“Water Shortages Conserve Water!” is not a phrase I wanted to hear as this Summer season began. Sure, I enjoy conserving water just as much as the next person, but it has been really depressing watching my once lush, green lawn begin to yellow and die under the rays of triple digit heat.
Due to low water yielding winter and spring seasons, many residents in northern Davis County, Utah are under mandatory and voluntary water restrictions. As Spring transitioned to Summer, these signs began to populate the local landscape. Residents are restricted to watering each zone up to 30 minutes twice a week. Are you experiencing this in your area too?
So, how do you keep your grass alive during conditions of drought and water restriction? To keep with the spirit of Smart Irrigation Month, here are a few practices that will help your turf through tough some times.
Employ interval watering techniques
Use spot watering methods
Interval watering is a great technique used to make your water stretch. We may think it is wise to water our lawns as long as possible. However, the soil can only absorb so much at a given time. For example, “Clay can absorb 0.1 inches per hour” (clay intake rate). Breaking a 30 minute watering cycle into two 15 minute watering cycles, one hour apart, will allow the soil to absorb more water.
If secondary water is under restriction, you may be able to save areas or ‘spots’ in your yard by running culinary water through hose-end sprinklers. These can be helpful to water specific areas of struggling turf. You can even automate the process by using a manual or automatic timer. However, remember that culinary water is drinking water so be careful not to over-use.
When faced with water shortages and restrictions, watering times may be cut back. As your turf begins to suffer, weeds see it as an opportunity to move in. To help get your grass back on track determine your soil type and implement interval and spot watering. Follow these techniques and you will have a better chance of keeping your grass green.
When someone mentions green this time of year, you may think of St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns, four-leaf clover, or the green hills of Ireland. But this tradition goes beyond St. Patrick and his holiday.
The Irish Tradition of Green
Long before green became associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the ancient Celts wore green in celebration of the Vernal Equinox and the rebirth of the earth. And who could blame them? Known as the Emerald Island, Ireland’s principal color is green. Some even claim that the island boasts over 40 shades of that beloved color. As time passed, the wearing of green came to symbolize Irish nationalism. Today, people all over the world wear green once again to celebrate the coming of spring.
For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to enjoy the green hills of Ireland on a daily basis, here are some tips to help you bring that Irish green into your landscape this spring.
Clear–rake up any leftover leaves from fall, pick up any broken branches from winter. If thatching is a problem, use a rake or a power thatcher to clear away the problem.
Prune–trim back fruit trees and summer blooming bushes (including roses). Pruning encourages new growth and allows the plant to receive plenty of sunlight.
Weed–it’s best to stop the weeds when they’re young. After removing new spring growth, take preventative measures (i.e. landscape fabric, mulch, pre-emergent herbicides, etc.) to limit weed growth throughout the season.
Divide–make sure your perennials have plenty of room to grow. If things are getting a little tight, divide them up. Your neighbors would probably love some, or maybe there’s a spot in your yard that’s looking a little bare. Whatever the case, your plants will bloom better with that extra room to grow.
Plant–bring color and new life to your yard by adding some new plants to the mix.
Fertilize–if you have a well-established lawn, spring is a great time to fertilize. Pick a fertilizer with a slow-release nitrogen (nitrogen help keep your lawn green, but too much can cause damage to your lawn and the environment—especially water sources—so make sure you use it sparingly).
Water–it’s important that you don’t over or under water your lawn, as both cause problems. At this time in the watering season, you will most likely not need to water your lawn every day. Rather, set your timer to water less frequently and allow the moisture to soak deep into the soil and establish a stronger root system.
Grow–let your grass grow. Your lawn will be healthier if you don’t cut it too short. By letting your grass grow about 2 to 4 inches in length, you will protect the roots from the sun and disease, which will keep your lawn greener and healthier.
These tips will help keep your landscape lush and green this spring. So, here’s to wishing you the luck of the Irish!
With the very top of summer sliding past,
I often wonder, what’s up with my grass?
It’s brown, it crackles,
It raises my hackles,
And I despair
That it is beyond repair.
It would be a midsummer night’s dream,
For my grass to appear a lush green,
Just in time for my soiree
Where we will play a lively round of croquet.
