Year: 2019

Fall Gardening

A Sustainable Landscape

September marks the beginning of fall gardening here in Central Texas, especially for those native plant species. Early fall is also the perfect time to plant those shady native trees. Native plants can thrive without constant care, attention, and water, which is extremely important in times of drought. Native plants are a greater wildlife value, providing food and habitat. Growing native in your garden or yard will help you save money, time, and the most important natural resource, water.

You can still have a colorful garden.

Central Texas has a variety of beautiful colorful perennials, shrubs, and roses. These native flowers attract natural pollinators which are vital to the environment. It’s the perfect time of year to start planting Wildflower seeds! They germinate in the fall, develop throughout winter and bloom early spring. (Wildflowers do need moist soil to germinate but avoid over watering because they do not like saturated soils.) You can also plant some cool season annuals and vegetables to have throughout our mild fall.

Considerations for Native Trees

Click picture for more soil info.

Although native trees require less attention, it’s still important to consider the preparation. Think about what kind of soil you have in your landscape. Is it rocky? Does it have poor draining conditions? Does it retain water long enough? Here in Williamson County, we are divided between two major soil zones: Backland Prairie and Edwards Plateau.

 The Western side of Williamson County is in the Edwards Plateau zone. Soils are rocky and gravelly because it is underlined by limestone. This soil doesn’t hold water well, has high alkalinity and sometimes a low nutrient content. Consider planting Cedar Elm which can withstand poor soil, or Lacey Oak which can grow on shallow limestone soils. Texas Red Oaks are well adapted to rocky soils, and Bigtooth Maples thrive in alkaline soils. These trees can be watered every 3-4 weeks once well established.

Over to the East, we have Backland Prairie soils. This zone has darker, deep, and clay soils.  This rich fertile soil is great for planting Eastern Red Cedar, which needs deep soil to grow. Chinquapin Oak, Bur Oak, and Pecan all need dark and deep soils to grow their extensive root system. These trees can be watered every two to three weeks once well established.

A Self-Sufficient Landscape

The most important thing to a native landscape is to be self-sufficient. Ever wonder how that giant Oak tree by your neighborhood got so big without anyone taking care of it?  Native plants and trees are adapted to our climate, weather conditions, and soils. I’m not saying you should completely ignore your native plants but let them do their own thing and grow how nature intended them to.

Here’s two great searchable sources of native plants:

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

 Austin Watershed Department’s Grow Green program.

It’s Emergency Preparedness Month: Are you ready?

September is Emergency Preparedness Month and the perfect time to make sure that you and your family are ready for whatever Mother Nature sends your way.

Over the years, Central Texas has witnessed the devastation that storms, flash floods and wildfire can cause. It’s time to take stock and ensure that if a weather event occurs here, everyone is ready. Knowing the risk and staying informed are two of the most important steps that can be taken in the preparedness journey.

Here are a few tips to help get started:

If we can’t reach you, we can’t alert you – register today for local alerts through WarnCentralTexas.org.

Blog: How we pay for basic city services may surprise you

fiscal 2020 budget graphic
The Round Rock City Council will vote Thursday, Sep. 26, on a slight increase in property taxes this coming year. While no one likes paying more in taxes, the increase is needed to ensure the City has the budget necessary to deliver the high-value services our citizens expect and build the infrastructure necessary to keep up with a growing population. 

While it’s easy to target property taxes as evidence of government spending run amok, consider this: For every $1 of residential property tax, the City uses another $4.36 from other sources to fund the $121 million General Fund budget, which pays for core services like Police, Fire, Library, Transportation, and Parks. Let that sink in a minute. 

Property taxes comprise just 35 percent of our General Fund. So where does the rest of the money for the General Fund come from? Sales taxes make up the largest source of revenue at 43 percent, with other fees and service charges covering the remaining 22 percent.  

Back to property taxes. Consider this: Even though single-family homes make up 92 percent of the properties in Round Rock, nearly half of all property tax revenues are paid by owners of non-single family property.  

Single-family homes will contribute $23 million — about 19 percent — of General Fund revenues forecast for fiscal 2020.  

What’s really interesting is that commercial properties (which includes multifamily) makeup just 8 percent of the real estate parcels, but are responsible for 46 percent of the $14.7 billion of the taxable value in Round Rock. That’s why the City works so hard with our partners at the Round Rock Chamber to attract businesses like Kalahari Resorts and Conventions and UPS to locate here. They’re capital-intensive businesses that contribute significantly to our property tax base. 

