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Proper Irrigation Practices

In the summer months, most water used in residential areas is applied to landscapes. During these summer months, the water consumption will more than double as compared to the winter months’ consumption. The increase in consumption is correlated to the increased irrigation practices of our communities.

By learning how much water to apply to your landscape and when to water, citizens support four landscape irrigation goals: reducing water costs, conserving and wise use of water, reducting non-source point pollution (contamination from runoff from use of fertilizer or pesticide), and maintaining an attractive landscape.

The following are several of many strategies that one can implement to achieve a beautiful landscape while using water more wisely.

  1. Understand the water needs of your plants, plan and develop proper landscape zones. Avoid mixing plants that have vastly different water requirements in the same watering zone. Also avoid a single station that waters both sunny and shady areas.
  2. Learn to correctly set and use your irrigation controller. Educate yourself on the capabilities of your system and set these choices appropriately. Determine if your system has multiple settings, if the system allows for easy change in watering schedules, if it has the ability to irrigate turf and shrubs separately (zone watering), and if it can operate in short cycles to prevent runoff. Make a list of all stations and where they irrigate to set the settings properly.
  3. Have the proper system pressure. Proper pressure helps minimize wind effects. Excessive water pressure creates small particles which are easily moved away from the planned application pattern by wind. Distorted patterns mean some landscape areas will require additional watering even after sufficient water has gone through the system. Pressure regulator function can be evaluated by checking the pressure at various locations within the system.
  4. Never water if the soil is wet. Install soil moisture and rain sensors; both can be integrated into the controller. Rain sensors will override programmed irrigation settings when a particular amount of rainfall is received. Moisture sensors trigger the irrigation system when a given soil moisture level is reached. This helps assure that plant needs are met and that unneeded irrigation is not applied.
  5. Cycle your sprinklers. During irrigation, water may start to runoff into the gutter or low spot of the lawn before the soil is wet enough for desired watering. This may be due to the sprinklers putting out more water in a given amount of time than the soil can absorb. In technical terms, the precipitation rate is greater than the infiltration rate of the soil. When you notice runoff, turn off your system, wait an hour or so, then restart your cycle. Continue this run-stop-wait-run cycle until the soil has reached the desired moisture.
  6. Repair physical problems immediately. The three most common physical problems in an irrigation system are broken components, such as risers, improperly designed or spaced heads, and/or dissimilar heads or nozzles. Check rotation and direction of spray to avoid watering sidewalks, driveways, streets, etc.
  7. Avoid runoff from irrigation. Runoff can carry applied fertilizer, such as nitrogen, as well as some pesticides into the streets and eventually the storm drains, thereby polluting and damaging the water quality of the receiving stream.

A properly designed and functioning irrigation system can save water, improve plant appearance, and reduce non-point source pollution.

(Thank you to the North Texas Municipal Water District for this information.)