irrigation

Fall is Here–You Can Water Less!

Now that we’re officially into Fall and we’ve been enjoying the cooler temperatures; it’s time to reduce the watering times on your irrigation controllers.  With less evaporation occurring, the landscape doesn’t need to be watered as often as during the summer months.  My general rule of thumb is: cut watering in half during Fall and Spring.wwl fall aster

Since we are still in water restrictions (no more than twice per week watering), the easiest and maybe best way to achieve this is simply turning off one of your watering days.  Now simply water once per week, but keep all of the minutes the same.

In case you missed the blog I wrote back in early August about irrigation scheduling, I want to repeat some of that same information.  You can find the full blog here.  Basically, it’s about how to determine how many minutes to set the various zones for.

The main idea is that there are 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.  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.

Amount of Lightamerican_beauty_berry_a

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.  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 typesrotor and spray.  There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all!

  •  Rotor heads, if you remember, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 much longer in many cases

Plant Material

Landscape (read: living plant) material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta.  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, and decks don’t grow.  Pools don’t need to be filled by the sprinklers.

Native plants, established shrubs, or other established perennials do not, I repeat, do not need the same amount of water as the grass.  That’s why you’ve planted them-they are native!  They are made for our climate and weather conditions.   So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look stressed (i.e. droopy leaves, limbs first thing in the morning).

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.  It will take a little tweaking to determine how few 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.

Here’s a watering schedule I follow, when irrigation is necessary during the Fall (October, maybe November) months:

 

Plant Exposure Type of Sprinkler Head Days Runtime (minutes)
St. Augustine sun spray as needed, max. 1x/wk 10 to 15
    rotor as needed, max. 1x/wk 15 to 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Bermudagrass sun spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 10
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades) sun spray as needed, max. 1x/wk 10 to 15
    rotor as needed, max. 1x/wk 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Buffalograss sun spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 10 to 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Common shrubs sun spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 10 to 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Common groundcovers sun spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 10-15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20

Smart Irrigation Month, Pt 4: Scheduling

SmartIrrMonthWhile it’s technically NOT Smart Irrigation Month any more, I wanted to make sure I got this last part of the series out to you, it’s probably the most important of the bunch.  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 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.)

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 are areas that 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

As I’ve talked about in an earlier blog, there are two main sprinkler head typesrotor and spray.  There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all!  Rotor heads, if you remember, 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.  Usually between 25-35 minutes is a good time for sunnier areas with turfgrass.

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.  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.

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 much 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 cased very high water usage at the property before it was discovered.

Plant Material

Landscape material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta.  Landscape could include turfgrass, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, 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, and decks don’t grow.  Pools don’t need to be filled by the sprinklers (I’ve seen plenty of sprinkler heads spraying directly into pools!).  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.  That’s why you’ve planted them-they are native!  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.  It’s counter intuitive to the reason for using natives.  So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look completely stressed out.

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, simply turn down the time.  I recommended between 6-8 minutes regardless of if it’s sun or shade.  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 all 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, the yard owners 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.  It will also thin out in full shade areas, but does better than most grasses.  Ideally, St Augustine should be kept at 3-4″ tall when it’s being cut to keep the soil from drying out.  I water my St Augustine yard with rotor heads for 20 minutes and it’s looking great.

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.  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.

Here’s a watering Summer (June – September) schedule I follow, when irrigation is necessary, setting my controller for two water start times (i.e. 2:15am and 4:15am)

Plant Exposure Type of Head Days Runtime (min)
St. Augustine sun spray Every 5-7 days  10 – 15
    rotor Every 5-7 days 15 – 30
  shade spray Every 5-7 days  8 – 10
    rotor Every 5-7 days 15 – 20
Bermudagrass sun spray Every 5-7 days 10
    rotor Every 5-7 days 20
  shade spray Every 5-7 days 8
    rotor Every 5-7 days 15 – 20
Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades) sun spray Every 5-7 days  10 – 15
    rotor Every 5-7 days 20
  shade spray Every 5-7 days 10
    rotor Every 5-7 days 20
Buffalograss sun spray 1x per 2 wks 10
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray 1x per 2 wks 8
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 15
Common shrubs sun spray 1x per 2 wks 10
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray 1x per 2 wks 8
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 15
Common groundcovers sun spray 1x per 2 wks 10
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray 1x per 2 wks 8
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 15

July is Smart Irrigation Month, Pt 2: Sensors

SmartIrrMonthThe first thing I saw when I turned my computer on Friday morning was emails from co-workers and City residents voicing concern about the irrigation systems they saw running this morning-after receiving 3+ inches of rain!  It’s crazy, I know.

I don’t think anyone deliberately chooses to look silly or be wasteful by watering during or immediately after a huge rainstorm, they just don’t actively think about their irrigation system.  For commercial properties, it’s bad for their image to look so wasteful, so I would think they’d be the first to jump on the efficient bandwagon and make sure the irrigation is always working as efficiently as possible.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case–and not just with commercial properties.  This brings me to my second topic for Smart Irrigation Month-Upgrading your Irrigation System.