Think about it this way: If all the City had was property tax revenue to fund general government, we could only afford Police and the Library, with $5 million dollars left over for everything else – Fire, Parks and Recreation, Transportation, General Services and support services like Finance and Information Technology.   

To drill down even further: If all the City had was single-family property tax revenue, we couldn’t cover the Fire Department’s $24 million budget.  

Property tax proposal  

Let’s look at the proposed property tax rate. The City Council is considering a property tax rate of 43.9 cents per $100 of valuation, an increase of 3.7 cents above this year’s effective tax rate of 40.2 cents. The effective tax rate takes into account the 5 percent growth in existing property values from last year. The increase allows the City to fund one-time public safety equipment replacements (.5 cent), debt payments for a five-year road improvement program (1.5 cents) and to keep up with rising operating costs of public safety and city services, including 10 new employees, six of whom are needed for public safety (1.7 cents). 

At the proposed rate, the owner of a median value home worth $255,198 will pay $93 per month in City property taxes next year. That’s an additional $8.84 per month compared to this year. You can use our handy calculator to determine what your property tax will be based on the value of your home. 

Still, City property taxes could be a lot higher.

If voters hadn’t approved increasing the local sales rate back in the 1980s, your City property tax bill would be 25 percent higher. A half-cent of the 2 cents in local sales tax that shoppers pay in Round Rock goes directly to property tax reduction. That half-cent is equal to 15 cents on the property tax rate. That saves the median value homeowner $372 a year on their City tax bill. (That’s a really great reason to Shop the Rock.) 

Bringing in more sales tax revenue is a primary goal of our Sports Capital of Texas tourism program. Visitors who come to play here also shop and dine here, which helps pay for basic City services and takes upward pressure off the property tax rate.  

Strong sales tax revenue and a successful tourism program are big reasons why Round Rock’s property tax rate compares favorably in Central Texas and beyond. 

 

Your total property tax bill 

Of course, the City is only one entity which you pay property taxes to. Other taxing entities are Round Rock ISD, Williamson County, Austin Community College and the Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District. 

The City takes up about 19 percent of your total tax bill. RRISD accounts for 56 percent, Williamson County is 18 percent, and ACC and the WCID make up the final 7 percent. So out of a total tax bill of $5,900 for the median value home, you’re paying about $1,100 toward City services. Again, we think we offer amazing value for your property tax dollars here at the City.  

 

By no means are we saying quit complaining about property taxes. We’re just offering some perspective on how we leverage property taxes to fund City government in Round Rock. Providing remarkable value to our property taxpayers has been a foundational element in Round Rock’s future focus for many years, and this year’s budget and tax rate are no exception. 

Blog: Budget proposal targets major improvements to roadway network

fiscal 2020 budget graphic
How do you implement a $1.2 billion Transportation Master Plan?

One year at a time.

In the proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget, the City of Round Rock is investing $69.3 million into our transportation network. As highlighted in our first FY20 budget blog post, the largest part of the $444.7 million budget is for infrastructure.

The Transportation Master Plan lays out the expansions, extensions and new roadways needed over the next 20 years to keep up with our growing population. Granted, $1.2 billion is a big number. But few would argue there’s a bigger problem in Round Rock than traffic.

There’s little the City can do to improve flows on I-35, the busiest and most congested roadway in town. That’s a Texas Department of Transportation responsibility, and the good news is the state agency has and is and will be spending tens of millions of dollars on interstate improvements in Round Rock.

The most important transportation element in the proposed budget is funding for the first year of the planned five-year, $240 million transportation improvement program. The projects targeted in that program include:

  • Kenney Fort Boulevard extension from Forest Creek Drive to SH 45
  • Gattis School Road widening from A.W. Grimes Boulevard to Double Creek Drive
  • Gattis School Road widening from Via Sonoma to Red Bud Lane, including improvements to the intersection at Red Bud Lane
  • University Boulevard/Chandler Road improvements from A.W. Grimes Boulevard to SH 130
  • Engineering for the extension of Wyoming Springs Drive from Creek Bend Boulevard to FM 3406

The City Council approved in April $30 million in Certificates of Obligation (COs) to pay for the ​initial round of work for the program.

