By using simple concepts that conserve water in our landscapes we can cut our water usage in half or in some cases up to 80%. This is possible and will actually improve the health of your plant material especially your beautiful lawns. These concepts consist of 6 basic principles: 1. Hydro-zone the sprinkler system, 2. Plant Selection, 3. Shrink the turf. 4. Proper/smart irrigation techniques, 5. Soil quality, and 6. Use of mulch.
1. Hydro-zone the sprinkler system. Grouping plant material in the landscape based on water needs is called Hydro-zoning. Zoning plants this way is beneficial in that each zone gets the amount of water the plants in that zone need, instead of watering the entire area based on the plants with the highest water needs. This can be done with out a complete over haul of your sprinkler system by replanting plant material according to water needs adjusting your irrigation controller programs to water differently based on each hydro-zone or installing a smart irrigation controller.
2. Plant Selection. Choose plants that require less water and are more drought tolerant. Plants are rated according to high, moderate, or low water usage. Moderate and high can be used in water-wise landscapes, but the majority of plant material should be in the low water range.
3. For a home landscape to be considered truly water wise only 30% should be high water using plants such as common turf (Kentucky Blue Grass). There are alternatives to Kentucky Blue Grass, Buffalo Grass and Blue Gramma being the most water wise. These grasses can make for a beautiful lawn. These grasses have a blue green color and actively grow during the hot summer months meaning that they will remain dormant until late spring and go dormant or turn brown early fall. They also require low foot traffic during dormancy. These alternatives are not for everyone and should be carefully considered. The best grass for high traffic and long green periods is Kentucky Blue so our advice is to simply shrink the amount of lawn to usefulness instead of as filler. There are many ground covers to choose from that will add color and interest in areas where turf is not needed.
4. Proper/smart irrigation techniques. As a whole we water our yards significantly more than necessary. The average lawn being watered 50% more than suggested. Having an irrigation check can help the homeowner see where there are pressure problems, less functional sprinkler heads, and determine the distribution uniformity of the landscape (Distribution uniformity being how evenly the water is irrigated across a particular hydro-zone). Fixing any problems will allow you to water less as you will no longer need to compensate for bad uniformity making your plant material healthier while saving you money. Make sure your sprinkler system is winterized. Not only do sprinkler system repairs cost money but un-seen leaks and damaged sprinkler heads contribute to excessive water use. Another aspect of proper irrigation is to set the sprinkler system for spring, summer, and fall. Rainfall and heat differ throughout the seasons these contribute to the evapo-transpiration rates. For the summer evapo-transpiration rates are high, whereas, in the spring and fall they are much lower. This means that the landscape should be watered less during spring and fall and re-adjusted for the higher demand of the summer months. To make this easier smart irrigation control will make automatic adjustments based on ET saving you even more water and money. Adjusting the water to fit the needs of your lawn it will increase the rooting depth, allow for necessary air to reach the roots making your beautiful lawn healthier.
5. Soil quality. Sandy soil increases the need for long irrigation sets. Clay soils retain/hold the water longer, as well as, create more runoff and need to be watered less frequently and in shorter intervals. Knowing what type of soil is in the landscape directly affects how much and how often it should be irrigated. Plants like loamy soil which is soil that is in the middle of sandy and clay soils. To achieve loamy soil add organic matter such as compost or fallen leaves to the area.
6. Use of mulch. Wood mulch is the recommended mulch the days of lava rock are long, long spent. Rock actually heats up the soil, plants, and landscape requiring more water and destroying soil quality. Wood mulch decomposes adding nutrients to the soil helping to cool down the soil and keep the moisture in the soil. Mulch also cuts back on weed infestation which is a great benefit alone and also cuts back on the need for plants to compete for water as there is more available for the plants. Weed barrier cloth can also have harmful affects on your soil quality and therefore plant health and should be carefully considered.