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5 Myths About Watering and Irrigation

Landscapes, Spring, Summer

Water dropAfter a rather wet spring, we've had record high temperatures, coupled with an extended dry spell. To be honest, I do have an irrigation system in my yard, but it was installed before we moved in and I constantly struggle with the placement of the sprinklers, the grouping of the sprinklers and the overall installation. Be that as it may, this is about some of the misconceptions about watering and how to best care for your landscape

I've covered some of these in previous posts, but having them all together might just bring it into perspective for you.

Myth #1: Your yard won't look good if you don't water it

How did the landscape get watered before we had sprinklers? We tend to forget there are parts of the world that do not have running water, yet they have some of the most lush greenery on the planet. The difference is those plants are bested suited for their environment.

If you want the best looking yard in the neighborhood without a lot of upkeep and additional watering, find out what grew in the area 150 years ago. Then, begin the restoration of your landscape using plants native to your area. Cutting down on turf grass will be part of the solution, by the way. Look at the roots of a plant - the longer they are, the better they are at finding and absorbing water. 150 years ago, only 15% of a rainfall would runoff into the streams, rivers and lakes. Today, a typical suburban neighborhood send 50% of a rainfall down the storm drains.

Myth #2: Your municipality sets a schedule for watering, so you should, too

If this is Thursday, it must be raining? Come on! You need to water when your plants need it, not just set the schedule and forget it. Today's irrigation system controllers can be pretty sophisticated, even down right smart. Many of them have rain sensors, so your sprinklers don't turn on during a rain storm (but how many times have you seen that happening, eh?) There may even be some high end systems that will sense the water content of the soil to trigger a zone to run. Sadly, most home systems are not set up to do this.

Cities don't set schedules because it's what is best for the plants, Cities put watering restrictions in place because they are single-sourcing. The water you use to keep your lawn green comes from the same source you use to brush your teeth and make your ice cubes.

You can run your system manually and I recommend that you do. Learn the signs of when your plants need water. You'll also notice that some plants provide you with an early warning system - they show signs of water needs before the other plants do. Also, not everything in your yard will have the same water needs - adjust your watering to meet the needs of each area of your yard.

Myth #3: You should never water at night

My favorite thunderstorms happen at night. Where did this myth originate? It comes from the results of overwatering on a schedule. If you are overwatering, plants don't get a chance to dry out and that can promote mold and fungal growth. Water deeply and infrequently when the plants need it.

When to plants need to be watered? Once they start to droop, they need water. If they wilt completely, they might be damaged beyond recovery. If the leaves are brown and crispy - buy some new plants and pay attention to when they need water! Grass is a little more difficult to judge, but if you can walk across the lawn and not leave footprints, it doesn't need water. If you can see footprints - get out the sprinkler.

Another version of this myth is to not water during the middle of the day. Again - does it only rain between 6 am and 10 am? I think not. But, it is usually cloudy when it rains.

Myth #4: Plants need a constant amount of water each week

What if it rains? What if the tempuratures are in the 90s? What if it's windy? Does it make a difference if they're flowering? There are a lot of conditions and factors that affect the amount of water a plant needs and how much supplemental watering you'll need to do. Good irrigation controllers will allow you to easily make seasonal adjustments - increase during peak growing and tempuratures, decrease towards the cooler parts of the growning season. Better still, get out there and manually run the system when the plants need it.

Your system may have been installed before you added or changed your gardens. Drip systems can be adjusted so each plant gets the water they need, instead of having to compete with the other plants in the same watering zone. The same plant in sandy soil will have different needs than if planted in rich soil. Don't assume.

Myth #5: Adding hardscapes will reduce your need for water

Hardscapes themselves don't need any water, but they do divert normal rainfall away from the landscape. Add to that the number of times I see homeowners washing off the driveway or sidewalk and seeing the water run down the street to the storm drain, and you've just busted this myth.

Use Common Sense When Watering

Plants have survived for centuries and are still surviving without human intervention and watering. When you take the time to learn about the needs of the plants and what your yard can provide them, you'll strike a better balance, reduce the need for additional watering, which reduces your costs and makes more water available for other things - like cooking and drinking.

It takes time, planning and understanding of plants' needs to achieve a good balance and optimum environment without a lot of high input (watering, fertilizer, cutting and pruning). Check with a passionate gardener and you'll start to see the results and leave a legacy.

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