The COs have an impact of 1.5 cents on the proposed property tax rate. Other funding for the program is expected to come from roadway impact fees from developers; state and federal funds such as CAMPO grants, which have already contributed $29 million to the Kenney Fort Boulevard, Gattis School Road and University Boulevard projects; the half-cent, Type B sales tax revenues; and partnerships with private developers.

Other projects slated for funding in the proposed budget include:

  • University Boulevard widening to six lanes from I-35 to Sunrise Road
  • $4.3 million for street maintenance
  • The extension of McNeil Road east to Georgetown Street, an important project for Downtown
  • Reconstruction of RM 620 from I-35 to Deepwood Drive (TxDOT is funding the majority of this project)
  • Connecting Logan Street to A.W. Grimes Boulevard
  • Subdivision sidewalk improvements
  • Relocation and consolidation of Transportation Department staff into a new facility on Luther Peterson Drive
  • Turn lanes into the Kalahari Resorts property from Kenney Fort Boulevard

Ensuring adequate funding to build out our transportation network is one of the key ways the FY20 budget is focused on our future. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’ve made significant progress in recent years and more improvements — including $69 million worth in FY20 — are on the way.

Blog: Budget tells story of City focused on service delivery, future growth 

fiscal 2020 budget graphic
We usually don’t think about budgets telling a story, but they do. And the City of Round Rock’s
proposed fiscal year 2020 budget tells the story of an organization focused on the future 

Of course, the budget will fund the daily activities needed to successfully run our city — with a population of 116,120 and growing — from October 2019 to September 2020. But the FY20 budget is particularly shaped by the City Council’s strategic priorities, which include ensuring we have infrastructure in place to effectively manage our growth.   

In addition to infrastructure, those priorities include maintaining a family-friendly community that’s safe, with high value services and great neighborhoods, and that draws visitors through our tourism program and an authentic Downtown. 

The proposed $444.7 million budget includes $214 million for capital projects like roads and utility infrastructure, $125 million for daily expenses – including 11 new employees – and $106 million for utility and drainage operations and our sports tourism program and facilities. The City Council is scheduled to make its final budget vote on Sept. 12. 

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s budget: 

Transportation 

  • Total capital spending for transportation is proposed to be $69.3 million 
  • Annual funding for neighborhood street maintenance  of $4.3 million. The City has invested $12.5 million in street maintenance projects recently completed or currently inprogress
  • McNeil (East Bagdad) Extension  will extend  McNeil Road east to Georgetown Street in Downtown
  • Significant engineering and staff work to prepare  for a five-year, $240 million transportation improvement program  – including Kenney Fort Boulevard, Gattis School  Road, Red Bud Lane and University Boulevard 

Public Safety 

  • Construction of a new Fire Station No. 3, needed to improve response times in south Round Rock, estimated to be completed in November 2020 
  • A new truck for the Fire Department’s fleet
  • Hiring an  additional Fire Code Inspector to help the Fire Prevention division keep up with the City’s  commercial and residential growth
  • Two additional police officers  and two  additional  victims’ assistants  to support efforts to keep  Round Rock one of safest cities in nation, along  with an additional assistant for public safety vehicle maintenance 

Recreation/Cultural amenities 

  • Continued work on the expansion of our trail system including the Brushy Creek,  Heritage and Lake Creek trails – funded by bonds approved by voters in 2013
  • Design of our new library facility to be built in  Downtown, just north of its existing location
  • Construction of Behrens Ranch Park and updates to Mesa Village Park and Bradford  Park 

Downtown 

The General Fund, which pays for core services like Police, Fire, Library, Transportation and Parks, is funded through sales taxes, property taxes and other fees and services. The charts below show where the money comes from for the General Fund, and where it is spent.  

That’s it for Chapter 1 of the budget story. In future FY20 budget blog posts, we’ll dig deeper into transportation funding, the tax rate proposal, economic development and our expanded tourism program. We hope you’ll follow along, as we tell the story of a city focused on delivering needed services in a fiscally responsible way with a sharp eye on the future.

Save Water this Summer

The weather has been hit or miss so far this summer, with very little rain since July.  The City’s water use, as a whole, has doubled since the beginning of July!!  We were using close to 18 million gallons of water per day; now we’re up to 37 million gallons of water per day!  That’s a huge increase (city-wide, our use has doubled) all because of the heat.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say the high temperatures don’t mean we need to crank up the sprinklers.  That would be doing a disservice to our lawns and native plants AND our water source, which is Lake Georgetown.

While we aren’t in any mandatory water restrictions right now, the potential is there.  The lake levels have dropped from 100% full at the beginning of July, to 86% full as I’m writing this (mid-August).  That’s a lot of water reduction in only about 6 weeks!

I’d like to offer you several specific ways to help keep Round Rock’s water use low, so we don’t have to enact mandatory water restrictions.  You don’t have to do them all (however saving water = saving money and saving energy), so I just ask that you do as many as you can!

  1. Fix any and all leaks at your house; this could be a leaking toilet, a dripping faucet, or a pipe leak on the mainline. It could be leaks in the irrigation system.  Yes, there are a lot of places for water to leak from! 
    • The City’s Utility department has dye tablets and Teflon tape (aka plumber’s tape) for free in the Utility Billing Office. You can also request a free leak kit from the website here or see all our tips for leak detection at your property at roundrocktexas.gov/leaks
    • You can also view your water use on your city water portal; here you can see your weekly, daily, or hourly water use. You would be able to see if you have a leak if there is constant water use all day, even when you are sleeping or gone.  This isn’t in real time, there’s about a 12-hour delay, but it’s also great way to see how much you are using for different activities.
  2. Do not water more than twice per week. This is crucial to keep your lawn and landscape drought tolerant.  There are exceptions to this, like brand newly installed plants, gardens, plants in pots, but generally speaking, nothing needs  to be watered more than twice per week—some plants even less.
    • The problem with watering frequently is that the plant roots don’t grow long and strong.  They stay short and close to the plant—knowing they do not need to grow, as water will appear every day, or every other day.  Your landscaping goal should be to have a yard that you don’t have to water each summer, right?  Get the plant used to occasional watering, by not watering more than twice per week, and even cutting back to once per week.
    • Another great way to save is to not water if rain is forecast, or it has just rained—especially if it’s rained more than ½ an inch. Keep the water off for at least a week after a good soak.
  3. Is your yard thriving this summer? Looking lush and green and not realizing that it’s been over 100 degrees for weeks?  Does it look like it needs mowing once per week for sure, if not more?  If that’s the case, then I’d say you can reduce your runtimes (minutes) slightly and see if you notice any difference in the yard.  If not, great!  You’ve just reduced your water consumption.  You can try to reduce again, slightly, after a week or two to save some more!  By slightly, I’m talking 2 minutes.  That’s it—it’s not much, will your lawn even notice?    Try it! 
  4. Can you tell when your irrigation system has run because you have water all over your car, or back porch, or running down the street? That’s water is being wasted.  That’s water you’ve paid for, but not getting any benefit from.
    • Adjusting heads is relatively easy.  sometimes over time, the sprinkler heads just move and need some slight adjusting back to spray what they are supposed to spray.  In some cases, you can physically turn the head to face the direction it’s supposed to be spraying (this works best when the system is turned on, so you can see if you’re turning it to the right spot). 
    • Sometimes the head is just spraying water too far—over the landscape and into the street or driveway. We have a nice video that shows how to make that adjustment.  It’s also pretty easy, you just need a small, flat-head screwdriver and be willing to get a little wet! 
  5. Consider a smart controller for your irrigation system, rather than a traditional timer.
    • A smart controller will adjust for the weather, versus the traditional timer that waters every, just because it’s the set day to water, regardless if it is about to rain, or has just rained. The city’s irrigation rebate program may also cover a portion of the cost of a new controller, if it’s a WaterSense labeled controller.
    • Another way to achieve this would be to just water manually, not on a schedule. Actually look at your yard to determine if it looks stressed out (don’t do this during the heat of the day, because of course it will!); look at it first thing in the morning.  Is the grass leave blade upright, green, looking strong?  Then it’s good, no extra water is needed.

If you are going to water your lawn, we ask that you voluntarily stay on your water days; this way if we do go into mandatory restrictions you won’t need to make any changes.

    • For odd addresses, that’s Wednesday and/or Saturday.
    • For even addresses, that’s Thursday and/or Sunday.
    • No automatic irrigation is permitted between 10am – 7pm on any day.
    • Watering by hand allowed any day, at any time.

Need more detailed information about the water restrictions?  Visit the City website’s Drought Restriction page.