Updating, or improving irrigation systems, in my experience, tend to happen mainly when other big yard activities are going on, such as installing a pool or a new patio, or deck; replanting the sod or a huge remodel of all the landscaping in the yard.  I don’t really see folks upgrading their systems just because there’s a new model of controller, or cool sensor.  While irrigation is technology, apparently it’s not the cool technology that people invest in as frequently as their portable, hand-held electronic devices.  I think it’s because we don’t visually see them or think of them nearly as much as our phones, or portable devices.  They seem to do a good job-the grass is alive, so what’s to change?  Well, technology has come a long way in the last decade in irrigation systems, which can save you money in water costs, conserve water, water more to the plant’s needs, and maybe have a little cool factor when you talk about your yard with your friends!

I don’t want this article to go too long, so I will focus only on sensors today.

Rain sensors are required on all newly installed irrigation systems since January 1, 2009.  Though they have been around many years prior to that, they generally weren’t installed very frequently even though they are relatively cheap.    sensor poor location edited

  • Sensors include rain sensors, freeze sensors, and soil moisture sensors.  All of these are separate devices that are wired into the main irrigation controller, they do not come installed as part of the controller.  Some controllers have a switch on them that says “sensor active” and “sensor bypass”, that doesn’t mean there is actually a sensor installed on your system.

A rain sensor turns off the irrigation system (if it’s running) after a specified amount of water has fallen or it delays the system from turning on after a specified amount of rain-so all of its actions are during or after the rain. There’s no weather forecasting, or determination of if watering is necessary. They have to be installed in an unobstructed location (like a fence or roofline) so that rain can fall in it. I’ve seen them under trees and under buildings! (see the picture for proof).  But, it is better to have a working rain sensor than nothing, as I wish some commercial properties would have this morning! By the way, they’re pretty cheap-about $35-$75 retail.

Tremendous improvements have been made in the soil moisture sensor arena. A soil moisture sensor is actually buried in the ground about 6-inches deep (yes, you have to have that much soil for these to work!). They take moisture readings from the soil to determine if the soil is dry enough to require the irrigation to run; if it determines the soil doesn’t require additional water, it doesn’t allow the system to run. Ideally, you’d want more than one soil moisture sensor installed in your yard, one in sunny area and one in a shadier area, otherwise parts of your yard may be under- or overwatered. It’s more accurate watering than just watering because it’s a Saturday. It’s watering because the soil actually is dry. They are a little more costly than rain sensors, but they provide a more effective use of water.

 

Freeze sensors do not allow an irrigation system to turn on when temperatures reach a specific degree, usually around 40° F. These aren’t that common to have at homes, because we just turn off our irrigation systems for the winter. Commercial properties tend to water more year-round and would benefit from a freeze sensor to prevent the irrigation from freezing and causing a hazard.

 

The City’s Efficient Irrigation Rebate provides a rebate of 75% of the purchase cost of a sensor for your existing irrigation system, so if you don’t currently have a working one, please get one and apply for the rebate!

Sooo…What is Water Waste?

Are you are aware of by now, the City has been in Stage 1 of our Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) since October 2013.  We’re still in them, still Stage 1.  At the beginning of the month, we started increasing enforcement of the restrictions and water waste by putting some signage around town, leaving door-hangers on homes where we’ve seen non-compliance, and sending postcards out to others regarding problems with water waste, watering on the wrong day, and other things.  So, it’s easy to understand what day you can water your yard on, and it’s very easy to figure out not to water during the heat of the dayleaking head…but what is water waste?

To put it simply, water waste is just that–wasted water.  Water that isn’t used for any purpose, it just flows or leaves a property without any benefit to that property.  There are several things we look for specifically when talking about water waste: broken or leaking heads or valves, runoff, water ponding in a gutter or parking area or street, overspray, and misting.  Let’s look at each of them up close.