So dearest Titania, send me a fairy
“Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire. . . .
Swifter than the moon’s sphere . . .
To dew [my herbs] upon the green”
And thus fulfill my midsummer night’s dream.
Midsummer Watering Tips
All rhyming aside, (and due to lack of Shakespearian fairies) here are some tips to keep your yard looking lush and green through the rest of the summer:
Interval watering – do you have stubborn brown spots popping up on your lawn? Rather than adding more water, try interval watering. Water each zone for 10-15 minutes, and then repeat 2 more times. This allows the water to soak into the soil without running off into the neighbor’s yard or down the drain. Do this 2-3 times per week (or as needed).
Raise you lawn mower height. A slight raise in the length of your lawn protects the roots from the blaring summer sun and keeps your lawn looking healthier.
Sharpen your lawn mower blades. This cuts the grass rather than tearing it and protects your lawn from disease.
Keep those weeds down. Unwanted weeds compete with your existing landscaping for much needed water. Eliminating that competition helps your plants to thrive.
Do you live in an area with high labor and overhead costs?
Different cost of living from region to region is the main reason why there is no hard “average” cost for installing a sprinkler system. If you live in the suburbs of Detroit where there are plenty of sprinkler contractors and business overhead is moderate, all else equal you will find a lower average bid than you will in Long Island where overhead is high. If you live in a high cost part of the country you could end up saving significantly more by installing yourself.
Do you live in a cold weather climate where you need deeper trenches for pipe?
In cold weather markets it is generally a good idea to bury pipes at least 12 inches deep to reduce the possibility of early or late season freeze (in any freezing market, prior to deep winter you should blow pipes out with compressed air or otherwise drain them to avoid freeze breaks in the pipe. For winterization instructions click here) and the deeper the trenches the more time you need to allow for trenching and cleaning. In many northern markets contractors avoid trenching altogether by “pulling” poly pipe through the ground with something called a “vibratory plow.” While you could theoretically rent one and pull poly pipe yourself, this is not a project for the novice. Options would be to pay a contractor to pull pipe or dig trenches for you, or dig the trenches yourself. For less than $200 a day most equipment supply stores will rent a “trencher”, which makes shorter work of digging trenches.
Do you have rocky, clay or “hardpan” soil that is difficult to dig?
The type of soil that lies below the surface will be a major factor in how long it takes to pull pipe or dig trenches for a sprinkler system. A trenching machine will have a tendency to hop or buck in rocky, clay or hardpan soil, and this could increase pretty dramatically the time and effort required to get the trenching done. Regardless of how you want to do it, you should grade the entire landscape to finished level before installing the sprinkler system. After the grading is complete one way that you can test how hard difficult trenching will be is to make sure the ground is moist (but not wet) and then use a shovel to dig the holes for your sprinkler manifolds. If it is impossible to dig even those holes, you can assume that even with a trencher digging trenches will be hard work, which may tip you in favor of hiring a contractor to do the trenching and then you do the rest.
Do you have several distinct small areas to water or do you have just a few large areas?
The size of the different areas in your yard makes a surprisingly big difference in how much automatic sprinklers cost. Perhaps it’s not intuitive, but it is typically costs much less to install sprinklers in a few large areas than it does to install sprinklers in many small areas, even if the total square feet of the large area is significantly more than it is for the small areas. This is because of two main factors: first, large areas generally require a lot less pipe and heads than small areas; and, second, several small areas can significantly drive up the number of zones that are required and this increases the cost of valves, wire, and sprinkler timers. So, as a general rule, the more small areas that you design into your landscape – especially if they have different watering requirements – the higher will be the cost of your installation.
With spring just around the corner, it is almost time to get your automatic sprinkler system up and running. Still pulling hoses around the yard? Try using our free sprinkler system designer to help you layout a system for your yard. Don’t want to dig? There are many hose faucet watering options to choose from to provide automated watering without the digging.
It is a good idea to test your sprinkler system each spring to ensure that everything is working properly. Here are some things you will want to look for as you fire up your sprinkler system:
Freeze damage in your sprinkler lines, valves or heads
Sprinkler heads that may have been hit by a snowblower or shovel and need to be replaced
Timer is set and functioning properly
Nozzles are adjusted properly and are free of debris
Check out our how to videos for more tips on sprinkler system maintenance. Wondering how to replace a solenoid on your sprinkler valve? Click the following video for how-to instructions.