 

Sports tourism provides a win-win for Round Rock

Sports tourism has been a home run for the City of Round Rock, which has built a variety of first-rate indoor and outdoor athletic facilities. These sites host national tournaments as well provide outstanding venues for our hometown athletes. It’s a true win-win for our community, especially when you consider the economic benefits.

From the Dell Diamond to the Round Rock Sports Center and Round Rock Multipurpose Complex, the City’s investment in top-notch facilities pays off in a number of ways. 

Total direct travel spending in Round Rock for international and domestic travelers totaled $319 million in 2017 (the most recent year for which figures are available). State and local tax revenues directly generated by travel spending were approximately $29 million in 2017. 

The local tax revenue generated from visitors helps to improve infrastructure, add services and keep property taxes low. The money spent by visitors helps employ residents, pay their salaries and keep the local economy strong. Total direct employment in Round Rock for the travel industry in 2017 was 3,250 jobs and $114 million total direct earnings.  

When it comes to usage of the facilities, we get the best of both worlds. Local folks use the outdoor Multipurpose Complex at Old Settlers Park about 50 percent of the time, with 26 percent being used by visitors for tournaments. (About 24 percent of the time the fields are resting or not booked.) At the indoor Sports Center, locals book about 43 percent of the available time, with visitors utilizing the facility about 50 percent of the time. 

The Sports Center was built using mostly hotel occupancy taxes (HOT), a revenue stream generated by overnight visitors to our hotels and motels. For the Multipurpose Complex, about one-third of its construction costs were paid for by HOT revenue. Operating costs for both facilities are 100 percent paid by HOT revenue. 

Our tourism efforts will pay off more significantly when Kalahari Resorts and Conventions opens its flagship facility in Round Rock in late 2020, bringing an expected 1 million visitors to town annually. We project the Kalahari project will generate $4.7 million a year in net revenue to the City.  

What makes all this winning even sweeter is the fact the services provided by the Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau come at no expense to local taxpayers since it is funded entirely by hotel occupancy taxes. 

Tourism creates a diversified economy, which lays a solid foundation for Round Rock’s future growth. It also attracts business and encourages entrepreneurial opportunities. From softball to soccer and scoreboards to stadiums, Round Rock is playing the long game to ensure a winning economy for years to come. Go Round Rock! 

How you can be prepared for shark- and non-shark-related emergencies

It’s Shark Week here in our great nation and now is as good a time as ever to ensure we’re prepared for possible shark- and non-shark-related doom to strike at any time. Texans are no strangers to strange weather, and while shark-depositing tornadoes are most likely not an immediate threat, plenty of other disasters could happen in our area. Here are a few ways you can protect your family: 

Sign up Mommy Shark, Daddy Shark, Grandma Shark and Grandpa Shark for official emergency alerts.  

The City uses  Warn Central Texas  through the Capital Area Council of Governments’ Regional Notification System to send regional emergency alerts. Users choose what types of alerts they want to receive and how they want to receive the alerts, such as text message, phone call and/or email. Alerts are sent based off the location that was used to register for an account. To register, visit warncentraltexas.org.  

Brush up on the non-shark-related weather events that are most likely to happen in our community, and know what to do to stay informed. 

Flash flooding — not sharknados — is the number one weather-related killer in Texas. Nationally, more than half of all flash flood fatalities nationwide involve vehicles, so if you see water over the road, you should always remember to “turn around, don’t drown.” We doubt there are sharks in those flood waters, but it’s always best to play it safe. Be sure to stay up-to-date on the latest low water crossings during flooding events by visiting atxfloods.com. 

Make a basic emergency supply kit to survive in the wild (or at least a few days of being displaced). 

You’ve seen it on the news: floods that force homeowners to escape to their roofs, wildfires that leave residents without their belongings — would you be prepared if the same happened here? Having a basic emergency supply kit ready to go at all times can be a literal lifesaver. Here are a few things you can have ready: 

  • Basic first aid kit, seven-day supply of medications
  • Extra cash in small bills
  • Spare change of clothes
  • Spare home/car key
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, tags, food, bowl)
  • Copies of personal documents in water-tight bag
  • 1 gallon of water per person, per day (3-day supply)
  • 3-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Sanitation/personal hygiene items
  • Chargers, flashlight, extra batteries  

Pay attention to the warning signs for storms, and take shelter when necessary. 

