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Every drop of water is precious. Maximizing irrigation efficiency goes a long way toward conserving our water resources. Photo: Ju Irun / Pixabay

Boost Your Irrigation IQ

To support and protect your investment in waterwise landscaping, you need to have a strong irrigation IQ and understand the basics. You’ll be able to best maintain and maximize your system’s efficiency, which is vitally important during times of drought in the San Diego region.

Conventional irrigation systems can be inefficient

Letting sprinklers run to excess is an example of a poorly performing irrigation system due to bad design, inadequate maintenance, and improper management and it's unacceptable. Photo: Wolfgang Bantz irrigation IQ

Letting sprinklers run to excess is an example of a poorly performing irrigation system due to bad design, inadequate maintenance, and improper management and it’s unacceptable. Photo: Wolfgang Bantz

Well-designed and operated systems can reliably deliver the necessary water to sustain your landscaping without waste or excess. Poorly performing systems can suffer due to bad design, inadequate maintenance, and improper management.

A shutoff valve (ball valve) can be manually operated to cut off the water supply in the event of a leak, a malfunction, or a major repair.

The anti-siphon valve, when activated by an irrigation controller, delivers water through a PVC pipe lateral irrigation line, ultimately reaching the sprinkler head, which applies the water to your landscaping.

Intelligent irrigation systems operate efficiently

Efficient irrigation components are designed to operate at lower pressure levels, as specified by each product manufacturer. Devices are more likely to fail under excess pressure, and damage can occur.

A pressure regulator will eliminate excess pressure.

A submeter can be installed where the irrigation system tees off the mainline to the house. It is a recommended option for large properties to keep track of the actual volume of water being applied to the landscape. Single-family homes typically have a single mixed-use meter which doesn’t distinguish between indoor and outdoor water use. An alternative is to install a flow sensor working in tandem with a smart controller.

Low-volume irrigation devices like rotary nozzles and micro or drip irrigation are designed to deliver water to the landscape at a slower rate. This better approximates the infiltration rate of the soil and reduces runoff.

Smart controllers will automatically adjust irrigation schedules in response to changing weather conditions. They come in two varieties. ET controllers monitor weather conditions. Soil moisture-based controllers directly sample the moisture in the ground. These devices also have features like “cycle and soak functions that can help eliminate runoff. When selecting a controller, look for brands with the EPA WaterSense ® label.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Irrigation-Conservation Corner-drought-Water Conservation

Choosing Your Best Irrigation Method: Spray or Drip

Your choices in irrigation methods come down to spray or drip systems. Spray irrigation emits water in an overlapping pattern. Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the roots of plants. This question is more important than ever during a drought cycle. How do you decide which meets the needs of your landscaping?

The case for spray irrigation

Ensuring that spray heads are properly tuned and far enough away from buildings or impermeable surfaces helps maximize your water efficiency. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

Ensuring that spray heads are properly tuned and far enough away from buildings or impermeable surfaces helps maximize your water efficiency. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

Spray irrigation can be an efficient way to irrigate large landscapes with groundcover or uniform plant materials like lawns or meadows.

Spray systems apply water in gallons per minute, so if you know the application rate of each spray head, the distance between the heads, and the pressure of your system, it is relatively easy to figure out how much water is applied every time you run your irrigation.

Low volume spray heads apply water at about one-third the rate of conventional spray heads. Newer spray irrigation heads have improved spray with heavier droplets more resistant to wind. Landscaping with grade changes using spray heads should have check valves installed to prevent water flowing out of the lower point heads.

Challenges of spray irrigation include narrow areas surrounded by hardscape or irregular patterns. Irregular patterns are particularly challenging because spray irrigation requires head-to-head coverage to be efficient. Odd-shaped areas may be under or overwatered. High-volume spray heads that emit water at a much higher rate than the soil can absorb should be replaced.

The case for drip irrigation

Drip systems apply water in gallons per hour, so they often need to run for longer periods of time than spray systems. But the actual run time must always account for precipitation rate and runoff.

Installation of subsurface systems (under at least two inches of mulch) is the most efficient way to irrigate nearly every type of garden area. Since the tubing is flexible, it can accommodate a variety of irregularly shaped areas or rectangular areas when laid in a grid pattern, and in rings you can easily expand as trees or shrubs grow.

Challenges of drip irrigation include the application of water too quickly for your soil to absorb. This needs to be considered when dripline grids are installed. Drip irrigation operates the most efficiently at low pressure (between 15 and 30 PSI). To achieve optimal performance, pressure regulation either at the valve or at the point of connection of the dripline to the buried lateral lines must be used. It is also essential to install some type of filtering system to keep the emitters from getting clogged.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Give Your Irrigation System a Fall Checkup

Staying on top of your irrigation system – especially in the midst of a drought – can mean the difference between maximizing your water efficiency and unknowingly wasting water running down sidewalks unused into the storm drain. Follow these tips for a thorough checkup.

