sprinkler systems

Water Less this Fall

Now that we’re officially into Fall hill-country-highlights-watching-the-leaves-change-at-lost-maples-state-parkand enjoying some 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 times in half during Fall and Spring

If you don’t really know how much you should be watering to begin with, let me go over the 3 basic things to look at to determine how long the system should be running because, 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.

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.  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 rotate, they turn, 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.
  • 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 and require less water to survive.  They are made for our climate and weather conditions.   So, turn those stations off completely in the fall, winter, and spring 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 months:

Fall—October, maybe November

Set controllers for 1 start time for all lawn types.

Plant

Exposure

Type of Sprinkler Head

How Often to Water

Runtime (minutes)

St. Augustinesunsprayas needed, max. 1x/wk10 to 15
  rotoras needed, max. 1x/wk15 to 20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Bermudagrasssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades)sunsprayas needed, max. 1x/wk10 to 15
  rotoras needed, max. 1x/wk20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Common shrubssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10 to 15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Common groundcoverssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10-15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20

Winter Waterland

I’ve frozen irrstarted hearing the question: “how much to I water the lawn in the winter?”  from the newly moved here Texans; of course, the answer depends on who you talk to!  As you know, the winter months are a great time to cut back on water use, reduce water bills, and make sure things are running properly and efficiently at your property.  Winter is ideal, because during these cooler months, your irrigation system doesn’t need to run as often, or at all, and many utilities use the average of the winter water consumption to determine the wastewater charges for the rest of the year.

Central Texas doesn’t typically have the long, hard freezes that more common to the northern areas of the state and country, so often “winterizing” the irrigation system isn’t as a necessity as it is where freezes are more prolonged.  In our region, the most valuable adjustment you can make is to reduce the watering schedule or simply turn off the irrigation controller during the winter months.  Because the temperatures are cooler, less water is lost to evaporation and transpiration and plants simply do not need as much to replenish what is lost.

In addition to cooler temperatures, winter is typically our rainy season too, so it’s best to take advantage of the free, nitrogen-rich rainfall.  During normal winter conditions, the irrigation doesn’t need to be turned on more than once per month, if at all.

If you DO want to turn it off completely and winterize your system as a precaution and to ensure water savings, there are a few quick steps to take, or call a licensed irrigator to do it for you.backflow_cover

  1. First locate the backflow prevention device or the main valve to the sprinkler system.  Both are usually located very close to the water meter.  The backflow is located in a box that typically has a green, rectangular, plastic lid.  See the picture on the right.
  2. Next, turn the water off to the system at the backflow device.  Do this by opening up the green lid and turning one of the handles so that it is perpendicular to the metal device.  In the picture, the handles of the backflow are blue.  The arrows are pointing to the handles.  It’s not necessary to turn them both, just one will be fine.
  3. Then manually run each station for a minute or less to blow the rest of the water in the lines out; this eliminates the chance of any residual water freezing in the lines and causing pipe breaks or cracks.backflow device edited

4. Turn the system controller off when all the stations have run and leave the system off for the duration of the winter.

Again, this type of winterizing is not always necessary here, due to the lack of long, hard freezes; however if your irrigation system isn’t going to be used all winter, it certainly is worth the time to turn it off and clean the lines out.

 

When (Not) to Water, part 2

Rain, rain, come and stay!  Isn’t all this rain wonderful?  The plants and flowers in my yard are looking fantastic!  And everyone’s rain barrels are rain shut-offoverflowing!  Driving around town, I see plenty of great looking landscapes.  The best part is that we haven’t had to water our yards for a few weeks now, thanks to Mother Nature.

For those of us with automatic sprinkler systems that may forget to turn them off during rain episodes, I highly encourage you to purchase and install a rain sensor.  This will help save some water, save a little money, and certainly, save your image by not allowing your sprinklers to water during or just after a nice rainstorm.  I know I’ve seen many properties doing just that (watering while it’s raining)–and it drives me nuts!

Rain sensors prevent an irrigation system from turning on during or after a rain event, after a specified amount (you set this on the sensor) of water has fallen into it.  It then allows the system to turn back on and run according to its schedule after it’s dried out.  A sensor doesn’t stop the irrigation system from turning on when a rain storm is predicted, though there is technology out there that does just that.  That would be a weather station, that receives weather data several times a day to determine if watering is needed on any day or not.  One such sensor like this is called idd; all of the major irrigation manufacturers (Rainbird, HunterToro) have weather-based sensors that can be installed and set to water based more on weather conditions, or soil moisture, rather than just a set schedule.  This type of watering schedule is better for the landscape and can be modified to work with restrictions on watering days.

Any type of rain sensor is rebated by the City’s Water Conservation program, at 75% of the cost of the sensor.  Just submit the rebate application after the sensor is installed.  And if you haven’t yet turned off your irrigation controller, please go do it!