    • Broken or Leaking heads or valves–this really could be more generalized to include anything broken or leaking water that can be fixed.  Broken sprinkler heads are what people typically think of as huge water wasters, but it’s really not the case.  Sure, they do use a little more water each minute the system is running with the broken head, it’s really the leaks that are leaking constantly that add up to trunoffhousands of gallons of water overtime.  This could also include the leaky faucet on the outside of the house.  The picture at the top right shows a broken head–it’s spraying water straight up into the air rather than low, like the other heads.  There’s also high pressure here, a broken head may not always spray up that high.  In the second picture, there’s a leaking head that has been leaking for so long there’s algae growing on the sidewalk!  Not good.  This leak is running 24/7 so is wasting a lot more water than the broken head.
    • Water running off propertythe same leak as mentioned above can be used again.  Runoff is just like it sounds, it’s water running off the property.  The water from that leaking sprinkler head is running (flowing) down the street for at least 50 feet into the intersection of the next street.  Really, if you’re watering your yard, you want the water to stay on your yard, right?  If water is running off, it means you’re watering too long and the soil can’t absorb all the water so you need to reduce how long the sprinkler is running; if you have a sloped yard and the angle is causing the water to run off, same thing, reduce the runtimes and water it multiple times (i.e. run it for 5 minutes once an hour at 3am, 4am, 5am so it would water for a total of 15 min.). If a sprinkler head is turned the wrong way and spraying more onto a hard surface (driveway, sidewalk, street) rather than the yard, that causes runoff too.  The head just needs to be adjusted to spray the grass.  All can be easily fixed.
    • Water ponding–This is wasteful, water just sitting in a parking lot or street gutter, or sidewalk that is just going to oversprayevaporate.  It’s caused by the same things that cause the runoff, above, and can also be a hazard due to the algae growth of standing water–people could slip and fall on it, bikes going across it could also slip or become unsteady. The standing water can also erode the pavement and break down the streets quicker than with normal wear and tear, causing added costs to the City to repair or replace them.
    • Overspray–this is an easy one.  It’s simply water that is over spraying the grass and landing in the street, or other impervious surface.  The nozzle can be adjusted to reduce how far the water sprays out by turning the little screw on the top of the sprinkler head clockwise.  The water that is landing in the street or sidewalk leads to runoff and ponding.  In the picture below, the overspray is evident by the wet pavement.  The sprinkler heads are behind the shrubs and spraying way out onto the sidewalk.  misting
  • Misting–this is caused by too high water pressure.  It’s a waste of water because most of the water is simply floating off into the atmosphere, rather than going down onto your yard.  The water droplets are so small, due to the force (the water pressure) pushing them out of the sprinkler nozzle, that the wind then carries them off.  The water droplets need to be larger, heavy, to fall down onto your yard.  Ideally, the sprinkler psi should be between 30-50psi.  If you have high pressure and misting, it can be reduced by installing new sprinkler nozzles with built in pressure regulation or installing a pressure reducing device on the entire system.  The City’s efficient irrigation rebate covers both of these ways to control high pressure.  In the picture below, the misting is the cloud-like appearance of the water spraying out of the sprinkler head.  It shouldn’t be like that, when the sprinkler is running, you should be able to see the individual water drops.

So you can see that a lot of these problems are related and often times caused by each other.  It’s easy to fix them with some simple adjusting of sprinkler heads or runtimes (minutes) in most cases. I ask you to make those changes and help save some water and some money!

 

 

Springtime Sprinkler Check

The beautiful weekends have made me ready for Spring!  The weekend weather has been perfect to get a little yard work done, but then it’s freezing again!  When spring cleaning the yard by adding new mulch, trimming back frozen plants, and installing some color, those of us with automatic sprinkler systems need to think about prepping it for spring as well.

For most of us, our irrigation systems haven’t been used since October or November – -unless it came on and caused a frozen wonderland. That’s good that it’s been off.  Before simply turning it on to run the last program it was running in the fall, it should be visually checked out to ensure that all is working well with it.  I’m talking about setting a test program on your controller and visually inspecting the system to ensure that it’s working the way you expect it to, so that when you do start using it more frequently you won’t be surprised by high water bills, dying landscapes, or spotty coverage.

Since the inspection doesn’t need to take too long, again, it’s just a visual, you’re going to run the sprinkler system on the test program, or program in your own test program, for only 1 or 2 minutes per station.  When you turn it on to run manually you are looking for problems like:

    • sprinkler heads that aren’t popping up–maybe grass grew over the head,
    • heads that are turned the wrong way and are spraying areas they shouldn’t be (i.e. driveways, the street, the house, the fence, cactus, into your neighbors yard); they just need to be physically turned to point the correct way;
    • leaking heads–these should be replaced;
    • heads that are covered by shrubs (side note: plants continue to grow after sprinklers are originally installed, so heads may not spray what they are “supposed” to if the shrub has grown up and covered the head completely); it’s time to trim the shrub or move the head;
    • areas of low water pressure — this could indicate a leak in the water line, or a broken head and may require additional time to inspect or calling a licensed irrigator to check it out; and
    • heads that DO pop-up, but no water comes out–that’s a clogged head and just needs to be cleaned out.

While the system is running, you can make notes of where the problems are to address once you’ve run through all the stations, or try to fix them while the system’s running.  I recommend a water resistant jacket for that, or warmer weather and a swimsuit!  Once you’ve adjusted the heads and make what fixes are needed, you are good to go in running the system through fully, knowing it will be efficient and effective in watering your landscape.  That’s good!

Remember, when setting your controller for the spring, it’s best to start slow; watering once per week or less is plenty for this time for year and the City is still under Stage I water restrictions.

Watch our latest video on how to set up a test program for your controller: