Is Your Drip Irrigation System Ready for Winter? Here’s How to Prep It

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated October 6, 2021
drip irrigation garden
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Alexa, add “winterize the drip irrigation system” to my to-do list

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If you use one in your garden, you know that a drip irrigation system helps conserve water, fight off weeds and plant diseases, and minimize the time you spend on yard work. It’s crucial to winterize your drip irrigation system every year before cold weather arrives—ideally at least two to three weeks before the first frost. Otherwise, any water remaining in the system will freeze and expand inside, damaging the tubing, valves, and other accessories.  

Luckily, winterizing your drip system is a quick and simple process, whether you use a manual or automatic drainage system. Follow these steps to protect your irrigation equipment from the looming freezing temperatures and ensure that it stays ready to get back to work for you at the first sign of warmer weather next year.

Difficulty: 1/5

Time: 15–60 mins

Tools and Materials Needed: Air compressor (optional)

1. Turn Off the Main Water Supply

Turn the master shutoff valve on your mainline to stop the flow of water to your system.

2. Remove the Faucet Assembly

Take apart the head assembly. Confirm that there’s no water remaining in the backflow preventer, the filter, and the pressure regulator. If you have a timer, remove the batteries to prevent corrosion. Once complete, pack and store these components indoors, where they’ll be less likely to freeze.

3. Drain the Lines

If you have a manual drain system, open the end caps on all the emitters and let the water drain out. Walk your way through the whole system, lifting the tubing and the fittings at any low points to flush out any water that is trapped. 

If your system features automatic valves, manually confirm that all valves are open and then run the controller through its normal cycle to remove any remaining water. Re-open all valves to prevent water from gathering inside while it sits idle.

4. Optional: Blow Out With Compressed Air

If you have a particularly large home system, blow it out with compressed air for additional peace of mind. If you don’t have experience using an air compressor, consider hiring a local handyperson to complete this task. Highly pressurized air can easily cause serious injury. 

If this is a task you’d prefer to DIY, rent an air compressor from your local equipment lender or hardware store. Wear ANSI-rated eye protection to shield yourself from the pressurized air and any debris it may set loose. 

Slowly turn the shutoff valve back to the open position. Attach the compressor hose to the threaded opening on the mainline and make sure the connection is tight; use pliers or a wrench if necessary. 

Set the air compressor to operate at 30 pounds per square inch (psi). Slowly increase the pressure as needed and stop once air comes out of the emitters. Warning: do not exceed 50 psi, which is the maximum air pressure the tubing can withstand without risk of permanent damage.

5. Cap the Adapter and Tubing Ends

caps and attachments to irrigation system
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Once the lines have fully drained, put all the end caps back on the emitters, but leave them loose—this will allow any excess water to drain throughout the winter while preventing wandering insects from damaging the tubing. Just don’t forget to tighten the end caps before you start the system up again next spring!

Lastly, cap the female end of the threaded swivel adapter you removed from the faucet assembly during step two.

Is It Ever Worth Hiring a Pro?

If the idea of tackling yet another annual yard chore is overwhelming, you can turn to the pros to keep your drip irrigation system safe throughout the cold months. Enlist the help of a contractor who specializes in sprinkler winterization to address any repair needs and have you ready for the planting season next spring.

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