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All Things Garden,  Irrigation

How to Install Solar Powered Drip Irrigation, Controller and Valves

Welcome to our new orchard space! We just finished installing a DIY drip irrigation system for fruit trees, shrubs, and native pollinator plants – so let’s check it out! This guide will teach you how to install a drip irrigation system with automatic valves, multiple zones, several types of adjustable drip emitters, and more. The coolest part is that this drip irrigation system is powered by an automatic controller with a solar panel.

If any of that sounds complicated, don’t worry. I’ll walk you through everything you need to know with a step-by-step video tutorial, photos, and a detailed parts list. 

Though the system shown in this guide is being used to water fruit trees and shrubs, you could also use a similar solar powered drip irrigation system for raised garden beds, flower beds, or traditional sprinkler system. Or, install the solar controller on an existing irrigation system. See our other drip irrigation tutorials here, including how to install drip irrigation to raised beds or a hose faucet.

Benefits of Drip Irrigation

Automated drip systems are one the best parts of any garden project, in my humble opinion. Installing drip irrigation isn’t all that difficult, and the payback is well worth the effort! Drip systems save substantial water, time, and energy compared to hand-watering or conventional overhead watering systems. 

Drip irrigation also provides plants with slow, targeted, consistent, and deep water – which they prefer for ideal root development and growth! This leads to healthier plants that are more tolerant to stress from drought, freezing, heat and more. 

Even better, solar powered drip irrigation systems allow you to automate your irrigation even if there isn’t a power source nearby. Harnessing the power of the sun, rechargeable solar batteries outlast regular batteries by many, many years.

DeannaCat and Aaron stand in the middle of their completed new orchard space. A drone has been used for the photo which has been taken roughly 20 feet from the ground. Rocks line planting areas and terraces of pollinator plants and fruit trees.
Our new orchard and pollinator space just after it was “complete”.

Drip System Zones and Pressure

Most large drip irrigation systems must be divvied up into several distinct zones (stations) that will run at different times. This offers a number of benefits, and is easy to achieve with a simple irrigation manifold and controller. 

First, using separate zones enables you to tailor your irrigation schedule to meet the unique and varying water needs for different plants. For instance, fruit trees or raised garden beds will require more water (in frequency and/or amount) than drought-tolerant shrubs. 

Second, the use of many zones helps reduce demand on any one line, and maintains better water pressure throughout the system. Drip irrigation components are designed to operate under 20 to 30 PSI, while normal household water pressure can be as high as 80 PSI. Higher pressure will cause the sensitive parts to “blow out”, so a pressure regulator is typically added at the beginning of the drip line near the valve. Yet the water pressure will continue to drop as it travels through long lengths of drip tubing, so it’s best to not surpass 100 to 200 feet of solid ½” irrigation tubing in a single zone.

A drone image of the orchard space in the middle phase of its construction. Each area is labeled from the top of the hill where there is the water main and valves, lower on the hill where the drip tubing starts. as well as the numbered zones of the space 1-4.
Our new solar powered drip irrigation system serves four zones: 1) fruit trees on terraces 2) drought-tolerant shrubs on terraces 3) trees and shrubs along the fence line 4) lower pollinator shrub area (yet to be planted here).


Below is a list of all the supplies we used to set up our solar powered drip irrigation system. For anything that involves a PVC/threaded connection, note that I linked parts compatible with ¾ inch PVC. However, you should be able to toggle and choose different sizes if you’re working with a different pipe diameter, male vs female threaded parts, etc. 

Solar powered irrigation controller

  • Hunter XC-Hybrid Controller – This hybrid controller operates with traditional batteries OR is converted to 100% solar power with the addition of a solar panel kit (below) – which is what we did. We have the 6 station controller, though it’s also available with 12 stations. 
  • Hunter Solar Panel Kit – Use this kit to make the Hunter XC hybrid into a solar powered irrigation controller. It comes with a solar panel and rechargeable solar battery, which replaces the standard battery pack that comes with the controller.

A Hunter irrigation controller box with solar panel attachment.
The Hunter XC Hybrid Controller and solar panel add-on. We use the same system to power our raised bed garden irrigation too!

Valve head assembly parts

  • Anti-siphon valves (ASV) – one per station. ASV valves serve several purposes: they control the on/off action of each valve, connect to the controller to automate the system, and provide backflow protection to the water system. We use these Hunter PGV-ASV valves.

  • DC Latching Solenoids – one per station. Standard ASV valves come with AC solenoids, but need to be swapped out for DC solenoids in order to be compatible with the solar controller. (The solenoid is the part on top that turns the valve on and off, either manually by turning it, or through the wired control panel. They’re easy to unscrew and replace.)

