Water conservation is crucial and is something that each of us can do to help right from our homes. Many of us are looking at our yard and garden care as we welcome spring and the warmer weather, which in turn requires water management. Unfortunately, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that as much as 50% of the water we use outdoors is wasted in part due to inefficient irrigation methods and systems.
With a greater focus on water conservation to help mitigate drought concerns, here are some tips to improve water efficiency without compromising a beautiful yard:
Sharpen Your Sprinkler Setup
Sprinkler systems can be the biggest culprit to water waste. Many variables can cause us to waste water: wind drift, runoff or even running sprinklers during a rainstorm. When you set up your irrigation system this year, make sure all rotors and spray heads are flush with the ground and that the riser, when the head is popped up, extends above the turf for more direct watering. You should also ensure your sprinklers have a uniform spray, don’t have clogged or broken nozzles and verify you have head-to-head spray coverage. Another sprinkler must is not to mix head types in the same zone. In other words, don’t use spray heads and rotors or oscillating heads together as they have dramatically different flow rates. These differences can cause drastic over- or under-watering in the same zone. You should also adjust the spray from your sprinkler heads to avoid obstructions like shrubs, trees or structures to reduce waste. Setting the right foundation for your sprinklers will help you conserve for the long run.
Don’t Let Site Conditions Steal Your Water
Every garden has its own unique characteristics when it comes to soil, slope, sun and shade and these four S’s have a major effect on water use. For example, clay soils absorb water much more slowly than sandy soils and may need to be watered in shorter intervals, but run multiple times in order to reach the roots. Interval watering is likewise helpful in a hillside lawn to prevent wasteful runoff. Knowing your yard profile is key to a healthy lawn and reducing water waste.
Plants are particular, and because of that you need to plan accordingly. Start by picking out water-wise plants that fit your climate zone. Understanding your climate is key to watering the right amount. Once you have your plants, group them by similar watering needs. Mixing plants might be good for aesthetics, but can often lead to major headaches with water schedules, and grouping will lend to better efficiency. One key example of this is to keep trees out of the lawn zone, as trees require deeper, more infrequent watering than lawns.
Preserve the Moisture
As spring cleanup and summer yard preparations get underway, it is a good time to consider adding mulch around those precious flowerbeds. There are many low-cost mulch options available in most parts of the country, including recycled green waste. You can also check with a local nursery or lawn and garden supply shop for bagged and bulk mulch options. Mulch can greatly enhance the beauty of your flowerbeds and expand the effectiveness of watering as it traps in the moisture to reduce rapid evaporation.
Rise and Shine, It’s Water Time
When watering, it is crucial to make sure as much of the water as possible gets to the plants' roots. This means avoiding runoff, over-saturation and evaporation. For this reason, it's good to water when the sun is down to prevent evaporation. However, water left sitting on the lawn too long can result in disease and fungus. Watering in the early morning hours, before sunrise, can prevent disease and fungus, while also avoiding evaporation and improving water usage for a healthy lawn.
Soil Soak Capacity
Depending on your type of soil, water runoff can happen in just a few minutes of running the sprinklers. Once the soil is saturated and runoff occurs, the water that is being applied is being wasted and literally going down the gutter. Many homeowners will run a sprinkler for 15 minutes and if runoff occurs in five minutes, which is common, then upwards of 150 gallons of water can be wasted on a single zone. If you have five zones in your yard, then there could be potentially 750 gallons of water waste for every day that the sprinklers run. A simple solution: Divide your watering into multiple runs for smaller amounts of time. In the case of the 15-minute zone, you could divide that zone into three runs of five minutes each. This allows the water to soak deeper into the soil, preventing runoff and promoting deeper roots for your plants.
These are some simple watering tips that can have a big impact when it comes to saving water and having healthier plants. There are opportunities to conserve in our landscapes without compromising the beauty of these unique outdoor living spaces. By setting your system up right at the beginning of the season, you can help avoid those unwanted dry spots when summer temperatures soar. And while studies have shown that a majority of homeowners overwater lawns by as much as 50%, you can still enjoy a lush lawn and landscape without compromising one of our most precious resources – water.