Water Conservation and Irrigation

As springtime arrives in New England a homeowner’s attention can switch quickly from the snow to the lawn. The recent drought in California has renewed the focus on water conservation in the country. Can you imagine what would happen if California (the majority of the west coast) was to run out of water? I’m sure it would make a lot of people rethink why they wasted so much of it on their grass over the years.

Lawns typically only require about 1” of water per week, on average. Sometimes they’ll require a little more during the hottest month of the year (typically July in New England) and a little less during the spring when there’s typically plenty of rain. According to data collected by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) from 1981 – 2010, Rhode Island’s average precipitation ranges from about 47 to 51 inches of rain per year, depending upon where you are located in the state. It’s also similar for Massachusetts (43 – 48in) and Connecticut (45 – 54in). This means your landscape should already be getting close to what it needs to survive just from mother-nature alone. The reason I stated “close to what it needs” is because this precipitation comes in more than one form such as rain, snow, etc. There will be weeks when you get 3 inches of rain and weeks when you get 0 inches of rain. During a period of time when there is very little precipitation is when irrigation systems are most useful in keeping landscapes looking happy and healthy.

It’s best to water a landscape for less frequent long periods of time instead of frequent short periods of time, so the water has a chance to soak deep into the soil where the plant roots can absorb it. It’s also not always necessary to irrigate a landscape daily, unless you see plants or lawn grass showing signs of stress. Deep infrequent waterings (1 – 2 times a week, depending on soil type) help plants to grow deeper roots and to find water on their own. If they are constantly babied and watered everyday they will develop a shallow root system and will be too reliant on the irrigation system for their water requirements. Be sure to keep a close eye on your plants while adjusting the watering schedule. If you see plants start to wilt or weep due to the adjustment, be sure to water them as needed until they appear to be maintaining a healthy appearance.

In order to maximize your water use it’s wise to irrigate in a manner that will minimize water loss. It’s typically best to irrigate the landscape in the early morning hours (3am – 6am**) when the air temperature is cooler and there’s less wind. This will help to minimize water loss due to evaporation or due to the water droplets being blown away from their intended target area.

**Some people will say from 3am – 10am or 4am – 10am is a good time frame to run an irrigation system (which is true), but many of us wake up (around 5am – 8am), shower and then go off to work in the morning. This means strain on the municipal system and the possibility of lower water pressure, so 3am – 6am is usually a good time frame to use. If water is applied in the late evening or early nighttime hours such as 6pm or 12am you risk the possibility of fungus developing. The irrigation water will have time to sit on  grass and plants for many hours with little or no sunlight to help dry them out and will promote damp conditions that are ripe for fungus growth, so DON’T DO IT!

The proper watering times for each landscape area should be determined by factoring in the soil type, wind, light, and slope conditions of the area. Here are some ways that help you conserve water.

    • If you have an irrigation system in the Northeast, it’s estimated that 30 – 40% of your annual water bill (on average, or more) is from irrigating your lawn. Due to advancements in technology over the years, there are now “smart” irrigation systems. These systems have sensors that monitor the weather conditions impacting your landscape. The smart irrigation systems have sensors, which measure rainfall amounts, wind speeds, sun intensity and more. The sensors help determine how much water is necessary for your landscape and when it’s necessary to water it. These systems can help reduce the amount of water used to irrigate a landscape. If you are connected to the town water supply, this can help save you money on your water bill as well as make the irrigation systems more environmentally friendly, by conserving water. The smart irrigation systems are very easy to install. A smart irrigation system can be added on to your existing irrigation controller (if you have one that’s compatible) or you can upgrade your current controller, so it can be added. Check with your landscaper or with us for additional information. Hunter_ET_System

(The picture shown above is of the Hunter ET System.)

  • At Elemental Designs we can gather the proper data and put together a maintenance program for your landscape that includes estimated irrigation amounts and times that are based on the given soils, wind, light, and slope conditions of the different irrigation zones within your site.
  • Make sure your beds have at least 2 to 3 inches of mulch in them. Mulch helps to keep weeds down and also helps the soil below to retain it’s moisture.
  • Reuse water that would otherwise be lost, such as runoff from the roof of a building. Soil can only hold so much water before it becomes saturated and unable to retain anymore. The rest is typically lost through runoff or percolates too deep into the ground to be available to a plants root system. Storage tanks (above or below ground), rain barrels, or other containers can be used to help capture water from gutters and other sources, so the water can be stored and used when needed.
  • Install drip irrigation or soaker hose in plant beds. These two methods of irrigation conserve water and limit the loss of water due to wind, runoff, and evaporation.