  • Canister filters – one per station, installed after the ASV valve. The filter prevents dirt or other debris from entering the drip lines and clogging emitters. We use these durable canister filters with a fine mesh stainless steel screen inside. They come apart for routine maintenance (wash or replace filter).
  • Pressure regulators – one per station. 20 to 40 PSI is ideal to operate drip irrigation systems. We like these Senninger pressure regulators, and chose the 25 PSI option since we also have gravity working in our favor in this system. 
  • Multi-strand irrigation or sprinkler wire, with enough wires for every station in your system – plus one. For instance, a 7 strand wire for a system with 6 zones. We used 7 strand wire for our four-zone system and simply capped the two extra wires. You can usually find it in shorter sections at your local hardware store if you only need a few feet. 

A graphic showing the components of an irrigation valve and flow of water. From the right it start with water flowering upward into the ASV valve, before it reaches the filter, the pressure regulator, before water going out to drip irrigation.
Irrigation valves connected to PVC outlet lines in a trench are shown. The valves have been wired to run on solar powered irrigation.

Drip line, couplers, and adapters

  • PVC to irrigation tubing adapters. If you add PVC after your valves/head assembly, you’ll need to eventually convert the PVC to drip tubing. We use these adapters, which have male pipe thread on one end and a coupler to connect ½” drip tubing on the other. 
  • Standard ½ inch irrigation tubing, which is commonly available in 100 foot rolls. For larger projects, consider 250 foot rolls or a 500 foot roll if necessary. This tubing will create the bulk of your drip irrigation system. 
  • Various ½” couplers (including tees or elbows), used to run ½” tubing throughout your landscape where needed. This varies depending on your system layout. I suggest drawing out your system to determine how many couplers you’ll need. We prefer to use PermaLoc couplers over compression fittings. They’re durable and reusable, making it easy to make adjustments or repairs! On the other hand, compression fittings are more permanent and tubing must be cut to make changes. 

A terraced hillside covered in burlap as weed suppressant, many line of half inch drip tubing are strung throughout the area to water a variety of plants and trees. The lines all emanate from PVC risers coming out of the ground on the side of the hillside.
At the very bottom of the photo you can see where the PVC risers come up and drip tubing starts, heading out to various zones.

Other drip emitter parts


Main Water Supply Connection

First you’ll need a nearby water supply or main line. For this particular project, we chose an existing tap uphill of the new orchard space – which is also ideal for gravity flow to help the system maintain pressure. 

To connect to the main water line, we first turned off water to the property and turned on the tap to drain the lines. Next, we cut into the PVC line with good pipe cutters and glued on a simple ball valve shutoff valve. This way, we’re able to close the valve and turn the main water supply back on (after the pipe glue dried) while we continued to work on the irrigation system over the following weeks. Isolating the drip system with its own valve will also allow us to easily make repairs in the future without shutting water off to the entire property. 

The location of our drip manifold and valves happened to be at the end of a waterline. If yours is not, install a tee in your main water line to connect the drip manifold to instead. 

A faucet with a hose timer and half inch drip tubing connected to it pictured. A man is next to the faucet, starting to dig out a trench to reveal the main water line underneath. This will be the origination of the solar powered irrigation system.
Uncovering the main water line for the project
A trenched line reveals the main water line with a shut off valve on both sides of the main line, on both side of a PVC riser the has a hose faucet attached to the top.
After installing a ball shut-off valve on the main line (which was a dead end), so we could turn the property water back on and continue working on the irrigation system after the valve.

Valve Manifold and Head Assembly

A valve manifold is a collection of irrigation valves assembled together and connected to a common supply line. I chose to assemble the entire manifold and then connect it to the main line (rather than piecing together all the parts in place). That way, I didn’t have to bend over and work in a trench the whole time, or get a bunch of dirt in the lines. 

My manifold is made from ¾” PVC with four tees and risers (one for each zone) plus a capped dead end that I can cut and connect more zones to in the future. 

DeannaCat is holding a 4-station valve manifold with mainline PVC attached to the bottom. This section will be connected to the end of a preexisting water line.
The 4-station valve manifold, ready to glue onto the end of the main water line.

