Friday, June 21, 2013

Irrigation Police: Wasting Water And Killing Your Plants

Clive the Pig from Pennywell Farms in Devon, England.
His expression embodies our disgust for the amount
of rain we have received this June.
We have been buried with water this June in New England.  As of June 18th, we have had 11.13 inches of rain (Blue Hill Observatory), and that makes it the fourth wettest June on record with 12 days left to move up.

That is 2/3rds of an inch a day, when most gardens in this cooler weather could live off that amount in a week.  April may have been a little dry, but this has been crazy.

Yet through all this rain, with a few dry days thrown in, homeowners and commercial spaces have been running their irrigation.  During downpours, the day after rain, the day before rain, and in many cases some irrigation systems run every day.

Now, I have to be careful because I am not perfect.  I eat red meat, I use Round-up(sparingly), I like Impatiens in deep shade, I wear leather (not pants or crazy stuff), I like 'Real Housewives of New Jersey', I am a man, and my system came on once in the rain when the sensor had fallen down.

No system is perfect, but with a little bit of attention everyone can save water, money and have healthier gardens.

This system is pouring out water, mostly on the parking
lot the day after receiving an inch of rain.  In the previous
week we had received over 4 inches of rain.  I had some
other pictures but didn't want to single out
 individuals or houses.
There is plenty of technology that will help you to efficiently water your lawn and gardens and minimize the cost of water if you are paying for town water.  Every system should have a rain sensor, this will not allow the system to run if it senses water or is still wet from a recent rain.  There are some new and very sophisticated systems that access local weather data and can adjust output based upon past rain, temperatures and forecast weather.  Some systems even use sensors in the ground to determine watering needs.  

Grey Water is also becoming popular for watering gardens.  This has become a necessity in certain parts of the world.  I remember, at a firm that I worked at a number of years ago, a project in Israel where gray water was the only way to keep the gardens watered due to local restrictions.

Not only is too much water a waste of water and money, but most plants do not appreciate sitting in wet soil. Most plants, especially grass need to dry out a little between waterings and prefer regular deep watering  than everyday watering.  Daily, light watering is the worst for all plants since it makes the plants send roots to the surface to collect water and this makes them very intolerant of drought.  Deep watering(by rain or irrigation) allows the roots to go deep where it is cooler and water stays longer.

Too much water also brings disease.  Disease weakens plants, which brings insects, which brings pesticides and a whole nasty cycle.

Talk to your irrigation contractor or find a new one that utilizes some of these new technologies to minimize waste and improve the health of your lawn and gardens.

If you don't want to make this investment, take a look at your system and become familiar with how it works.  So many irrigation companies turn on the systems each spring and they irresponsibly put way too much water on.  Once a week to provide and inch+ of water is enough given normal temperatures and rain.  If you don't know how long it takes to deliver an inch of water, put a receptacle on your lawn that has vertical sides(for proper measurement).

Different types of irrigation heads deliver different amounts during a set period so check out the different zones of your garden.  This doesn't have to be exact and could be a cool project for your kids on a summer day.  Generally sunny areas need more water than shady areas, so you might have the sunny areas run longer than the shady areas, or maybe they come on an extra day of the week.  The new controllers are quite sophisticated and people rarely use them to their potential.

If the weather gets really hot then you can increase the time or frequency and adjust back when it cools down.  No one setting will work for the whole season.  With a little knowledge and some adjustments you can save a lot of water and a lot of money.  For some of the systems I see running, I know that they could save over a thousand in water bills and who knows what else with regard to plants.

Water responsibly or the Irrigation Police will find you.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with everything you wrote (except for Real Housewives) ;-)

    The best gardens (IMHO) are those that are adapted to the climate in terms of soil, pH, cold and heat zones, light and of course precipitation.

    Unfortunately, many homeowners like grass. And in many parts of the country (especially here in the Mid-South) there is no grass that can withstand our typical summer droughts (not so bad this year) without supplemental water.

    But the idea of watering after 11-inches of rain in less than a month? Yeah. That's just ridiculous.