Irrigation is an important part of keeping your landscape healthy and vibrant. A good irrigation system and program can protect your investment and keep your outdoor space looking great while also helping to conserve water. Unfortunately, not all irrigation systems are the same, and there’s things you should know to get the most out of your irrigation.
The dangers of over-watering
Plants need water, and a lack of water is a leading cause of plant loss. It’s best to make sure you’re giving them all the water they need. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as too much water.
Overwatering can cause mechanical damage to your sprinkler system or turf. These systems are designed to run periodically for a brief period. Allowing your system to operate for too long, with too much pressure, or too frequently, can cause components to break down and fail.
Excess water can lead to disease, moss, compaction, anaerobic soil conditions, and dead spots in your turf or be detrimental to your ornamental plantings. Certain disease conditions and fungi thrive in chronically moist environments. Thatch, the dead plant material in your landscape, needs periods of dryness to decompose. Otherwise, it remains in the turf and can cut off vital oxygen, water, and nutrients to live plants. Additionally, weak turf or diminished plant hardiness can result from immature root zones as the plants have never had to seek water. Finally, overwatering can change the consistency of your soil, making it denser and reducing the critical aeration plants need to thrive.
Another consideration is runoff. Living in New Hampshire means we need to be mindful of runoff as we strive to protect the water quality of our ponds, rivers, and lakes. Overwatering can lead to runoff as excessive water will not be absorbed and as a result runs along the surface of the ground. This overwatering runoff could make its way into Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, Squam, or many other bodies of water.
How long to water
The ideal situation is to water heavily but infrequently. This allows the plants to take in available water and for the roots to drive deeper to find extra water, thereby boosting the health of the plant. Irrigation does not need to run every day in most cases.
An experienced landscape irrigation specialist will help you understand the amount of water that your plants or trees need and the frequency of watering.
When to water
Not all times of day are good for watering. The effects of temperature, sun, and foot traffic all play a role. Aim for dawn as your ideal time to water. This early schedule allows for leaf wetness and decreases your chances of disease. Your plants will evaporate properly as the morning progresses, and yet it also allows water to stand long enough in the soil to encourage absorption.
If watering in the evening is needed, it should be shortened from solely watering at night, and preferably as part of a systematic approach that still includes dawn watering. In the evening, you should look to replace fluids the plant has lost through evapotranspiration — the combined effect of evaporation from the soil and surfaces around the plant, and transpiration from the plant.
While the basic concepts of irrigation are generally easily understood, the process has many deceiving variables. Poor irrigation can cause problems beyond that of the system itself and can lead to plant loss and property damage. Qualified irrigation technicians understand the math, science, and service principles that create a sound irrigation system.
Get bids and compare. Not all irrigation specialists the same, and like hiring any professional, the lowest bid is not always the best option. It can be helpful to utilize a company that employs more than one certified irrigation technician. This will reduce mistakes and allow the technicians to confer, check each other’s work, and provide the best possible outcome for you.
Irrigation controls have come a long way, thanks in part to technological advances. Older irrigation systems may be manually or mechanically controlled, and while those systems serve basic purposes, new systems provide features which can save water, time, money, and effort. Gone are the days of irrigation running when it is raining, or about to be raining, or irrigation performance and changes which required tinkering or manual adjustments.
Many new irrigation control systems can be controlled remotely. Some can sense weather or atmospheric conditions, or gather information from a remote source. They can monitor, or be observed, in ways allowing you have greater control on efficiency, reducing the risk of over-watering and time-consuming changes.
Irrigation systems have a life span
It’s not uncommon for property owners to forget about their irrigation system. If it works properly, it’s out of sight and out of mind — until one day it isn’t. Something has broken, and the system needs replacing. A broken irrigation system can create headaches and property damage.
Irrigation systems have a lifespan of roughly 15-20 years. Much like your roof, refrigerator, or furnace, at some point it will need to be replaced. Proactive maintenance can prolong the life of an irrigation system, but as the system ages, repairs will become more frequent. It’s recommended to have your system checked annually, and, in conjunction with a professional, have a realistic replacement plan as they age to 15 years or more.
What is hydrozoning
The practice of putting plants with similar water needs close together is called hydrozoning. This helps ensure the best chances of health for the plants on your property.
If plants requiring a lot of water are intermingled with plants that require little water, an irrigation system will not be able to provide the appropriate levels of water needed in that garden or lawn. Some plants will receive too much or too little water, based upon the system not being able to meet the variable needs.
To best execute hydrozoning, the plant species requirements need to be known and understood. Plants with needs in common need to be planted together. Once this planning is achieved, the irrigation system can be programmed to fulfill the general requirements of the plants in that zone. A landscaping team with both a certified irrigation technician and plant specialist with a background in horticulture are best able to assist you in creating hydrozones.