The valve head assembly flows as follows: 

  • From the main water line, add a “riser” or connection for each station – a length of pipe where each ASV valve will attach. Space the valve connections about 5 to 7 inches apart in small spaces, or up to 10 to 12” apart for more room for repairs. The length or height of the connection will depend on your system and climate. In places with harsh winters, valve manifolds are often buried underground or otherwise insulated to protect against freezing. Follow irrigation depth and installation best practices for your area. We’re able to keep our valves above ground for easy and convenient maintenance. 
  • Next connect the ASV valve to each riser, followed by the filter, and then the pressure regulator. Canister filters aren’t designed to be under constant pressure, so it is important that they’re installed after the valve. However, the filter may also cause a slight pressure loss, maye 2 to 8 PSI, so it’s also best to put it before your pressure reducer. That way, the flow coming out of the pressure reducer is true to specs.  
  • To piece this all together, we used plumbing tape at each threaded component, and regular PVC pipe glue and primer for the slip PVC potions.

Irrigation valves are shown on PVC risers inside a trench. The outlet pipe needs to be connected along with the wiring for each of the valves.
The valve manifold installed, before adding outlet pipe or wiring.

Valve/Controller Wiring and Solar Panel Add-On

If using the solar panel add-on kit, replace the AC solenoids that came with the ASV valves to DC solenoids before continuing with wiring. With the water turned off, simply unscrew the AC solenoids and screw on the DC.

  • Using multi-strand irrigation wire, connect one colored strand from the multi-strand to each RED wire coming from the ASV solenoid. Carefully strip the tip of each wire, screw on a wire connector cap, and secure with electrical tape (optional).

  • Gather and connect ALL of the black wires from the ASV solenoids to a single common wire from the multi-strand (we chose white). You may need a larger connector cap to fit them all inside.

  • Cap any unused wires from the multi-strand irrigation wire.

  • Run the multi-strand wire up inside the bottom of your irrigation control box. We ran ours inside schedule 80 PVC (UV resistant) to protect the wire.

  • Inside the irrigation control box, connect each colored wire to a corresponding numbered station. Carefully strip the coating from the end of the wire, loosen the screw, tuck the exposed wire behind the screw, and tighten it back down.

  • To convert the irrigation controller to solar power, remove the traditional battery pack it came with. Insert the rechargeable solar battery from the solar add-on kit instead.

  • Install the solar panel in a location that receives good direct sunlight. Run the wire from the solar panel into the bottom of the controller box, and connect the two wires to those attached to the rechargeable solar battery with a cap. Voila! Now you have a solar powered irrigation system!

A solenoid is in focus on the top of an irrigation valve. The wires will all connect to a solar powered irrigation control box.
The part I’m touching is the solenoid. Unscrew AC solenoid to replace with DC solenoids to make solar compatible.
The valve irrigation wiring is shown, each colored wire is connected to a red wire with an electrical cap at each end with electrical tape. A mass of black wires and one white wire are all fed into the same electrical cap.
Connect red wires from each solenoid to one colored wire from your multi-strand irrigation wire. Cap unused wires.
A multi colored strand of wired are connected together with electrical tape, all the black wires and the white wire are feeding into one electrical cap while a red wire is connected to each different colored wire with a cap at the end.
Gather all black wires from the solenoids together, and connect them all to one common wire from the multi-strand.
An irrigation control box is connected to a 2x6 section of wood connected to a 4x4 post. The controller is open and the wires from the valves are splayed out inside the box, they need to be inserted into the corresponding zone sections inside the controller.
After connecting the colored wire strands to the ASV solenoids, we ran the 7-strand wire through PVC and into the bottom of the control box. Here you can also see the original battery pack is still in place, before we swapped it for the rechargeable solar battery.
The bundle of wires are shown inside the control box which power each of the irrigation zones.
Connect a colored strand from the multi-strand wire under each corresponding station screw.
A solar powered rechargeable battery is shown inside the irrigation control box.
Press this clip to release the original battery pack and insert the rechargeable solar battery instead.
The inside wiring of the irrigation controller is shown. A variety of colored wires are connected to each of the zones and control.
All wired up. The wires from the solar panel also come into the control box via a hole in the bottom, and then connect to the white wires of the rechargeable battery pack (black caps). Note the white common wire from the multi-strand is also connected under the “C” screw.
Irrigation valves and sections of PVC inside a trench are shown next to a faucet spigot. A irrigation controller is behind the valves connected to a 4x4 post with a solar panel connected to the top which will run the irrigation system.
Outlet lines attached, and before backfilling to soil level. The valves will also be covered with a protective box to prevent UV damage.

Distribution System and Drip Emitters

Once the solar irrigation controller and valves are set up, it’s time to get water to your plants! 

You can either connect solid ½” drip irrigation tubing right off the end of your valves, or extend your hard pipe further before converting to drip – like we did. Since our valves are a good distance from the landscaped area we want to water, we ran PVC down the hill first since it’s more durable, less likely to get chewed on by gophers, and the larger diameter allows for better water flow (and less pressure loss) than ½” tubing. 