The following diagram provides a simple look at the anatomy of a sprinkler system. The starting point is the source of water for the system. In this case there is an existing supply from a city meter to the house. Local codes may regulate who and how you can tap into your source. A mainline pipe carries water from the water source to a backflow prevention device which helps keep the sprinkler system from potentially contaminating or polluting the drinking water.
Except for very small yards, the water pressure from the source is insufficient to allow watering of the entire yard at one time, so the yard is broken up into smaller areas called zones. An automatic sprinkler valve controls the flow of water from the mainline to each zone. The sprinkler valves are often grouped together in an arrangement called a sprinkler manifold which makes them easy to locate and reduces the amount of sprinkler wire required. The sprinkler wire connects each automatic valve to the sprinkler timer or controller. The sprinkler timer tells each valve to open at a specified time, run for a specified time, and then close. Some sprinkler timers can be connected to smart devices which automatically calculate when and how long the system should run and shut the system off when it is raining. The ability to precisely control watering according to specific conditions in the yard is the key to how an automatic sprinkler system conserves water. Lateral line pipes carry water from the automatic valves to the sprinkler heads. Drip zones, which use very low flow sprinkler devices called emitters to deliver water garden, shrub, and flower beds, are becoming more and more common as a water-conserving replacement for traditional sprinkler heads. The easiest ways to design a professional, water-conserving sprinkler system are to use the Orbit Sprinkler System Designer.
A common question for those with yard, garden, or lawn irrigation systems.
There are several things that must be done to winterize a sprinkler system.
The first step is to determine if the system uses auto-drain valves. If auto-drain valves are present, then all you need to do is turn the main water supply off, and then loosen the solenoid on each valve to let air inside. The water should flow down hill and out of each zone through the auto drain valve. You may have a manual drain for the main line between the shut-off valve and the valve manifolds.
If a valve is present open it to allow all water to drain.
If your system does not use auto-drain valves, then an air compressor must be used to blow the water out of the zones. Turn off the main water supply to the sprinkler system, and hook up an air compressor to the system. Pressurize the tank to about 60 psi and then open on of the valves manually. Run that station for 2 to 3 minutes to allow all the water to be removed from the system. Shut that valve off and pressurize the tank again. Repeat for the next zone. After all zones are empty, loosen the solenoids to allow air to enter the top of the valve.
This is a general guideline for winterizing a system. You system may require additional steps depending on the particular installation. There are professionals who can offer this service for you.
Please look under Sprinkler Installation if you need someone else to do the work.
Note: Air Compressors will also need an air flow rate between 4 and 8 cubic feet per minute.
The best answer to this question is that it depends on where you live, what type of equipment you plan to install, and whether you will do some of the work yourself. But the following will help you at least ballpark what you ought to be paying for an automatic sprinkler system.
Do you plan on having a professional contractor install part or all of the system?
A basic rule of thumb is that a sprinkler contractor will price things out so that he has 1/3 of the total bid price in materials, 1/3 in labor and overhead, and 1/3 in profit. That leaves enough room so that he can still make money on the job even if some of the site-specific variables like a hard to find mainline, lower-than-expected pressure, or hardpan soil throw him some surprises. You should be able to buy equivalent materials at a home improvement store for about 15-20% more than the contractor will pay at a contractor supply store, but you will need to factor in rental of trenchers and whether you can install the backflow prevention yourself, so you should figure your total cost of installing the system yourself will be around half the average of three competitive bids. A really simple way to estimate the cost of installing the system yourself is to use the Orbit Sprinkler System Designer.
If you need a quick and very rough range of where you might expect bids from professional sprinkler contractors to come in, you could use a range of $0.50 to $1.25 per square foot of area to be watered and probably not be too surprised. Just keep in mind that small properties will tend to be at the higher end of the range.
This is the first of a four part series that will ask the questions to help give you a good idea of things that will drive the cost of an automatic sprinkler system up or down. Some are things that you can choose and some are things that your specific region, climate or building codes will drive.