Inspect your sprinkler heads regularly to make sure they are not obstructed or watering onto pavement or other hardscapes. Photo: Irrigation Association

Give Your Irrigation System a Fall Checkup

Staying on top of your irrigation system – especially in the midst of a drought – can mean the difference between maximizing your water efficiency and unknowingly wasting water running down sidewalks unused into the storm drain. Follow these tips for a thorough checkup.

Turn on each valve of your irrigation system and observe how quickly water begins to run off your landscaping. Note the time when each runoff occurs. For some systems, this could be immediate. For others, it may take as long as five minutes.

Make sure spray irrigation is never running for longer than eight minutes at any one time.

Take notes on your irrigation plan, and turn off your irrigation until you can fix the following issues:

  • Do you have broken sprinkler heads?
  • Are there heads that are blocked by plants or objects such as planters or lights?
  • When the system turns off, does water come out of the lowest heads in the landscape?
  • Are any heads in need of adjustment, so they don’t directly spay onto the hardscape, such as sidewalks or patios?

Adjust your sprinklers to eliminate runoff

Don't allow your spriinklers to overspray your landscaping and waste water. Photo: Wikimedia irrigation tips

Don’t allow your sprinklers to overspray your landscaping and waste water. Photo: Wikimedia

Several things can be done to minimize runoff due to irrigation. This is among the most important factors in using irrigation efficiently.

  • Tune up spray irrigation systems, so there is no overspray on hard surfaces
  • Do not install spray irrigation in areas that are too narrow (generally eight feet wide or narrower)
  • Move spray heads 24 inches away from buildings or impermeable surfaces
  • Convent spray systems to micro or drip irrigation with pressure regulation and a filter
  • In lawn areas, be sure to follow the organic maintenance practices to keep your soil ‘spongy’ (link to soil post)
  • Replace standard overhead sprayers with high-efficiency rotator nozzles, or other types of low precipitation rate nozzles

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Borrow Tree Watering Tips from Mother Nature

As drought continues to affect California, homeowners must balance two needs: preserving landscaping with irrigation while doing so as efficiently as possible to conserve water.

Even when not in a drought, trees planted in a Mediterranean climate often need additional water. For the most effective irrigation, mimic the way Mother Nature provides water.

A large tree's roots are concentrated at the dripline, not at the trunk. This is where you should irrigate the tree through a slow release technique. Photo: Hans Braxmeier, Pixabay tree watering tips

Borrow Tree Watering Tips from Mother Nature

As drought continues to affect California, homeowners must balance two needs: preserving landscaping with irrigation while doing so as efficiently as possible to conserve water.

Even when not in a drought, trees planted in a Mediterranean climate often need additional water. For the most effective irrigation, mimic the way Mother Nature provides water.

Nature designed trees so rain would fall on the leaves and run off to the sides of the tree – much like rain hits an umbrella and rolls down off the side. It falls in a circle around the perimeter.

When irrigating trees, this same approach provides the most moisture to roots and maximizes water use. This outer edge around a tree where rain falls is called the drop line. This is where the tree sends out its most vigorous feeder roots to soak up available moisture. Using a hose to water at the trunk of trees doesn’t reach many of the roots.

Focus on slower, infrequent tree watering

Focus on longer, slower delivery of water than mimics a long, light rainfall. Photo: Ulrike Leone

When it does rain, Mother Nature’s rainfall is primarily steady, slow, and spread out. Borrow this method to deliver a long, slow soaking. Trees prefer infrequent deep watering. Once a week or less for more established trees is sufficient.

Water in a slow drip away from the trunk, long enough to soak the top 12 inches of soil in the drip line. Use a hose on a very slow trickle, a soaker hose, drip irrigation in the proper areas, or this clever method.

Use a five-gallon bucket with small holes to slowly release water to a tree’s deepest roots. Photo: Sacramento Tree Foundation

Use a five-gallon bucket and poke several holes in the bottom. Put the bucket on top of the soil along the drip line. Fill the bucket with water. The water will seep out slowly and deeply into the soil. When it’s empty, move the bucket about three feet away, and repeat the process. Do this until you have made a circle in the drip line around the tree.

You can fill the bucket with water gathered in your daily shower. In a household with several people, you may be able to fill a five-gallon bucket daily. Water early in the morning or after sunset, so you lose less water to evaporation. This is when trees gather moisture naturally.

If you have hard, rocky ground, drill holes one foot deep every three feet around the tree along the drip line. Fill the holes with compost, and then pour water into them. This vertical mulch will encourage the roots to grow.

