Home & Garden

Room to Grow: Smart irrigation in home landscapes

How often do you catch your neighbors watering the wrong way? Maybe we’ve just had a drenching afternoon shower, or perhaps it is noon and irrigation systems continue to pump out gallons of water.

For those conservationists out there, it takes self-control not to scold our friends and family about their poor practices. Consider giving them some gentle encouragement to change their routine for the better. A few simple changes can save time, money and even prevent the onset of some landscape problems.

First, ask yourself whether you really need to water. We do much more damage by applying too much water, rather than too little. It only takes a few minutes to check your lawn and see if spending that money is necessary. When a turf grass is under moisture stress, it becomes dull and bluish-green, the leaf blades fold or roll and footprints remain after you walk over the area.

When you do need to water, a good rule of thumb is to water less often and more deeply. Decrease the frequency of watering to once per week and increase the length of time you water. Light, frequent irrigations produce shallow, weak root systems. The shallow root system prevents efficient use of plant nutrients and water in the soil.

Most turf grass grown in Georgia needs approximately 1 inch of water per week during the summer to remain green and growing. To determine how long it takes to distribute an inch of water in your yard, set a tuna can in the garden (or lawn) under the sprinkler and observe how long it takes to fill. This will allow you to estimate the length of time to run the irrigation system.

Time of application affects water-use efficiency. Watering should been done between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. During this time, there is generally less wind, lower temperatures and therefore less water lost to evaporation. Also, irrigating during the evening after dew develops (9 p.m.) and before it dries in the morning (9 a.m.) prevents disease problems by minimizing the window of time that foliage remains wet.

Check your watering patterns to make sure your sprinklers are wetting the grass and not the gutter, pavement or the neighbor’s grass. This will require an inspection at the beginning of the watering season. An adjustment of the heads may be necessary so that no water is wasted.

Also, check your system for leaks and call an irrigation specialist to correct any problems.

For landscape plantings, mulch is one of the most beneficial landscape practices. Mulches conserve moisture by preventing evaporative water loss from the soil surface and reducing the need for supplemental irrigation during periods of limited rainfall.

By maintaining an even moisture supply in the soil, mulches prevent fluctuations in soil moisture that can damage roots. They also insulate the roots of plants from summer heat and winter cold and help control weeds, which compete with plants for moisture. Pine straw, pine-bark mini-nuggets and shredded hardwood mulch or chips are some of the best mulches for a water-wise landscape.

Finally, plant plants that require higher amounts of water -- annuals, for example -- in beds together so supplemental water can be applied to targeted areas rather than the entire yard. One goal might even be to reduce the areas in your landscape that require more water and work toward increased natural areas utilizing native and/or low-maintenance plants.

Have a great summer and happy watering! For more tips on water conservation in your landscape, visit www.extension.uga.edu/environment/water.

Contact Karol Kelly at karolk@uga.edu.