landscape watering

Sprinkler System Check-Ups

Can you believe it’s July already??  July is “Smart Irrigation Month” deemed so by the SmartIrrMonthIrrigation Association since 2005, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur.  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.

It’s been a slightly different year already: we haven’t had a 100-degree day yet!  We’ve only had a handful of 90-degree days!  And, we’ve been inundated with rainfall all throughout May and June (which have refilled the lakes! Yay!); so we really haven’t needed to use the irrigation system at all so far this year.

That’s all great news!  But now that it’s becoming increasingly hot and muggy, I know we are itching to turn on those sprinklers!  Before you do, I advise you to do a quick check of the system, to make sure it’s working properly.  Details of how to this are below:

Performing a check of the irrigation system, (aka an Irrigation Evaluation, or Irrigation Audit) is the cornerstone for maintaining the system.  If you are a direct water customer of Round Rock, Water Conservation staff (that’s me) will schedule and do this for you; however, it’s simple enough that you could do it yourself—and it’s highly recommended to check you system monthly!  I recently found a broken head on my own system that I hadn’t noticed or even realized was there, that got hit when the grass was last mowed.   So, how do we check it?

  1. First you need to go to the controller and turn the dial to “test” or “system test” if that option is there (Rainbird controllers have this). If you have this option, great!  The number you see in the display are minutes that, once started, will run each station for x minutes and then turn off.  A good default number is 2 minutes.  After selecting 2 minutes, push the manual start button on the controller to begin the system test.
    1. If you DO NOT have the “test” option on your controller, you can simply program one in. Just choose a program that you are not using for your normal watering cycle—probably the C program.  You don’t need to enter in start times or water days, only watering times; so for each of your stations, enter a runtime of 2 minutes.  Then start the program manually.
  2. Once the system is running, you are looking for problems, issues like sprinkler heads turned the wrong way and spraying the street, rather than the grass. Or heads that do not pop-up over the grass (that’s why there’s that dry spot!), or heads that are clogged, and no water is coming out of them. You could also look for leaking heads, broken nozzles, and other leaks.  For an idea of what some of this looks like, see my blog “What is Water Waste?” from last month.
    1. The simplest, and most worthwhile, thing to fix is misdirected heads; most of them can simply be turned to face the appropriate direction by using your hand to grab the head (essentially the neck) and physically turn it. This prevents water waste, poor coverage, and ensures the water is used, rather than running off the property; all of which are positives for you and your property.
    2. Nozzles that are clogged are easily be cleaned out (when the system is turned off!). Unscrew the nozzle, rinse it and the filter off, and screw it back on.  You may use an old toothbrush or toothpick to clean out the emitter where the water sprays out of the nozzle, it’s pretty small.  Once screwed back on, turn the system on to make sure you have put it on facing the correct direction and it’s watering what it needs to be.
    3. Low heads or heads that do not pop-up over the grass is due to either too tall grass, which is really not a bad thing, usually, or more likely, the heads have settled over time and just sunk into the ground. They need to be replaced with taller heads in order to have better coverage—to get the water out far enough to water what’s it’s supposed to.  You can replace this head yourself with a taller head (they are sold by height in inches, so if you have a 4” head currently, you may increase to a 6”), or depending on the amount of low heads, you may hire a licensed irrigator to do this, as there is a degree of professionalism needed.  You don’t want the heads sticking up over the grass and become a hazard when the grass is mowed.

So that’s the basics of performing a system check!  Do it monthly to actually see how the system is working, that what is supposed to be watered is actually being watered, AND, most importantly, make repairs and adjustments to the system to keep it running efficiently!

NEW Lawn Aeration Rebate!

All the late winter rains have been great, and I can’t wait to see all of the wildflowers that should soon be blooming! aeration Hopefully, most of the rain did some good on your property, rather than just runoff.  One way to keep water on your lawn and help you have a stronger, healthier yard, is aeration.  I know I’ve spoken about aeration before, but will do it again!  It’s just so good for the soil!