Much like the theme song of Jaws, thunder is a big indicator that something dangerous is about to take place. When thunder roars — go indoors! Seek shelter immediately in a sturdy building or, if a building is not available, a hard-topped vehicle with the windows rolled up. Lightning — and shark attacks — are often used as a metaphor for all things unlikely, but the truth is that an average 47 deaths and 500+ injuries are reported each year in the U.S. due to lightning strikes.   

Want to learn more helpful tips and information about emergency preparedness in Round Rock? Visit the Round Rock Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s website at roundrocktexas.gov/departments/fire/emergency-management 

Mayor Morgan: Dell, Round Rock mark 25 years of successful partnership

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


MAYOR CRAIG MORGAN

Round Rock has a long, storied history of welcoming economic development, and its most well known success story is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Leading up to the 1990s, Round Rock was in serious danger of becoming a bedroom community, which is defined as a “small community that has no major industries and that is lived in by people who go to another town or city to work.” Many people were choosing to live in Round Rock for its affordability and schools, and driving down Interstate 35 to work in Austin.

Although small town comforts tend to be associated with bedroom communities, the truth is suburbs without their own commercial development tend to fall victim to traffic, lack of amenities and higher tax rates as they continue to grow. Our city’s leaders saw the benefit of choosing another future for our community.

Following a surge in commercial and industrial activity in the mid-’90s, Round Rock’s leadership successfully recruited a little company you may have heard of from Austin in 1994. Dell Technologies’ relocation to Round Rock was the beginning of our city as we know it today, spawning homes and businesses catering to thousands of local Dell employees.​

It’s easy to see Dell’s direct economic impact in the form of jobs and contribution to our community’s financial well being after all these years. Dell is the city’s largest sales tax generator, contributing to our public safety, transportation network, parks, library and more.

As recently as 2007, sales tax collections from Dell made up 38 percent of the city’s total sales tax revenues. Just this past year, the City Council created a budgetary policy to limit Dell sales tax collections to just 20 percent of our budgeted general fund sales tax revenues, while depositing any remainder in our general self finance construction fund for one-time capital expenditures to benefit our community.

Dell has an impact far beyond Round Rock city limits. For each of the approximately 16,000 employees working for the company in Texas, another 3.5 jobs are supported across the state. The company spends $3 billion with Texas-based suppliers, supporting more than 71,500 jobs.

In addition to the direct economic benefit to Round Rock and Texas, Dell is well known for its social responsibility in the Central Texas region.

Technology programs led by Dell have helped educate approximately 2,194 underserved youth at the Boys & Girls Club of the Austin Area, and more than $13.4 million and 200,000 hours of volunteer time have been donated across the state supporting initiatives like environmental protection, youth education and disaster relief.

We have confidence to say our community has also been a good choice for Dell. The company’s headquarters-related business in Round Rock has earnings of $9.9 billion, making up 29 percent of Dell’s overall U.S. revenues.

Economic development wins are an important part of Round Rock’s success story, and we are excited to see how these projects continue to benefit our community. Our successful partnership with Dell paved the way for future agreements with Round Rock Premium Outlets, IKEA, Emerson Process Management, Bass Pro Shops, Kalahari Resorts and Conventions and more.

Twenty-five years later, Dell remains a major driver to our economy. As the company continues to make its mark on the state of Texas and beyond, Round Rock is proud to be the home of this stellar organization.

Craig Morgan was elected mayor of Round Rock in May 2017. He has served on the City Council since May 2011.

Smart Irrigation Month is Here

You may have heard by now, that July has been deemed “Smart Irrigation Month” by the Irrigation Association (IA). It’s an IA initiative to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies, products and services in landscape, turf and agricultural irrigation. Smart Irrigation Month has been around since 2005 and is celebrated in July, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur (though here in Central Texas, our hottest months tend to be August and September). With high and hot temperatures come higher water use, it’s just a given. We still want our landscapes to look as good as they have the rest of the year, so we crank up the water.

Today’s blog talks about what is the most important aspects of irrigation, but probably the most overlooked. I’m referring to efficient scheduling of the irrigation system, based on the amount of sunlight in your yard, the sprinkler head type, and to a lesser degree, the plant types in your yard.

