Why The California Landscape Contractors Association Wants You To Use Water Wisely

Today, giving your landscape the water it needs, and only the water it needs, is a matter of dollars and sense. Most homeowners know that plants and trees suffer without enough water. But do you know that overwatering can take an even greater toll on your landscape? Soggy, water-soaked soil can prevent air and nutrients from reaching plant roots. It can also invite problems like root rot and other plant diseases that result in serious damage and unwanted replacement costs down the road. Watering too much or too often can also register on your water bill as the costs of treating and pumping water increase all over the state.

Fortunately, significant water savings can be realized by implementing just a few simple practices. The results of these savings can be dramatic. In fact, one recent water district study indicated that if the amount of water wasted in California was reduced by only 10 percent, it could save up to 50 billion gallons a year, the same amount needed to supply the residential needs of a large city. Members of the California Landscape Contractors Association recognize that water is a precious natural resource. This practical guide will help you implement the kind of efficient watering practices that will keep your landscape green and healthy, and save you money, too.

Know Your Landscape

  • Different areas of your yard are exposed to varying levels of sun, shade and wind. Shaded and sheltered areas are likely to require less water than open areas in full sun.
  • For best results, take time to walk around your yard and make a water-use inventory. Look for telltale signs of overwatering, such as puddles, mud or the growth of moss or fungus. Also note areas that are dry. Make notes if you see you should make some adjustments.
  • During your inspection, see how water is being used on sloped or graded areas. Water requires more time to soak in on a slope, so plan for more frequent, shorter intervals. For example, if you water a flat area twice a week for 15 minutes, a slope with similar sun exposure may require three times a week for 10 minutes.

How Much Water Do You Need?

  • The amount of water needed to keep shrubs, trees and lawn areas healthy depends on a wide variety of environmental factors including climate, season, type of soil, grading and the specific type of plant, tree or grass.
  • Once you’ve become familiar with your landscape, consider having a water audit performed by a certified water auditor, landscape contractor, irrigation professional or your local water district. If you have an automatic irrigation system, the audit will tell you how much water you are using, how much you actually need and how well your system is doing the job. The audit will evaluate the performance of the control valves, sprinkler heads and the controller (also called the time clock).

When Is The Best Time To Water?

  • In general, it’s best to water in the early morning when winds are usually at their lowest.Avoid any irrigation during hottest part of the day.
  • Avoid watering when it’s windy so water doesn’t blow off target onto paved surfaces.
  • In some areas, you may not need to water at all during rainy winter months, so don’t forget to turn off your automatic irrigation system. Get to know your irrigation system Because your irrigation system is often set to run while you’re sleeping or not around to watch, it’s wise to turn it on every month or two so you can see how it is performing.
  • Check and adjust sprinkler heads to make sure they are not clogged and are pointed in the right direction.
  • Check for any pipe damage. If you see a sheet of water running down a slope, suspect a broken pipe or sprinkler head.
  • Check the battery on the controller or time clock at least once a year.
  • Consider replace existing sprinkler spray nozzles with more efficient rotating sprinklers that have a lower application rate.

Controlling The Controller

  • Your automatic controller or time clock tells the valves of your irrigation system when to turn on and when to turn off. Programming the time properly is critical to efficient water use. Make sure your time clock can be adjusted for changing weather and landscape requirements, and most importantly, don’t forget to adjust for those changing conditions.
  • If your system is not already outfitted with a sensor that stops watering when it’s raining, call an irrigation specialist to find out how you can have a sensor added. The way the time clock is set will vary depending on make and model. All time clocks, however, can be set to control three basic functions: The duration of the watering cycle; What time (or times) the system will water; and What day (or days) the system will water

What About Drip Irrigation Systems?

  • Drip systems are designed to deliver low volumes of water, under low pressure, through flexible tubing to specific plants or plant areas. They can be used almost anywhere (except on the lawn). Consider a drip system for container plants, hedgerows or shrubbery where lawn equipment, pets or people won’t disturb the tubing. Drip systems may require a bit more maintenance because tubes can become dislodged, but they do deliver water precisely to the root system.

Avoid Runoff

  • Don’t water anything you don’t want to keep green.
  • Water should never puddle up on sidewalks or patios or driveways, and keep sprinkler heads from spraying your foundation walls and other hardscape surfaces. After all, concrete, asphalt and brickwork all deteriorate more quickly when they are constantly washed with water.

Words To The Water-Wise

  • The amount of water your landscape needs differs considerably depending on the climate and season. However, there are some guidelines that work year round.
  • Allow lawn areas to dry out slightly between waterings.
  • Because soil compacts over time, have your lawn aerated at least once a year. Aeration pulls out plugs of soil and opens the pores so air and water can get in. Over time, aeration may actually reduce the amount of water plants need because they are getting the benefit of every drop.
  • In general, new plantings will require more frequent waterings than older plants with more established root systems.
  • Roots will grow only where they can get water. Shallow watering results in shallow root systems that can dry out more quickly during hot spells. When you water, water deeply.
  • Allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings is critical. Muddy or soggy soil is a sign of trouble.
  • To keep soil from drying out too fast around shrubbery or in flowerbeds, apply a layer of compost where unprotected earth is exposed to the sun.
  • To prevent overwatering trees in the lawn area, keep grass about two feet away from the trunk.
  • Periodically use a shovel or spade to check the moisture content of the soil below the surface. Even if the surface appears to be dry, the soil at root level (six to eight inches deep) might be quite moist.