a New Drip Irrigation System for Pots From a Faucet or Garden Hose 


It’s easy to set up a new drip irrigation system for pots from an outdoor faucet, or even connected right to the end of a garden hose. Zero plumbing skills are required! Though you’ll need a few additional supplies (plus those already listed above in Option 1):


Supplies


  • ½” irrigation tubing (main line)
  • This 4-in-1 adapter. It screws onto the faucet or garden hose on one end, and then has an adapter to connect the ½” irrigation tubing to the other. It also has a pressure reducer (required), filter, and backflow preventer. This is a very important piece. Drip irrigation systems must operate at 20 to 40 psi, and are also sensitive to debris. The pressure reducer and filter will prevent blowout and clogging respectively, and the backflow preventer will protect your household water supply from outdoor contaminants. 
  • Figure 8 clamp to end the ½” main line. 
  • Optional but highly recommended: a hose timer, which will automate your containers drip irrigation system! You can find hose timers with a single outlet, or those with two outlets: one for your drip line, and the second for your regular garden hose (or another drip line).

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Drip irrigation in pots is set up in three half wine barrels set alongside a rock lined border. The drip is from a main drip line a few feet away that is covered in the bark mulch of the nearby flower bed.
After installing a new flower bed to the right, we created a new drip irrigation system that would water both the in-ground plants as well as these 3 wine barrels.


Instructions


  1. Choose a faucet or spigot near the containers you wish to irrigate. To maintain adequate pressure, no more than 100 feet away is ideal. See the note below for further distances.
  2. Optional: Add a hose timer to the faucet. If not, you can simply turn the faucet on and off manually to water. 
  3. Screw on the 4-in-1 adapter, and connect the ½” main line tubing to the end of the adapter.
  4. Run the mainline along the base of your pots. You can bury the mainline under a few inches of soil, gravel or mulch to hide it. 
  5. Cut and end the mainline using a figure 8 clamp.
  6. Now, follow the instructions provided in Section 1 above to add microtubing and drip emitters to each container. 


Note: If your faucet is more than 100 feet away from your containers, attach a durable garden hose to the faucet first. Run it out towards the containers, and then screw on the 4-in-1 drip adapter at the far end of the garden hose (opposite the faucet). This way, the garden hose will maintain good (higher) pressure before it’s reduced at the adapter/drip connection. Hopefully you can keep the hose tucked away (e.g. alongside the house, or under shrubs) so it’s not a tripping hazard or eyesore. 


An outdoor faucet with a hose timer and 4 in 1 adapter connected to drip tubing that is running towards a flower/pollinator plant bed that is around 10 feet away.
The new drip line connects right to a nearby faucet. Once it enters the flower bed, we added a tee so it could loop around the area (pressurizing the line from both sides) and then followed the steps described in Section 1 to add emitters to the wine barrels.
An outdoor hose bib is connected to a time with a 4 in 1 adapter that connects to half inch drip tubing.
A closer look at the faucet “head assembly” – with a hose timer, 4-in-1 adapter, and then standard 1/2″ irrigation tubing connected. If you needed to extend this line beyond 100 feet, you could add a durable garden hose between the timer and 4-in-1 adapter to extend the line while maintaining good pressure. We used a single outlet timer here but use the 2-outlet option elsewhere on our property for added versatility.
A half inch drip tubing is covered in bark mulch inside a rock lined planting space. 1/4 inch micro tubing is connected to the main line and is running up the side of a half wine barrel, connecting to drip emitter tubing in the shape of a circle that waters the barrel. Drip irrigation in pots makes it easy to water consistently.
From flower bed to barrel.
Six wine barrels arranged in a circle with a trench running inside the wine barrels with 1/2 inch drip tubing connected to each barrel with micro tubing and drip emitter tubing formed into a circle to water each barrel. Create drip irrigation for pots to make watering easier.
Here is the system we’ll look at next. This one is connected to PVC (to the left, from the raised bed irrigation lines) but we could have also done this same set up connected to a nearby faucet – like the one in the top right corner.


If you need even more visuals, check out this short video on how to connect drip to a faucet.


Option 3: Connecting Drip Irrigation for Containers to PVC


One final option to set up drip irrigation for pots is to connect a new drip line to PVC. We just recently did this in our new garden. We tapped into the PVC lines that water our raised garden beds to add drip for 6 nearby wine barrels. Check out the step-by-step photos below!