These three items require some consideration when entering in how many minutes you are setting each station for—there’s no point in having specialized heads, a shady yard, and native plants if everything is going to run for 20 minutes no matter what it is. Unfortunately, I see that happen a lot. Then folks wonder why areas are brown, or moldy, or plants are dying. (There’s also the consideration of soil type and soil depth; we’re not going to get into that here, but it certainly does play a huge role in irrigation amounts.)

shade means less water is needed

Amount of Light
It may seem obvious, but I’m going to come out and say it anyway—shady areas require less water than sunny areas. If you have good tree coverage and areas of the yard receive less than 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, that’s considered a shady yard. The narrow, sides of our houses qualify for this designation. Full sun areas need more water, usually; this is dependent on what the plant type is here. So, when entering time into your controller, you know that the times should be higher for the sunny spots and lower for the shady ones.

Head Type
There are two main sprinkler head types—rotor and spray. There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all! Rotor heads do just that: rotate, so they are not watering the same area the entire time they are running, therefore, they need to run for a longer period of time than spray heads. The minimum I typically recommend running them for is 15 minutes, and that’s in a shady area.

Since spray heads are stationary, they pop-up and stay watering the same spot the entire time, they can run for a shorter amount of time than rotors. A broad rule of thumb is that spray zones can be watered for half the amount of time of rotor heads. I usually recommend between 6 -15 minutes for those stations, depending on the plant material and amount of sunlight, with the 15 minutes being for areas in full sun and turfgrass.

rocks and native plants mean less water

Drip irrigation is different. Drip typically emits water very slowly, very minimally, so it oftentimes needs to run for longer periods—30 minutes at minimum or longer in many cases. I caution you to know how many gallons per minute your drip is using before you just set it for an hour. I’ve seen drip that was using 20 gallons per minute, which is just as much as “traditional” spray zones! Unfortunately it caused very high water usage at the property before it was discovered. However, since drip is depositing water where the plant needs it, at the roots (rather than spraying it into the air and on leaves), it can be run less often.

Plant Material
Landscape material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta. Landscape could include turfgrass, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, flower beds, annuals, natural areas (like tree motts), bare ground, rocks, and I’m sure many other things. It may be obvious as well, but it does need to be said—areas with no vegetation really don’t need to be watered. The bare ground will just be muddy. Same goes for rocky paths, they don’t grow. Mulched areas don’t grow. Driveways, sidewalks, patios, trash cans, fences, and decks don’t grow. Pools don’t need to be filled by the sprinklers. Trees have usually been growing there longer than you’ve lived there, so they typically don’t need the extra water.

Native plants, established shrubs, or other established perennials do not, I repeat, do not need the same amount of water as the grass. They are natives. They are made for our climate and weather conditions. They will survive without being irrigated twice per week. I can’t count how many times I see native plants being watered more than the grass. So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look completely stressed out. (I’ll get down from my soapbox now!)

natural areas don’t need the extra water

I like to recommend that people put the stations that are shrubs or plants on a different program than the grass stations and set them to water once every other week (if needed; if there’s been no rain). If you want to keep the shrub stations on the same program as the rest of the yard, reduce the time on those stations. They really just don’t need it. Many natives do best in dry, hot conditions and die with too wet soil.

Turfgrass is a little tricky too. A lot of Bermuda grass gets planted here, yet is watered just as much as any other grass (namely, St Augustine). What I said about native plants is true about Bermuda too, you’re growing it because it’s drought tolerant: it doesn’t need to be watered as much. Bermuda grass that’s overwatered tends to get a lot of weeds growing in it. If you have Bermuda, I recommend cutting back the watering time to once per week. Let it perform. Yes, Bermuda goes dormant in times of drought, but it’s not dead. It will green up when it rains or receives irrigation. It looks better with rainwater though. Also, Bermuda is not going to survive in shady areas, it will thin out and eventually die. It requires full sun to really thrive.

St Augustine grass has such a bad reputation as a water hog, but I don’t buy into it. It’s not setting the controller, people are! St Augustine does great in areas with partial sun or partial shade. I’ve seen it look really good in full sun too, with less water than you may think. Ideally, St Augustine should be kept at 3-4” tall when it’s being cut to keep the soil from drying out. 

You may have picked up that there’s no exact time that works for every station or even every yard! Irrigation systems unfortunately aren’t just a turn it on and forget it device. It will take a little tweaking to determine how many minutes the yard will perform well on, and it may need to be changed every year as the trees grow and give out more shade.

Let’s keep using our water smartly, especially during our Smart Irrigation Month(s)!