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11 Types of Irrigation Systems 

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Adequate water is essential in crop production. This calls for regular rainfall in the right amount.

But this does not always happen. Lack of rainfall is a major challenge for healthy plant growth in many areas of the globe. And this results in food shortage and poor agricultural output.

Thanks to various irrigation systems, you can supply water to your plants regularly. 

Besides keeping them tirgid, water helps plants absorb essential soil nutrients and fertilizers.

This post highlights eleven types of irrigation systems that you can adopt for your kitchen garden or a commercial farm.

Furrow irrigation of crops in a farm

1. Surface Irrigation Systems 

Surface irrigation involves using gravity-fed overland water flow to irrigate your crops. This system dates back to more than 6000 years ago.

Basin, border, and furrow irrigation are the different types of this system.

You can distinguish them as follows:

  • In basin irrigation, level dyked areas receive undirected water flow to keep the soil wet. The basin size varies depending on your crops. 

This type is ideal for crops that tolerate inundation, such as rice.

During heavy rains, you have to create spill structures to let excess water flow out.

  • In border irrigation, rectangular-shaped barriers with sloping surfaces trap water to keep your garden wet.

At the tail end, your garden should have no dyke to allow free drainage. You can irrigate almost all crops using this method since it allows water supply regulation.

However, the method is not ideal for crops that require ponding such as rice.

  • In furrow irrigation, you create shallow channels on the soil surface at intervals to direct water flow. Each furrow receives water through pipes, hand-dug channels, or siphon tubes. 

A great feature of this irrigation type is the ability to control the water amount. However, it can lead to salt buildup in parts of your farm that receive little or no water.

Irrigation system watering crops in a garden

2. Sprinkler Irrigation System 

The sprinkler irrigation system involves supplying water to your crops through sprinklers. The water distribution is similar to natural rainfall.

The sprinklers break water into small drops, which fall to the ground as raindrops. To achieve this, water flows through a system of pipes before it is pushed through the sprinklers. 

You should ensure the pumps, sprinklers, and supply system are uniform for even water supply to all crops. 

This irrigation system is ideal for delicate crops like lettuce because the small water droplets are harmless to leaves and branches.

drip irrigation system installed to support the growth of the lettuce plants

3. Drip Irrigation System 

Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the plant root zone. This method is economical and ideal for growing plants since you supply the right amount of water to all crops.

In drip irrigation, you supply water to the field using drip lines (pipes). The pipes have drippers at regular intervals which emit drops containing water and fertilizer.

Drip irrigation enhances uniform application of water and fertilizer throughout your field.

The drip irrigation system is popular for the following reasons.

  • Works well in any topography and soil type.
  • Saves energy because it works on low water pressure.
  • Enhances efficient fertilizer use with minimal leaching.
  • Huge water savings since there is no runoff. Evaporation is also minimal.
  • Higher quality yields since all plants receive the right amount of water and nutrients.

If you’re wondering which method to adopt, drip irrigation works well for all plants and soil types. Besides, it requires minimal operating skills and manpower.

Center pivot crop irrigation spraying water in the middle of the farm

4. Center Pivot Irrigation System 

This method works through mechanical pressure application on water. CPI supplies water to your field in a circular pattern. 

A lateral, stainless steel pipeline forms the pivot system. The pipe is mounted across truss structures which offer support. 

The center pivot irrigation system utilizes sprinkler nozzles which are installed along the pipeline and the lateral pipe supplies water to your crops.

You can adjust the pressure to regulate the amount of water flowing out depending on your plant’s water needs.

You should adopt this irrigation method because:

  • It is economical for larger operations, and the system can last up to 20 years.
  • High water efficiency rate.
  • Ideal for fertilizer and pesticide application to your crops.

The circular pattern it creates is famous for the emblematic unique circles in America’s food crop plantations.

flood irrigation of crops in a farm

5. Flood Irrigation System 

Flood irrigation is among the oldest systems. It involves flooding your farm with water and letting it soak the soil.

If you live in a place with ample water supply, you can use this method since it is simple.

However, supplying water to your crops indiscriminately can also lead to wastage.

Farmers did flood irrigation by hand in the past. This was tedious, especially for large fields.

To simplify the work involved, farmers developed canals to transport water from wells and springs to the fields.

Why should you adopt this system in your yard?

  • Requires no technical skills.
  • All crops receive water since the field is flooded.

However, flooding has its demerits, such as water wastage, since about 40% is lost through evaporation.

Flood irrigation works well on heavy clay soils with field crops.

6. Gravity Irrigation System 

Gravity irrigation systems convey water from the source to your crops using gravity. Water flows through pipelines to the fields using gravity.

Gravity irrigation is popular because of its cost-effectiveness. You don’t need mechanical energy to push water through the pipes.

The method delivers water to the highest end of a slope field or at the edge of a level field. The water flows down the field in furrows aided by gravity.

Although tedious, you can modify your field to suit this method.

Modern farmers have improved the gravity irrigation system’s efficiency by pumping water from the source before distribution.

Rotary Irrigation sprinkling water in a garden

7. Rotary Irrigation System 

Rotary irrigation is a lawn watering system that uses spike-driven rounded heads. Each head rotates at 360° while sprinkling water through a series of holes.

You can connect the heads to underground pipes if you use piped water. The number of heads you install depends on the size of the growing area.

For smaller farms, one head is enough. However, you need several heads for a commercial field.

The rotary irrigation system is popular because the heads are cheap. Furthermore, it is more economical than underground systems.

The rotating heads counter the wind’s influence, ensuring water reaches the required parts only. This minimizes wastage.

8. Portable Irrigation System 

If you want to water parts of your field while others remain dry, you need a portable irrigation system. A sprinkler gun sprays water at one point before you move it to the next.

Schools, cemeteries, parks, and athletic fields require this irrigation system. For example, you can use the sprinkler gun to water the school flowers or a specific part of the cemetery.

This method is economical since you only water selected parts hence minimal water wastage.

9. Wastewater Irrigation System 

As the name suggests, in wastewater irrigation systems, you use wastewater to irrigate your field. Whether raw or reclaimed, you can direct wastewater to your crops after discharge.

There is no specific irrigation type to apply wastewater to your crops. You can use any efficient and economical method.

Drip irrigation is the most applied since it directs water to the plant roots, ensuring minimal waste.

Besides, the organic content in wastewater is beneficial for plant nourishment.

This system is also called beneficial reuse and dispersal of wastewater.

Subsurface Irrigation installed on top of dry soil

10. Subsurface Irrigation System 

The subsurface irrigation system supplies water to the root zones of your crops using buried polyethylene tubing. The tubes are also called drip tapes and come in varying diameters.

Small holes along the drip tape help to emit water to the plant roots at 18–24 inches intervals. The holes are called emitters.

Subsurface irrigation is efficient and water-saving. Other advantages of using this method include:

  • Low labor requirements.
  • High yields as crops get water uniformly.
  • Low evaporation since the surface soil is dry while the subsurface where the roots are gets wet.
a woman using a watering can to water garden bed

11. Manual Irrigation 

You can supply water to your crops manually using sprinkling cans. This method is ideal for small gardens like your kitchen garden or flower bed.

You only need a watering can to use this method, which makes it popular for small-area watering. And because you only water specific areas, there is minimal water loss.


Irrigation is crucial in crop farming. Whether you want a well-nourished flower bed, a green lawn, or healthy crops on your farm, there is a system that suits your needs.

Before you choose an irrigation system, consider your yard size and water availability. The cost of watering your crops should not exceed their yield value.


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