Capillary Irrigation for Container Nurseries: a practical alternative to overhead irrigation?

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,867.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Ellen J. Colodney
Coastal Plain Conservation Nursery, Inc


  • Additional Plants: native plants, ornamentals


  • Crop Production: fertigation, application rate management, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, agricultural finance
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Most commercial nurseries use overhead irrigation for containers larger than small plugs and smaller than 5 gallons. Overhead irrigation is inefficient, typically wasting more than half of applied water and polluting the environment with leached fertilizer. Capillary irrigation uses considerably less water than overhead irrigation and dramatically reduces nitrate and phosphate runoff. But growers have been slow to embrace this technology. In the absence of regulatory pressure to conserve water or reduce runoff, capillary irrigation will only replace overhead irrigation if it answers more immediate concerns of growers.. Test plots will consist of: capillary system installed on native soil, with water supplied through drip lines only and capillary system installed as a retrofit in existing overhead irrigation area, with water supplied primarily through drip lines but with overhead irrigation available if needed and overhead irrigation without capillary system. The study will be conducted in our native plant nursery in northeastern North Carolina, using a wide variety of woody and herbaceous species. All plants will receive standard care (composted media, pre-emergent herbicide, supplemental magnesium, diluted sulfuric acid to maintain pH as needed, supports to keep plants upright, etc), with the exception that trade one gallon containers on the capillary mats will receive 2/3 of the fertilizer applied to similar plants receiving overhead irrigation alone.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.