Back in June when the weather was especially hot and dry and my house was full of grandchildren, I pulled out an old oscillating sprinkler thinking I’d efficiently water my plants and my grandkids at the same time. It was soon obvious that the sprinkler was fine entertainment for the children but far from adequate for my plants.
The device’s arching sweep of water certainly cooled off the kiddos but more droplets wafted off into the air than landed on the lawn or surrounding plants and hardly any of that moisture reached the plants’ roots where it was needed most. Imagining the summer ahead would be hot and possibly droughty, I decided it was time to up my irrigation game.
Water of course is essential not just for our lawns and gardens but for all life on Earth, so it’s important to use this precious natural resource in a careful, sustainable way.
Judicious water usage also saves us time and money. But developing a smart, affordable irrigation plan seemed intimidating to me until I couched it in terms of plants, soils and equipment.
Water requirements vary among plant species and their locations in the landscape, which means a single yard may have a variety of different irrigation needs. For example, the bank of mop-head hydrangeas planted in a sunny, dry spot along my carport and the herbs growing in pots on my patio need frequent watering to survive. In contrast, the well-established oak-leaf hydrangeas growing in a shady spot near my house, my beds of native wildflowers and even the warm-season grasses in my lawn rarely, if ever, need watering. Knowing this, I set up hoses and sprinklers based on zones, which has made watering more much convenient and efficient.
Soil types also impact watering choices, and a single yard may include an assortment of different soil types and conditions. My landscape has areas of clay and sand but also spots naturally rich in organic matter. By knowing which soil types are where, I adjusted the rate and pressure of my irrigation equipment so water didn’t run off or run through the soils too quickly. I also used mulches to increase water retention around the base of some plants and I plan to amend my soils with organic matter this fall.
Technology, too, is important, and it has improved exponentially since I bought that old sprinkler head. These days we have access to high-tech automated systems and smart controllers that can help us time irrigation applications based on factors such as rainfall and soil moisture. And a variety of more efficient hoses and sprinklers are also available to make manual irrigation easier and more effective. I’ve been making small investments in better equipment, which I hope will provide big returns.
By understanding the importance of these three factors, we can all develop wiser watering plans for the rest of this year and into the future. If you want to delve deeper into those plans, check out the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Alabama Smart Yard Landscape page at aces.edu, and click on “topics,” then “landscaping.” Also see a posting on drought tolerant landscapes.
For personal advice, contact your county Extension office or Master Gardeners group or talk to someone with your local water utility office for guidance.
In the meantime, here are a few simple ways to water wisely without making a huge investment of time or money.
- Water in the early morning (preferably 4 to 7 a.m.).
- Place irrigation hoses and sprinklers to deposit water directly onto the roots of plants rather than on their foliage.
- Ensure sprinklers are watering plants (and possibly grandchildren) rather than concrete and asphalt.
- Repair leaks in hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems and around spigot connections.
- Group plants with similar watering needs together whenever possible.
- Replace thirsty plants, including lawn grasses, with native and drought-tolerant species.
- Use natural mulches in garden beds and around newly planted trees and shrubs to retain more soil moisture.
Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.