Lawn aeration is a great way to help your lawn stay viable and healthy, it encourages deep root growth of the grass by providing space for the roots to grow, which helps with drought tolerance.  With more space, the water that is applied to the lawn (either rain or sprinklers) will now go down further into the soil, rather than running off.  I highly encourage everyone to have their lawn aerated annually to promote the root growth, help erase some of the compaction issues that some of our lawns face (I know I walk on the same trail in my backyard all the time, which only adds to compaction), and help with some thatch issues.  This all boils down to the fact that you won’t have to water as much, which is a huge benefit too…we ARE still in a drought.

The picture to the right shows the soil cores that are removed from a lawn during the aeration process.

To make getting your lawn aerated a little more lucrative, the Water Conservation Program is introducing a new rebate program for a limited time this spring/summer–a lawn aeration rebate!  The rebate is up to $50 rebated back to you, after you have your lawn aerated.  You can rent a machine and do it yourself (but they are pretty heavy!) or hire someone or a lawn company to do it for you.  Simply fill out the application and submit it along with a copy of the paid invoice for the service.

The rebate is only a pilot, to see how much interest there is in it, so no applications will be accepted after August 30, 2015.

A 3rd Grader Got It!

So I spent a morning recently helping judge science fair projescience fair for blogcts at Double File Elementary School, which I love to do, and noticed a particularity relevant project.  As an aside, it’s always really interesting to me to see all the different experiments and how many have to do with popcorn, nail polish, or cokes!  (Too many!)  Anyway, one of the 3rd grade experiments was absolutely amazing!  It was titled “Growing Grass in Drought Conditions.”  I read on, my eagerly wanting to see what the conclusion of the experiment was.

What the project determined was that when watered daily for 4-weeks, grass (started from seed), didn’t grow as tall or as well as grass only watered once per week.  The conclusion, verbatim, was “I discovered that the grass watered once per week grew taller than the grass watered daily.  Based on my experiment, the local watering restrictions of once a week are an ideal amount for the growth of the grass.”

While I was very happy and impressed reading that, I wasn’t surprised.  Watering less frequently, IS much, much better for the lawn than watering daily, or every other day, or every 3 days… The soil needs to dry out between watering events, otherwise the amount of oxygen is greatly reduced in the soil, and in fact, the grass (or other plant) can simply be drown!  Most plants die of too much water, rather than not enough.  Also, if grass, or any other landscape material, is watered daily, or even every other day, it becomes highly dependent on that regular watering and doesn’t bother to grow deep or strong roots.  What’s the point, when water is delivered to it on a regular schedule?  The problem with that is, then, when, restrictions are imposed, the grass or plant gets immediately stressed out because it is now NOT getting that daily water, and of course, it looks horrible and probably dies.  It’s needs to go through routine stress to get those roots to grow, in order to have a strong, drought tolerant plant and can easily survive infrequent watering.

So, when you start watering your lawn again in the spring, I encourage you to just water once per week, if that’s even needed, and wait, watch, and see how your yard responds, before just watering it just because it’s your watering day.  A 3rd grader figured out that was enough water, I bet you will too!

Summer is Headed Our Way

The temperatures have started creeping up into the 80s consistently now…and the beautiful bluebonnets are everywhere!  It’s starting to feel like summer and the City’s water use is going up to further confirm that warming feeling.  Folks have started watering their yards, planting grass and gardens and other outdoor landscaping activities, this is the main reason water use is on the rise.

I want to remind you that the City is still under Stage 1 of the Drought Contingency Plan.  The restrictions were made effective back on October 14, 2013 and haven’t been rescinded yet.  What this means is that IF you are going to use water outside of your property, mainly watering your yard, this can’t happen more than twice per week.  And not during the hours between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Realistically, once per week watering is more than enough currently.  The temperatures haven’t been hot enough to evaporate all the moisture to need to water more than once.  We did have a very dry winter–even with “all” the ice, it’s been one of the driest winters in at least 5 years (that’s how long I’ve been keeping track of the rainfall).  So, some irrigation may be needed in sunny areas of the yard.  Gardens will need water more frequently to establish them.

Because of the lack of rainfall this winter, the lakes haven’t risen either.  This means that the water restrictions will continue for the time being.  If you’d like to hear more about what the current water situation is, come to the City’s public library on April 10 where I’ll be giving a presentation regarding the current water situation and predictions for this summer!

Read the water restriction information with all the details on the City’s Drought Restriction page.