“Irrigating lawns with domestic water wells can present unique challenges for homeowners in rural areas. It is important to understand irrigation scheduling, fertility, turfgrass varieties, and domestic well maintenance to avoid water quality and quantity issues,” said Dr. Gary Marek with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service at Bushland.
Marek was one of four speakers at the April 13 Lawn Irrigation Workshop for Domestic Well owners at the Cornerstone Ranch Event Center in Bushland.
“One big challenge is that domestic wells generally produce less water (10-15 gallons per minute) than a municipal water supply (25-30 gpm.) In addition, turfgrass areas can be an acre or larger, they have fewer sprinkler heads which means the heads must provide longer throws of water across the area, and homes/buildings are farther apart, which means fewer wind break opportunities. This can increase water losses associated with wind drift and evaporation,” Marek said.
He added that most lawns are over-irrigated. In general, homeowners should apply more water, less often, to turf areas. This can help reduce evaporation and wind drift losses. It can also prevent turfgrasses from developing shallow root systems.
“Many homeowners irrigate several times a day every day. We can do a better job of scheduling our irrigation, based upon visual observation, rain gauge data, and use of soil moisture meters and probes,” he said. “This information can provide essential information for sprinkler controller programming.”
He recommends watering lawns in either late evening or early morning. However, homeowners may need to schedule this around other water-using activities because of the lower gpm produced by rural domestic water wells.
Dr. Kevin Heflin started his turf fertility presentation with a simple question: “What is in a bag of fertilizer?” He added that you can ask three people and you will likely get three different answers. Heflin is an Agronomy Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension at Amarillo.
“For example, 15-5-10 represents the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in the bag. If the bag weighed 100 pounds, then there would be 15 pounds of nitrogen, 5 pounds of phosphorus, and 10 pounds of potassium,” Heflin said.
He provided a brief overview of the differences between quick release and slow release fertilizers. Those using “weed and feed” fertilizers should be careful not to use them near flowers and trees.
Heflin recommended periodic soil testing to determine any nutrient deficiencies. “As an example, an average-size front yard in the Bushland area is 6,000 ft2. It needs 3.9 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 ft2. So, 6 x 3.9 equals an annual rate of 23.4 pounds of nitrogen. You won’t put this out all at once. This should be spread out in three applications during the year. Also, there are several phone apps that can help homeowners with timing and amount of fertilizer applications,” he said.
He noted that newer housing developments may have problems with their soil. This includes poor drainage, soil compaction from heavy equipment, and use of poor-quality soil to raise the house foundation during construction. Use of core aerators and applying organic matter to the soil may help remedy these issues.
Turfgrass selection should be a tool in minimizing water use, according to Dr. Jourdan Bell, Assistant Agronomy Professor with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension at Amarillo.
“Turfgrass is the largest ‘irrigated crop’ in the United States. Its water use surpasses that of alfalfa and corn. About 25-31 percent of water used by residential customers in Texas is applied to landscapes. Because of this, it is important to select a turfgrass that meets homeowner needs and can survive drought periods,” she said.
As an example, buffalograss has extreme cold and heat tolerance. It can survive temperatures ranging from -30 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Fescue is the number one turfgrass used in the northern Panhandle. It’s pretty—but it uses a lot of water. Data from 1992-2008 shows Fescue needs an average of 60 inches of water annually; bermudagrass needs an average of 31 inches from April to October; and buffalograss needs an average of 21 inches from April to September. Selecting a water efficient grass can help reduce the stress on domestic water wells,” Bell said.
Dr. Jed Moorhead concluded the workshop with an overview of domestic water well maintenance. He is a biological science technician with the USDA-ARS in Bushland.
“Generally, domestic water wells require little maintenance. However, it is recommended that homeowners conduct a visual inspection of their wells at least once a year. They need to check the well cap, casing, electrical conduit, and the area around the wellhead. It is also recommended to conduct a water quality test annually to make sure there are no contamination issues,” Moorhead said.
Professional assistance is needed whenever the well is opened, whenever there is a foul odor or taste to the water, whenever the water is cloudy or dirty, and whenever there is a loss of water pressure.
The workshop was funded by a grant from the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District to the USDA-Agricultural Research Service – in collaboration with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension. Additional funding was provided by the Ogallala Aquifer Program.