Smart tech for your garden

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It’s easier than ever to let technology administer the infrastructure of your landscape.  There are apps for planning, optimizing, planting, and plant I.D. Web-based applications using wireless sprinkler controllers and mobile technologies can help you manage both your garden’s irrigation and your water costs.

With water usage in North Texas a critical concern, it is more important than ever to consider resource management when it comes to irrigation.  Remember the phrase, “time is money?”  Today, it’s “water is money” because water being wasted is your money circling the drain.

Two things are important in setting up a high-performance irrigation system: making sure it’s efficiently designed and functional, and making sure the system’s infrastructure is state of the art.  While retrofitting can work well with older systems, new systems on the market use proprietary irrigation algorithms and user-friendly interface to give grass and plants exactly the amount of water they need—no more, no less. This is not only efficient and better for your plants, but provides a significant return on your investment with decreased water bills over time.

The irrigation manufacturing industry has backed these new technologies with extensive R&D. Drip irrigation, precision nozzles, and pressure compensation devices are a few good examples of water-delivery components that help target the root zone of the plants and reduce flagrant water wasters like overspray, runoff, and excessive misting.

Ideally, irrigation managers should avoid the use of automatic operation of the sprinkler system – using it to water manually only when there is a need in specific areas.  New irrigation controllers have the capability to make adjustments in run time based on localized, accumulated weather data and variables such as plant type, soil type, slope percentage, sprinkler type and “hydro-zones”—areas where plants, trees, and shrubs have different levels of drought tolerance and watering needs.

High-tech, weather-based controllers also have the ability to send alerts to the irrigation manager via email if there is a malfunction in the system, a calculated watering deficit, power disruptions and other common concerns.  Reporting features give us the ability to monitor your water usage in gallons on a daily basis, which help save you money.  This technology is now mandatory for new installations in many areas of the country and North Texas will likely follow suit in the near future as population growth and increased demands on the water supply become critical.

The key is in knowing how to water and when.  Plants have varying ability to withstand drought conditions and it’s important to choose plants that can accommodate less watering.  Care should be taken in the design stage to arrange watering zones to the specific plant type and corresponding moisture requirement.  In addition, soil has a profound influence on water retention, evaporation and waste. Our clay soils are moisture retentive beneath the surface where the roots live and we do our plants a favor by encouraging deep, extensive root system watering.

The goal should always be to irrigate the root zone of the plants as much as possible.  Spraying the plant canopies invites disease and blocks the intended coverage areas.  Using the right equipment and appropriate size sprinkler heads, nozzles or drip applications, is critical to efficiency.

Properties with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than those without, according to EPA WaterSense ® data.  A little maintenance on your irrigation system will go a long way to prevent waste.

Inspect your system:  Hire an irrigation professional to check your system for leaks, breakages, missing parts. There are many components involved, from hydro-mechanical to electrical to computer software, that are subject to environmental stress and constant, repetitive use.  Wear and tear is inevitable and an undetected breach in the flow of water can waste hundreds or thousands of gallons of water in a short period of time – not to mention putting our plants in peril.  Even minor adjustments in spray patterns and coverage can help minimize overspray, runoff and plant loss.

Program:  A programming technique made possible by modern irrigation controllers is known as “cycle and soak.”  If a particular watering zone, for example, is set to run for ten minutes, the clay soil may become saturated at the surface in 2 minutes and the remaining water cannot penetrate effectively.  Or, the watering is on a slope and the water simply runs down the hill.  With the cycle and soak method of irrigating, the 10-minute runtime is divided into shorter segments to allow the soil to absorb the water effectively between applications and thereby minimize waste.

Check water pressure:  Municipal water pressure can be set higher than the design specifications of irrigation components.  This can result in excessive misting from spray nozzles and displacement by wind and evaporation from the intended target.  It can also cause an increased amount of wear and tear on valves, heads and pipes.  A licensed irrigation professional can evaluate the water pressure in the system and recommend ways to regulate it, if necessary, to match the components to their maximum efficiency.

Timing:  Watering is most effective when applied during early morning or late evening.  Most communities now have restrictions that do not allow watering from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.  This is an efficiency measure due to increased wind, heat and evaporation during the daytime hours.

Be water smart:  Incorporate water-smart landscaping principles into your landscape design.  Hire a professional water auditor to prevent waste.  Water wisely and invest in smart technology to run your landscape systems.

Extreme, random weather patterns have meant drier-than-normal conditions and lower levels in local reservoirs. With warm weather upon us, this is not a good sign. It’s imperative that landscape irrigation be the most important part of any conversation with your garden services provider.

July is National Irrigation Month.  We all love our gardens and public green spaces.  Watering wisely will conserve finite resources and keep landscapes healthy for future generations to enjoy.

About the author:  Larry Speed is a veteran landscape project manager and irrigation professional at Lambert Landscape Company.

The average property owner will over-water by 38% using conventional timer-based irrigation systems.

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