Alternatives To Underground Sprinkler Systems

Alternatives To Underground Sprinkler Systems
What are the best alternatives to underground sprinkler systems if you are on a budget?

When the weather gets warm and dry, keeping your lawn and borders in top condition takes a lot of work.

But, with costs of underground watering systems reaching the thousands, it’s out of reach for many people. It is, however, still the easiest way to water your plants and lawn.

So, before we look at the best alternatives to underground sprinkler systems, let’s look in more detail at why they are so popular:

What Is An Underground Sprinkler System?

An underground sprinkler system is a network of pipes that run underneath the soil and a series of sprinkler heads that usually sit flush with the surface of the lawn but will protrude when in action.

They are then connected to a water supply, either via an outside tap or by plugging in directly to the water supply. 

The method of controlling the underground sprinkler system can be as simple as turning on a tap or as complex as a computerised touch screen inside your home. It depends on the option you go for and the amount you spend.

Once installed, the sprinkler system can be left in place all year round with the minimum amount of maintenance.

How Much Do They Cost?

The cost of an underground sprinkler system in the UK depends on a number of factors.

Firstly, the specification of the system you are installing, whether it’s controlled by a simple tap or complex computer, and whether it’s being installed on an existing lawn or before new turf is laid, will all affect the price.

Additionally, the size of the lawn, how easy access is, and whether you choose to have it installed by a company, or install it yourself, will also change the price.

Typically though, you’re looking at anything between around £1,000 to £3,000 or more for a decent system.

How Are They Installed?

The best time to have an underground sprinkler system installed is before laying the turf. So, if you are thinking of replacing your lawn, or are creating a new one, decide on whether or not you would like an underground sprinkler system before you start work.

This will ensure you can install everything that is needed first, then lay the turf over the top, minimising the damaging and ensuring your lawn looks spotless from the very start.

If you prefer to install your sprinkler system under your existing turf, shallow trenches will need to be dug to sit the pipework in.

Often this can be done without significantly affecting the look of the grass, however, you should be prepared for a period of recovery and possible reseeding of the turf after the pipes have been installed.

Advantages Of Underground Sprinkler Systems

Advantages Of Underground Sprinkler Systems

There are a number of advantages of underground sprinkler systems to consider before you discount them:


Once installed, underground sprinkler systems are one of the easiest ways to water your lawn and plants.

No more dragging the hosepipe down the garden, everything is set up all year round so all you need to do is switch it on when you need it.

Full Coverage

An underground irrigation system can be set up to provide full coverage of all of the areas that require watering.

That means no missed patches and no dragging the sprinkler to a new position every 30 minutes to try and get water everywhere that needs it.

Timed Release

More advanced underground sprinkler systems can use timers and schedules to keep your garden fully watered even when you are not at home.

Save Water

Some of the better systems now include features that work to help preserve the amount of water you use.

Plus, you can time the sprinklers and ensure only the parts of the garden that need it are watered, thereby using less water each day.

Prevent Yellow Patches

Obviously one of the main advantages of watering a garden by any means is that it doesn’t turn yellow or brown during extended dry periods.

Using an underground sprinkler system makes it easy to keep on top of watering the lawn so that yellow patches never appear in the first place.

Disadvantages Of Underground Sprinkler Systems

Despite the numerous benefits of underground sprinkler systems, there are also several disadvantages, which is what may lead you seeking alternatives to underground sprinkler systems:


As we have already mentioned, underground sprinkler systems are not cheap. You are looking at upwards of £1,000 for a decent system.

Even the most basic self-install system, which is essentially just a hosepipe buried underground, can cost several hundreds of pounds.

You may also find that if you have low water pressure, you need extra components such as a water pump in order to get the best coverage possible. This will bump up the cost even further.

Disruptive Installation

While most systems can be installed with the minimum amount of disruption and damage to your lawn, there will be some upheaval and possible damage to your grass.


Although most sprinkler systems are relatively maintenance-free, you may find the sprinkler heads need cleaning out and unblocking from time to time.

Naturally, anything sat in the earth can become clotted with bits of soil and grit over time.


One of the biggest issues with anything underground is that if there is a problem, it can be difficult to repair.

If a pipe becomes cracked or broken you’ll need to locate where the damage has occurred, dig down to the pipe and repair it.

The sprinkler heads can also be damaged by foot traffic, lawnmowers or a stray spade making repairs likely over the lifetime of the system.

More Frequent Mowing

If you’re using a sprinkler at all then you probably will be quite happy with a lush, green lawn all year round. Just keep in mind that a regularly watered lawn will need mowing more often than one that isn’t.

This is necessarily a bad thing as it means your lawn is healthy but it is an extra job to add to your to-do list!

Alternatives To Underground Sprinkler Systems

Alternatives To In-Ground Sprinkler Systems

Naturally, if, after weighing up the pros and cons, you have decided a purpose-built in-ground irrigation system isn’t for you, there are a number of alternatives to underground sprinkler systems you can consider:

Build Your Own

If you’re particularly handy you could look at building your own system using off the shelf sprinklers and pipes.

Keep in mind though that you’ll be lacking any of the more advanced features a purpose-made system can provide. It may also be more prone to breakages if parts are used in ways they weren’t originally designed for.

Water By Hand

Grab a hosepipe or watering can and give the garden a good water by hand. It’ll take quite a long time and may require a fair amount of effort (depending on the size of your garden), but at least it gets the job done and is very cheap!

Use Manual Sprinklers

The preferred option for most homeowners who want to regularly water their garden or lawn, there are numerous manual sprinklers on the market.

From ones that water in circular motions to ones that have a rectangular coverage area, there is something to suit all types of garden.

There are even some that can be programmed via a timer to come on automatically. A decent manual sprinkler can cost anything from around £10 to £40.

Install A Drip Irrigation System

Although not suitable for watering large lawns, a drip irrigation system can be very effective in garden borders.

They are essentially a hosepipe with connectors spaced at intervals that can be controlled to release water one drip at a time.

This gives the plan a steady stream of water throughout the day which can often be better for plants and reduces or even removes the need for you to manually water!

Don’t Water At All

Of course, another option is just to forego watering at all. If you have plants that require regular watering then this may not be an option during extended dry periods.

However, if it’s just your lawn you are worried about, you may not need to be too concerned.

Most grass will go dormant when experiencing extended dry conditions. This is why grass goes yellow or brown. It’s not necessarily dying, it can survive in a dormant state for several weeks without water.

Therefore, don’t feel you need to water your lawn the moment it loses its vivid green colour, the chances are, the colour will return on the next significant downpour.

So, that summarises what is involved when deciding which alternatives to underground sprinkler systems are worth considering. It may be that an in-ground system is the best choice but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options if an undergound system is out of your budget.

If you have enjoyed this article, you may also like our guide on cheap ways to make a garden look nicer.

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