Supplies Needed


  • A pressure regulator, backflow preventer and filter. All drip irrigation systems must have the incoming water reduced down to 20 – 40 psi. A filter prevents debris from entering and clogging your drip system. A backflow device will stop soil and other contaminants from getting back into your household water supply. Our PVC system already had a filter, backflow preventer, and pressure regulator (40 psi) installed at the head assembly/start of the system. If your PVC system lacks these components, I suggest using this 4-in-1 adapter at your point of connection. Then you won’t need the adapter below. Note that it connects to a ¾” MHT PVC part (hose thread, not pipe thread).

  • If your PVC line already has a pressure reducer, backflow preventer and filter upstream like ours, then all you need is a PVC-to-drip tubing adapter. This part will vary depending on the diameter of your PVC pipe and overall system configuration (e.g. glued vs threaded). For instance, we first attached (glued on) this 3/4″ threaded coupler to our PVC pipe. Next we screwed on this 3/4″ adapter that connects to 1/2″ tubing. Here is another adapter option with a shut-off valve included. Browse various drip tubing fittings from Drip Depot here. They’ll have what you need! If you’re new to irrigation, pay attention to hose thread versus pipe thread fittings for compatibility between parts (noted as MHT vs MPT). See photos and more details below.

  • Finally, you’ll need the other supplies listed under Option 1. Such as ¼” microtubing, barbed couplings, drip emitters of choice, and optional valves for each container.


All the parts needed to create a drip system while converting PVC to 1/2 inch drip tubing. Each supply is shown in order with its name under each item. There is 1/4 inch drip emitter tubing , solid 1/4 inch micro tubing, scissors, 1/4 inch barb tee, 1/4 inch barb valve, 1/4 inch barb coupler, threaded coupling for PVC, adapter to connect 1/2 inch drip to PVC line, tee and valve, and 1/2 inch poly drip tubing.


Instructions 


  1. Find a PVC irrigation line near the containers you wish to irrigate. A dead end is ideal, though you could create a tee or dead end using various PVC couplings and fittings. Bring the line up to the soil surface with a riser if needed. A good pipe cutter and PVC glue will come in handy here. 

  2. Connect the ½” drip line using an adapter that is compatible with your system (described in the supplies sections above).

  3. Also add a pressure reducer, filter and backflow preventer if your system doesn’t already have those in place.

  4. Now run your ½” main drip line to/around the base of your containers as needed. 

  5. Follow the instructions provided in Option 1 to add microtubing, valves and various drip emitters to each container.  


A four part image collage, the first image shows an existing PVC line in the ground with an attachment on the end, one end is glued onto the PVC while the other end is threaded. Another piece is being held next to it which will screw onto the adapter and connect to 1/2 inch irrigation tubing. The second image shows the piece screwed onto the adapter, connected to the PVC and 1/2 inch tubing is being pushed onto the piece to transition to 1/2 inch tubing from 3/4 inch PVC. The third image shows the connected pieces following along a trench in the gravel. The fourth image shows a Tee piece with a  valve being connected to the tubing.
Rather than gluing a drip tubing connection right to the PVC (a common practice), we opted to install a threaded coupler first for easy future repairs or modifications. Then we screwed the irrigation tubing adapter onto that.
A close up of gravel that is trenched to fit a half inch drip line to connect drip irrigation to the wine barrels that are nearby.
We also opted to add a valve and tee to the 1/2″ irrigation tubing, creating a evenly-pressurized ring around the inner perimeter of the wine barrels – that we can turn off completely if needed. You can also buy in-line shut off valves (rather than tees).
Six half wine barrels are aligned in a large circle, a trench is dug in the gravel in a circle inside the wine barrels. There is a half inch irrigation tub running around the inside of each wine barrel to connect drip irrigation to pots. Each half wine barrel has a small emitter drip line in the shape of a circle on the top of the soil surface.
The finished system. We backfilled several inches of gravel to cover the lines once we were done.
A tear drop shaped clay vessel is being held up in front of half wine barrels full of soil. Beyond there are numerous wood raised beds, some of them full of vegetable plants. A large water fountain is off to the left of the center of the image.
One final thing you can do to help reduce how frequently you need to water your containers is place a clay watering vessel inside, like a small or medium size GrowOya. (The large size is ideal for raised beds.) Bury them up to their “neck” in the soil, fill them with water, and it will slowly seep out through the porous clay to the surrounding soil over a number of days. Use code “deannacat” to save 5% off GrowOya!


And that is how to set up a drip irrigation system for containers and pots.


All in all, I understand that irrigation can feel a tad overwhelming at first. But it certainly isn’t anything to be afraid of! It’s mostly just puzzling pieces together. I hope this how-to makes you feel confident and comfortable to go set up a drip irrigation system for your containers too! We rely on ours so much. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below. Also please considering sharing or pinning this article if you found it useful. Thank you so much for reading!


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