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Here is how you can check your drip irrigation system for problems

(Flickr/Ryo Chijiiwa

As your drip irrigation system ages, you need to check regularly for problems, particularly if the system is more than five years old. Over time those little emitters and tubes can start popping off irrigation lines as the PVC system hardens with “old age.” Rabbits and other critters can also chew on lines to get to the water and suddenly you have a watery Old Faithful gushing in your yard.

Because most lines are covered with vegetation or soil and your automatic drip system may be programmed to run at night or at dawn, it may be difficult to spot problems until plants start looking dry and tired or water bills get more costly. So, it can be worthwhile to do a thorough hunt for problems.

Pick a day this fall to inspect your system and enlist a friend or relative to help. One person can turn on the valves to run your system in various parts of the yard while the other checks for leaks or spray coming out of holes in the tubes or for dry areas where no water is trickling out of emitters.

You or your helper can take pictures of problem areas with a cell phone so you can easily find them later. Or damaged areas can be marked with garden flags.

The goal is to check and clean or replace damaged emitters. You’re also looking for pinched or broken lines that can be repaired or replaced.

Although the best idea is to have a package of new emitters or tubes handy for repairs, you can also unplug emitters by soaking them in vinegar to remove mineral deposits.

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension also suggests that in some cases you can even find native or drought-adapted plants that are so well established after a couple of years that you can remove emitters providing them with water. Emitters can also be added as plants grow larger to expand the area being irrigated, the extension advises.

You also want to be sure that your drip system has a pressure regulator that will reduce the incoming water pressure for your drip system to about 20 psi. The water pressure from your home can range from 50 to 75 psi, a level that can cause breaks in those tiny plastic pipes.

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