  • Before connecting any drip components, I recommend turning on the water to flush all lines and clear debris first.

  • Convert from PVC or other threaded parts (e.g. from the pressure reducer) to drip tubing using one of these adapters.

  • From there, run ½” irrigation tubing around your landscape, using tees or other couplers as needed. Secure the lines in place with landscape staples. It’s best to keep the tubing near the base of plants if possible.

  • Use a figure 8 clamp or other end cap to end the lines where needed.

  • Use a hole punch tool to add drip emitters, bubblers, ¼” micro-tubing, and other drip components to your system. We like to use classic barbed emitters at the base of shrubs, bubblers to irrigate a slightly wider diameter, or these stake bubblers to irrigate trees.

  • Finally, turn on your system and give it a test run!
  • Drip irrigation lines can be covered in several inches of soil or mulch including bark, wood chips, straw, or even gravel.

A trenched hillside has four PVC lines coming down to PVC rises with elbows which will be the starting point for each drip zone. Solar powered irrigation will be running this system.
PVC pipe coming downhill closer to the orchard space, with 4 risers bringing them to soil/surface level before attaching drip tubing.
Four PVC risers with elbows are shown, one of them has a drip adapter screwed onto the elbow, a hand is holding half inch drip tubing which is to be connected to the adapter.
Using a Permaloc adapter to connect 1/2″ drip tubing to threaded 3/4″ PVC. Simply loosen the nut all the way back, press the black tubing over the barb, and then tighten the nut back down over the tubing to secure it.
Two different lines of half inch drip tubing are running next to each other.  One of the lines is connected to a tee which has drip tubing connected to each point of the tee.
Run the 1/2″ drip tubing throughout the landscape, with the use of tees where needed. Secure with landscape staples.
A section of a terraced orchard is shown covered in burlap ground cover. Black half inch drip tubing is running along fruit tree lines and pollinator plants planted directly into the terraced hill side.
A hand is holding a drip emitter, below there is half inch drip tubing with a drip hole punch next to it. Solar irrigation will be running this system.
Use a hole punch to add drip emitters directly into the 1/2″ tubing
A close up image of a bubble emitter that is attached directly to 1/2 inch drip tubing. It is releasing water in a 360 degree spray. A rock rose is planted directly underneath where the water is dripping.
Black irrigation tubing is running along rocks with drip emitters along the line and running to other plants further away. Burlap is being used as weed suppressant before bark mulch will be placed over the top. Solar powered irrigation is running this system.
Or connect 1/4″ tubing to the 1/2″ tubing, with an emitter on the end closer to the base of the plant.
An orchard space is mulched with bark, and area remains uncovered of mulch but has burlap which is being used as a weed suppressant. Black irrigation tubing is running down from the hill and is connected and running in between a few rock lined planting zones to irrigate new plants.

How long to run drip irrigation systems?

It depends! Every garden has different water demands based on the unique climate, soil, season, temperatures and rainfall patterns. It also depends on your mulching practices, and what type of plants you’re growing. Soil protected with a nice 2 to 4″ layer of mulch will stay damp much longer than bare soil, greatly reducing water needs.

In general, it’s best to provide less frequent, deep, long watering as opposed to short shallow bouts of water every day. This will encourage deep healthy roots and stronger, more resilient plants. In our climate, we typically set our solar irrigation controllers to run for about 45 minutes to an hour, twice per week (and turn them completely off during the rainy winter season). 

The time you run your irrigation system will also vary depending on the type of emitters used. For instance, systems using adjustable bubbler emitters with a higher flow rate (often 10 to 30 GPH) will emit a lot more water and faster than a system using single 1 GPH drip emitters.

A mulched orchard space with rocks used to line out planting areas of shrubs and perennial flowers. A cat is standing in one of the zones while a man is hunched over in a terraced part of the orchard adjusting the irrigation on a fruit tree. Solar powered irrigation is what runs this drip system.
All finished and mulched. I’ll share a post about how we created this orchard space (e.g. natural terraces, burlap ground cover, etc) soon.
A man in a sun hat is standing on a tier of an orchard on a slope, a cat is walking towards the camera. Rocks are lined along each sloped terrace, fruit trees are planted along the top while many pollinator plants are planted along the slope of the terrace.
Badger says thanks for reading!

And that’s how to install a solar powered drip irrigation system.

Well folks, I hope this tutorial helps you feel empowered and prepared to install your own automatic solar powered drip irrigation system too! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. Also please consider pinning or sharing this article if you found it useful. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about how we created our orchard area too. Best of luck, and happy irrigating!

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