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  • How to Prevent Freezing Pipes: A Guide to Winterizing Your Garden's Drip Irrigation System

    September 29, 2023 6 min read 0 Comments

    Drip Irrigation in a Hoop House

    Winterizing Your Drip Irrigation

    As the winter season approaches, one common concern for gardeners and farmers is the potential that their garden's drip irrigation system will freeze. Freezing temperatures can lead to costly repairs and disruption in your operation. If you live in a cold climate, it's crucial to properly winterize the drip irrigation system before the first freeze arrives.

    In this guide, we will discuss the importance of winterizing your garden's drip irrigation system, as well as provide practical tips to prevent frozen pipes. By taking the time to prepare your system for colder weather, you can improve its longevity and function. 

    Understanding Drip Irrigation Systems

    Drip irrigation systems are an efficient way to water plants in a garden. This method allows water to drip slowly onto the root zone of plants, which increases the effectiveness of water use and reduces water waste. Learn more about choosing the right irrigation system here

    Whether you’re using hundreds of feet of drip tubing in a high tunnel or an easy DIY-kit to irrigate your raised beds, you’ll want to take proper precautions to care for your system and prevent freezing.

    Note we also know many farms that use drip tape to irrigate acres of planting. These larger-scale farms tend to have a tractor, and when it comes to the end of the season, they completely remove the drip tape and store it over winter. In this instance, you would completely drain the water from your system, allow it time to dry, and then roll up the drip tape for storage.

    But what about drip irrigation systems that remain out all year long?

    Lady Gardener Watering Lettuce in a Hoop House

    Main Steps to Winterize Drip Irrigation System

    These are the common steps to winterize irrigation systems. But do note that not all of these may apply to your particular system. 

    1. Flushing the Drip Irrigation System

    Flushing the drip irrigation system ensures the removal of small particles that could block the system. Follow these steps:

    1. Unplug the drip lines:  Open the end of the drip lines or the flush plugs.
    2. Increase system pressure:  Elevate the system's pressure slightly above its operating pressure.
    3. Flush with clean water:  Use clean, debris-free water to flush the system.
    4. Ensure proper flushing:  Keep flushing until water flows from the farthest point from the pump for at least three times the time required for water to reach the endpoint.
    5. Close the system:  Close the end plugs and turn off the pump.

    2. Draining the System

    Once you complete the flush, it's time to drain the system. Unplug the drains at the lowest points of the irrigation system and open all shut off valves to allow extra water to drain. This reduces the possibility of water freezing in pipes during winter. 

    If you will continue to use the system when there is a possibility of frost, you will need to drain the system after every use. Water during the day and ensure excess water has been drained before nightfall. 

    3. Back-flushing the Filters

    Back-flushing the media filters helps to eliminate any sediment that has accumulated. If not removed, this sediment could potentially form a crust over the media during winter, affecting the system's performance. 

    Take apart the filter and rinse all components in reverse of the normal direction of water flow. Wash the mesh filter housed in the backflow preventer using a decently high-pressure sprayer. Inspect the screen to ensure it's still in good condition and clean from any sediment.

    4. Filter Draining

    Drain the filter to remove all water, reducing the chances of freezing during winter. Allow all parts to air dry before reassembling for storage or winter use. If you will be using the system during risk of frost you can just unscrew the filter housing and dump excess water after you drain the system as described in step 2.  

    5. Control Valves Maintenance

    If possible, remove the control valves and store them in a freeze-free location. If you can't remove them, drain them as much as possible to reduce the risk of freezing. For large-scale systems that will be used year-round, control valves should be insulated and covered. 

    6. Pump Draining

    Above-ground pumps can hold water in their casing. Therefore, drain the pumps before storing them for the winter to prevent water from freezing and causing the casing to crack. If your pump will be used year-round and is at risk of freezing, it should be housed inside an insulated shed. 

    7. Draining Other System Components

    If your irrigation system has any other components that can hold water, ensure you drain or remove them from the system. 

    8. Securing Electrical Components

    Lock the electrical boxes to prevent the accidental starting of irrigation components. This keeps the system safe from potential freeze and crack damage. Ensure that all wires and components are kept safe from critters over winter. Chewed wires in the spring are no one's idea of a good time. 

    9. Engine Servicing

    Service all engines used for pumping prior to winter storage. It is helpful to clean the engine, change the oil, and prepare it for the next growing season. That way grunge doesn’t solidify over winter and your system is ready to go come spring planting. 

    Irrigation in a Hoop House with Growing Crops

    Additional Tips for Winterizing Garden Irrigation System

    It's also essential to give attention to the backflow preventer in the system. This component prevents contaminated water from flowing back into your clean water source. Disconnect and store it in a warm, dry place over the winter to prevent damage. Likewise, store any timers, controllers, or electronic devices indoors to protect them from freezing temperatures and critters.

    Perform regular check-ups of your drip irrigation system during winter to spot any issues early. Even if your system is winterized, occasional inspections are still recommended to keep everything functioning optimally once it's time to reactivate it in the spring.

    Related topics:  How to Replace a Frost-Free Hydrant Prepare Your Garden for Winter with These 8 Chores


    In conclusion, winterizing your garden's drip irrigation system is a crucial step in maintaining its performance and preventing damage caused by freezing temperatures. By following a few simple steps, you can ensure our irrigation systems function properly when spring arrives. Winterizing your drip irrigation system may seem like an overwhelming task, but with this guide, you can do it effectively and efficiently. Remember, proper maintenance of your drip irrigation system will not only enhance its performance but also increase its lifespan. Happy winterizing!

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How do I prepare my drip irrigation system for winter?

    To prepare your drip irrigation system for winter, we recommend disconnecting it from the water source and completely draining any remaining water from the lines. This can be achieved by opening all the valves and allowing the water to flow out. Additionally, disconnect any timers or electronic devices to protect them from winter weather. Store any removable components indoors to prevent damage.

    What are the most effective insulation methods for preventing freezing in drip irrigation systems?

    The most effective insulation methods for drip irrigation systems include wrapping exposed pipes with foam insulation or insulating materials designed for outdoor use. Burying the pipes deeper into the ground and covering with mulch can also offer additional protection against freezing. Lastly, valve insulation covers can be used to protect valves and other sensitive components from the cold.

    How do I drain water from my garden's drip irrigation system to prevent damage during winter?

    Draining water from your garden's drip irrigation system can be done by disconnecting it from the water source and opening all the valves to allow water to flow out. If your system has manual drain valves, make sure to open them as well. In some cases, using compressed air to blow out any remaining water can help ensure the pipes are completely empty. Once all the water has been drained, close the valves and store any removable components indoors.

    What are some best practices for maintaining a drip irrigation system in cold temperatures?

    In cold temperatures, regularly monitor the weather and take necessary precautions when frost or freezing conditions are expected. Inspect your drip irrigation system for any signs of damage or wear, and make repairs as needed. Keep the system well-insulated and continue to check valve insulation covers to ensure they remain securely in place. Draining the system whenever freezing temperatures are anticipated and storing removable components indoors can also help extend the lifespan of your drip irrigation system during the colder months.


    In-depth article on winterization from University of Georgia Extension

    Written by: Mallory Paige

    Picture Credit:  Lisa Knoebel Photography