Photo courtesy USDA ARS
Photo credit David Nance

Variable-flow irrigation sprinkler head
Starting an herb garden in a box on your windowsill or spending a Sunday afternoon planting flowers seems quite different from managing two hundred acres of watermelons, but in fact the underlying principle is the same. The art and science of growing plants - be they flowers, ornamentals, fruit or vegetables - is known as horticulture, and the goal of all horticulturalists is to nurture their chosen plants from seeds to finished products they can be proud of. Putting it plainly, whether you're growing prize roses for a state fair or planting potatoes for the table, you want those plants to thrive. That means taking care of them and, just like us, plants have various needs:
  • A place to grow
  • The right temperature
  • Air and light
  • Water
Irrigation helps take care of one of these needs by providing water. While the basic concept of irrigation is a simple one, there are many fascinating and remarkable systems in use today.

In this article, we'll look at several different types of irrigation systems, starting with some of the oldest and simplest, which will lead us to an understanding of the more complex systems in operation today. But, first, let's take a closer look at what plants need in order to grow well.