Annual irrigation system inspection can save water

April is National Garden Month! Longer days and warmer temperatures are prompting many area residents to prepare their home gardens and landscapes for the 2019 growing season. It’s also the perfect time to add practices to avoid inefficient watering and/or water waste this spring and summer.

 “Outdoor water use can account for 50 to 80 percent of home water use in the spring and summer,” said Information/Education Supervisor Carmon McCain with High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD). “Because of this, area residents are encouraged to examine their automatic sprinkler systems and repair them as needed to achieve optimum performance this year,” he said.

 Even the best-designed irrigation system will show signs of wear and tear over time. An annual irrigation system inspection can help save water that may otherwise be wasted. 

 Homeowners should watch their automatic sprinkler system as it operates. Sunken sprinkler heads should pop up easily without being obstructed by vegetation.  They should be adjusted to make sure water is not applied to streets, sidewalks, driveways, or other surfaces that allow runoff. Sprinklers should throw a large drop of water -- instead of a fine mist. This reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation and wind drift. Be sure to replace any sprinkler heads damaged by mowing--as well as any broken valves, seals or pipes.

Make sure your irrigation system does not apply water to streets, sidewalks, driveways or other surfaces that allow runoff.

Make sure your irrigation system does not apply water to streets, sidewalks, driveways or other surfaces that allow runoff.

 McCain said it is important to know how much water is being applied by an irrigation system during a given time period. Setting empty cat food/tuna cans or other shallow containers on the lawn is an easy method that homeowners can use to gauge the amount of water their sprinkler applies to the turf.  Once the containers are in place, be sure to note the amount of time it takes to deliver one-half inch of water to the lawn. This determines how long to operate the system to deliver the needed amount of water to the landscape.

 This technique is demonstrated in a Texas A&M AgriLife Research/Extension YouTube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nIwZ_imn9w

 In many instances, irrigation system controllers are initially programmed and then forgotten. Adjusting automatic sprinkler systems in response to changing climatic conditions can help reduce water waste and save money for homeowners and businesses.  HPWD encourages persons to contact their local landscaping professional or landscape irrigation specialist for instructions on adjusting controller settings.

 When irrigating your lawn this spring and summer, please be aware of and comply with landscape watering ordinances your town or city may have in place.

 “With planning and implementation of proven water conservation methods, homeowners can have a beautiful landscape that conserves the surface and ground water resources of the Texas High Plains,” McCain said.

Schedule irrigation systems to run in the early morning hours to avoid evaporation and wind drift.

Schedule irrigation systems to run in the early morning hours to avoid evaporation and wind drift.

AgriLife Extension offers water wise tips for turfgrass

COLLEGE STATION – Lawn owners may be second-guessing their regular maintenance practices, especially in the hottest and driest months.

Dr. Becky Grubbs, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service turfgrass specialist in College Station, has published a Water-Wise Checklist for Texas Home Lawns and Other Turfgrass Areas to help with lawn maintenance this summer.

“We know this is the time of year when Texans become particularly concerned about their lawns,” Grubbs said. “As our weather grows hotter and dryer, it’s increasingly important to find a balance with water use.”

She said many lawn owners tend to overwater, which is evidenced by runoff seen accumulating on neighborhood streets and sidewalks. This overwatering can lead to problems, but a few simple management changes can optimize water use and lawn health simultaneously.

Some of the points made on the checklist are:

– Mow at the upper end of the appropriate mowing height range for your species of grass. Taller grass equals deeper roots, which can improve overall infiltration and access to water deeper in the soil. For more information on appropriate mowing heights per grass species, visit the AggieTurf website at https://aggieturf.tamu.edu/.

– Follow the “1/3 Rule.” Mow frequently enough to never remove more than 1/3 of the total grass mowing height at one time. Scalped grass is stressed grass. Stressed grass will be less tolerant to heat and drought, and more vulnerable to other pests or fungal pathogens.

– Water deeply and infrequently. Try to water to a depth of about 6 inches each time you water. Watering this way encourages deeper, denser root growth. Again, this can improve infiltration and access to water deeper in the soil.

– Wait to water until visual wilt is occurring. Water late at night or early in the morning to reduce evaporative losses, improve water-use efficiency and reduce length of overall leaf wetness, which reduces disease potential.

– Use the “Cycle Soak Method.” Because sprinkler precipitation rates usually exceed soil infiltration rates, cycle soaking improves soil water infiltration and reduces runoff by “pulsing” water onto the lawn in small amounts over several hours.

The complete checklist is available at https://tinyurl.com/lawnturfwater.

Grubbs wants to remind homeowners not to panic.

“Grasses that are well-maintained the majority of the year will go into summer dormancy when drought becomes particularly severe,” she said. “It may lose color much like it does in winter dormancy, but it’s important to remember that when water becomes available again, the grass will recover.

“The trick is to give it everything it needs to grow a healthy, vigorous root system when those resources are available and appropriate.”

Grubbs said summer heat and drought stress can invite other issues as well, which are easy to misdiagnose. These issues are also discussed in more depth on the AggieTurf website under Publications.

Also, the local AgriLife Extension county agent can be contacted if a lawn owner is unsure about a problem, she said.

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Be sure to conserve water this Spring and Summer!

With temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in late May, many homeowners are actively watering their landscapes to keep plants and trees alive.

Did you know that outdoor water use can account for 50 to 80 percent of a home's total water use in the spring and summer?

Much of this water is often wasted by inefficient landscape watering practices, including runoff.
With this in mind, HPWD encourages people to incorporate water-efficient practices into their landscapes to avoid water waste.

▪Add water efficient plant varieties into your landscape.  These plants are native or well-adapted to climate conditions in your area. Additional information is available
at texastreeplanting.tamu.edu and texassuperstar.com

▪Reduce water evaporation by irrigating at proper times.  Evaporation losses can be 60 percent or higher during the day. You can reduce this by irrigating in early morning or late evening.  Be sure to follow your town or city landscape watering ordinances, if applicable.

▪Do not water landscapes on windy days. Wind drift and evaporation increase water losses.

▪Consider use of drip irrigation to water narrow parkway areas or reduce turf in those areas with water-wise plant varieties that can thrive on less water.

▪Position sprinklers to avoid irrigating driveways and sidewalks. Check spray patterns for variations caused by changes in water pressure.

▪"Don't pray for rain--unless you take care of what you get." That's a philosophy that HPWD staff share with persons attending the district's annual rainwater harvesting workshops. Consider rainwater harvesting to collect and store water from the next rain for future use in your landscape. Find more information at rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu

▪Use mulch to retain soil moisture, reduce runoff, moderate soil temperature, and to slow weed growth.

▪Use a low-angle sprinkler that throws large drops of water—rather than one that sprays a fine mist of water that can evaporate quickly.

▪Homeowners with automatic sprinkler systems should regularly check spray nozzles to make sure they are operating properly.  Be sure to replace any broken sprinkler heads, valves, seals, or pipes.

▪Adjust the run time and frequency of automatic landscape sprinkler systems in response to changes in rainfall/temperature.

Remember -- "There's no substitute for water!  Use it wisely without waste!"