From the Sperry Garden – October, 2007

We will be put under required watering curtailments in our area beginning June 1. That’s partly because of the drought, and some of us feel it may also be because our area has grown so rapidly that water consumption has outpaced ability to capture and deliver it. Whatever the reasons, we all need to be prudent and sharing in our use of the water we have available to us. Based on my observations over the years, here are my tips. They’re what I practice at my own home.

If you’re using a hose and sprinkler, keep it aimed low to the ground to avoid drift and evaporation. Soaker hoses work especially well. Water in the evening and early morning, but not during the heat of the day. Again, too much evaporation and also the chance of sunburned foliage.

If you have a sprinkler system, be sure it’s water-efficient. Work with a licensed irrigation contractor who understands things like line pressure, water consumption and spray patterns of various types of heads, and water needs of various parts of your landscape. Get several bids, and ask for references.

If you already have an irrigation system, conduct a thorough inventory of its efficient water use immediately. Put it through its paces. Analyze your plants carefully. Look for any types of problems. Start by cycling each zone to run. Look at each head to be certain it’s spraying uniformly. If the pattern isn’t even, open the head and clean its filter. Turn the water back on for a moment to flush out the line, then turn it off and put the head back in place.

Heads can also become misaligned. What used to spray turf or shrub beds now is shooting directly at oncoming traffic in the street. Most heads that throw in less than full circles have arcs and arrows molded into their tops, so you can see exactly where they should be aimed. Most times a simple twist of the wrist will put it back in the correct placement.

If new spring growth of shrubs or groundcovers is blocking your heads’ spray patterns, either prune the plants or use extenders to raise the heads. Trim grass away from turf heads.

You may notice that some of your heads don’t spray to their full capacity. Again, they may be partially plugged with debris. If it’s only affecting one or two heads, open them up and clean them out. If it’s affecting several heads in close proximity to one another, particularly if they’re at the end of a line, it may be a lack of available pressure. Run the system early in the day, when pressure is at its best, and see if that helps. There are special low-flow heads that can restore full spray patterns with less water per hour. Remember that each head should reach to the centers of all the heads that surround it to ensure uniform coverage.

If you find boggy spots while you’re out mowing, and if it’s been several days since it rained or since you ran the sprinklers, you probably have a valve that is stuck partially open. It may be that a very small pebble or clod of hard soil has lodged in the gasket that seals the valve shut. Turn the water supply off, open the valve, clean the gasket (or possibly replace it), then put it all back together again. If it still allows seepage at the lowest head, it’s still sticking open. You may even need to replace the valve entirely.

Leave your time clock in the “Manual” mode, and learn to “read” your plants. You’ll learn to watch for a few specific plants that will be the first to wilt. When they’re showing signs of drought, flick the switch and run the sprinklers.

Each zone in your system will require its own amount of time. You may run big turf heads that cover large areas for an hour or more, just to soak the soil deeply. Spray heads in shady beds, by comparison, may not need to be run more than a few minutes every few days. Again, your plants will tell you.

Finally, two related notes that do not directly involve your irrigation equipment:

Get rid of weeds. They rob much-needed water, and they’re much more efficient at doing so than the cultivated plants you’re trying to grow.

Also, mulch your beds to reduce the soil-to-air contact. You can use roll-type mulches, or you can put bark mulch, compost or shredded tree leaves.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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