Finally, bear in mind turf competes with your trees for water. Even if you want to retain some lawn, it’s smart to remove the lawn immediately around your trees and replace it with WaterSmart landscaping.

Smart Landscape Irrigation Tips Save Water

During drought, it’s imore important than ever to conserve water used for irrigation. When you follow just a few smart landscaping irrigation tips, you can get the most from every drop of water applied to your landscaping.

Following a few smart irrigation tips will make the most of the water applied to your landscaping. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Smart Landscape Irrigation Tips Save Water

During drought, it’s more important than ever to conserve water used for irrigation. When you follow just a few smart landscaping irrigation tips, you can get the most from every drop of water applied to your landscaping.

Don’t overspray your landscaping

Don't allow your spriinklers to overspray your landscaping and waste water. Photo: Wikimedia irrigation tips

Don’t allow your sprinklers to overspray your landscaping and waste water. Photo: Wikimedia

Watch your irrigation while the system is running. Check to make sure sprinkler heads aren’t spraying water onto sidewalks, patios, or structures.

If water is being applied too fast for your soil to absorb, runoff will occur. This needs to be prevented.

Puddling and pooling water may be an indication your water is being applied too fast or too often. Adjust your system until this isn’t happening anymore.

Repairs to broken pipes and sprinkler heads should be made immediately, or your system should be turned off until those repairs can be made.

Eliminate runoff with cycle and soak programming

Watch how quickly runoff happens when running irrigation. This is the maximum run time for your irrigation controller in a particular hydrozone.

Divide the total irrigation minutes recommended for the specific hydrozone condition into shorter blocks of time before runoff starts. For example, if you should irrigate for 15  minutes but runoff starts within five minutes, irrigate in three five-minute cycles. Allow a 30-minute rest period in between irrigation cycles.

Hand watering that works

Hand watering can be an effective method to water your landscaping. Photo: Ryan McGuire / Pixabay irrigation tips

Hand watering can be an effective method to water your landscaping. Photo: Ryan McGuire / Pixabay

Hand watering is especially good when your garden is getting established. You can spend more time watching your plants to be sure they are flourishing in the early stages.

When your landscape plants are new, you may need to water more frequently because roots are shallower. Roots on a newly planted one-gallon plant are only four to ten inches deep. This is why it’s a smart idea to plant during the rainy season.

Before hand watering, look at your plants. Do they appear droopy? Is the soil very dry? If so, give the plants a good drink. Don’t water more than two days in a row. Let the soil dry out completely before watering again. Overwatering and underwater symptoms can be similar.

Once your plants are established after the first year, your sustainable garden will  not need watering more than once or twice a month – if at all. Stop watering after the first seasonal rains begin and let nature take over.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Efficient Irrigation Delivers Water While Protecting Plants

Due to the lack of rainfall in the San Diego region, even sustainable landscaping sometimes relies on artificial irrigation. Irrigation systems must be thoughtfully designed, installed, and programmed. Once in place, the many interconnected mechanical elements must be maintained properly for optimal performance.

“Irrigation efficiency” is a way of describing how well your irrigation system is doing its job delivering water for the beneficial use of the plants in your landscaping.

Efficient irrigation-landscaping-Conservation Corner aspects of sustainable landscaping can help you ensure the success of your project. Photo: Water Authority

Efficient Irrigation Delivers Water While Protecting Plants

Due to the lack of rainfall in the San Diego region, even sustainable landscaping sometimes relies on artificial irrigation. Irrigation systems must be thoughtfully designed, installed, and programmed. Once in place, the many interconnected mechanical elements must be maintained properly for optimal performance.

“Irrigation efficiency” is a way of describing how well your irrigation system is doing its job delivering water for the beneficial use of the plants in your landscaping.

When irrigation system efficiency isn’t maximized, it can cause you to use more water than needed. Possible problems fall in three major categories: site conditions in your landscaping, irrigation control, and the uniform distribution of water by your irrigation system.

How to maximize irrigation impact

You may want to get help planning your irrigation system from a qualified professional. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

There are three ways to improve your irrigation system efficiency:

  • Smart Irrigation Management
  • State of the Art System Upgrades
  • Matching Irrigation to Your Hydrozones

Setting and forgetting your irrigation controller is a thing of the past. Even if you don’t have a “smart” irrigation controller to adjust your program for weather conditions, be more proactive in managing your watering, and more closely try to match your watering schedule with the actual water needs of your landscaping.

Upgrading your system with state-of-the-art components is a good investment and the single most significant thing you can do to save water.

Tips on professional help

You may decide to get professional help with your irrigation system. Look for designers or contractors qualified to provide these services. Credentials such as the Irrigation Association’s Certified Irrigation Designer designation can help assure your project will be successful. You can also ask if your contractor is a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL).

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.