Remember last summer? It was rainy enough that Mother Nature took care of our irrigation for us. From the long range forecasts I’ve heard, that will probably not be the case this summer. The forecast is for excessive heat and little rain, although you wouldn’t know it from the weather over the past week.
There are several question you need to ask yourself as you plan for your landscape’s survival.
- How much am I prepared to spend on an irrigation system?
- How much am I prepared to spend on higher than normal water bills?
- How much effort am I prepared to expend on keeping my landscape watered?
Out west and in some parts of the south, an automatic irrigation system is essential to the survival of any landscape. Here, it’s a luxury that can make life easier but is not essential to the survival of your landscape. There are much less expensive ways to irrigate.
Certainly the most basic irrigation system is a garden hose. To be effective, however, the hose should be attached to some sort of irrigation device – a sprinkler for lawns or soaker hoses for trees, shrubs and perennials. Hand holding a hose is a waste of time. Most people don’t have the patience to hold a hose long enough to apply an inch of water and that’s what your landscape needs. Spraying for a few minute a day barely wets the surface, encouraging weak, shallow roots. You want nice, deep roots. That requires that the inch of water be applied all at once or in no more than two applications.
If you don’t want to go into debt to the water authority, you need to prioritize the plants you water based on their importance to the landscape, drought tolerance and value. Trees are the most valuable plants in your landscape. Newly planted trees and those still establishing themselves should be your top priority. Established trees have a root system that can seek out and find water. Shrubs are the next most valuable plants. If they start looking stressed, they should be watered. Perennials should be next and annuals last. Annuals are the least expensive plants and you may change them out several times during the season anyway.
Some of you might argue that your lawn represents a bigger investment than your trees and shrubs. However, nature has given turfgrass a defense mechanism. When dry, turfgrass goes dormant and turns brown. When the rains return, it greens up again.
If you use your grass a great deal, then you may want to irrigate it. If your family seldom plays on it, your irrigation budget would be best allocated to those plants that are valuable and may not bounce back after the rain returns. If you opt not to irrigate your lawn, it’s best to stay off it during a drought. When you step on brown grass, you’ll hear it crunch under your feet. That’s the sound of crispy blades of grass breaking.
In answer to the third question above, I recommend soaker hoses for irrigating your trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. These are porous hoses made of recycled tires, so the water oozes out.
Soaker hoses can be laid on the surface or buried in the mulch close to the plants you want to water. You only open the faucet about a quarter turn, otherwise the water pressure will cause the soaker hoses to burst. Because the water flows slowly, you have to leave soaker hoses on for several hours. I refer to soaker hoses as drip irrigation on a budget.
If you opt to irrigate your lawn with hoses and sprinklers, here’s an easy way to determine how long you need to sprinkle to apply an inch of water. Put a low, wide-mouth container in the spray stream and time how long it takes to fill the container to an inch. Each time you move the hose and sprinkler to irrigate another section, you only have to watch the clock.
They say you can’t fool Mother Nature, but she can fool us. Maybe she will be giving us enough moisture so that we don’t have to irrigate. However, it would be best for you to protect your landscaping investment by preparing for a hot, dry summer, and then be pleasantly surprised if you don’t need to water.