What to Know About a Low Flow Irrigation System—And Why You May Need One

Lauren Wellbank
Written by Lauren Wellbank
Updated April 19, 2022
A toddler playing with sprinklers on a lawn
Photo: IrinasCreativePhoto/E+/Getty Images


  • Low flow irrigation systems are a great way to conserve water while keeping your plants hydrated.

  • They can run you anywhere between $400 and $5,000 for professional installation.

  • There are three main types: drip, trickle, and spray.

  • This is not the type of project you want to DIY due to the potential for unforseen costs and permitting.

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Vibrant green lawns and thriving plants are often the crown jewel (and coveted prize) of most suburban neighborhoods. But with changing rainy seasons and hotter summers, keeping those plants and grasses well watered has become a challenge. Enter low flow irrigation. 

These systems are a great way to make sure your yard is getting the hydration it needs without wasting any water. Here’s what you need to know about getting with the flow.

What Is Low Flow Irrigation?

Closeup of a drip irrigation system
Photo: Photozi/Adobe Stock

Low flow irrigations are a type of sprinkler system (sometimes called microirrigation for its smaller and more targeted approach) that offer a way to keep your plants and lawn watered while eliminating waste. These types of systems have become very popular in areas where frequent droughts have caused water use restrictions, but they are a great solution for watering needs in most areas.

Types of Low Flow Irrigation Systems

There are several different varieties of systems, each of them varying in both complexity and expense. Hiring a landscaper to install a low flow irrigation sprinkler system costs between $400 and $800.  

Drip System

Low flow drip systems are one of the most common types that homeowners have installed and are great for everything from keeping your garden beds well watered to ensuring your veggies are getting all the water they need. These systems run by installing a tube full of small holes either underground near your plants’ root systems or above ground at the base of your plants, ensuring all of the water gets directly to where your plants need it most. 

Trickle System

The low flow trickle system is best used when you’re dealing with potted plants, like in a container garden or greenhouse. This system features a series of smaller nozzles that are attached to stakes and then connected to a main tubing line. Often called spider sprayers (thanks to the system's overall web-like appearance if you look at it from above) you can count on this type of arrangement to hit multiple plants that are further spread out. 

Spray System

If you’ve ever seen a yard with several sprinkler heads spread out across the entire space, you’ve likely witnessed a low flow spray system in action. These water-efficient sprinklers are attached to an underground system of pipes and are specially designed to make sure no water is wasted as it’s distributed. 

Who Can Benefit From Installing Low Flow Irrigation?

If you’re somebody who hates standing outside with a hose each day (sometimes twice a day during the hotter months), or you’re just very environmentally conscious, a low flow irrigation system may be right for you. While there is some upfront investment, both the amount of water and time you save each time you go out there to give your plants a drink will add up over the life of your system.

Who Shouldn’t Install One?

If you live in an area with very strict water regulations, you may be prohibited from having a low flow irrigation system by your local municipality. Additionally, if your home already suffers from low water pressure, this type of system won’t be as water-efficient for you. It’s best to consult with a local professional when it comes to determining if a low flow irrigation system is right for your property. 

How Do They Differ From Other Sprinklers?

When a plumber installs fire sprinklers in your home, they are used to stamp out fires as soon as they begin. But low flow irrigation systems are installed outdoors or inside of greenhouses, to hydrate plants and flowers. They are also different from other types of sprinkler systems because these types of designs are focused on conserving water and preventing waste and misuse. This is one of the things that makes them so perfect for drought-prone areas. 

Is This Something You Can DIY?

Rigging up your own low flow irrigation system may seem like a simple task, but there are plenty of things you need to consider before DIY. Your area may have permit requirements and water restriction guidelines. Additionally, since these systems require installing at least a portion of the piping underground, you may not realize that something has gone wrong until you’re looking at a massive (and expensive) mess.

While DIY-ing could save you a few bucks upfront, it’s likely that it will cost you more down the road.

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