Today, more than half of the newly built homes come with an automatic sprinkler system pre-installed. Additional systems are installed by some homeowners after moving in. Added to this total are the many existing homes that are being retrofitted with automatic sprinkler systems. That is a lot of automation!
These systems are popular because they are a real time saving convenience and they supply large areas of a landscape with plenty of water. With careful timing of zone watering and proper selection of spray nozzles, these systems can be adjusted to water in a reasonably efficient manner, e.g. when plants need the water.
Monitor the zone settings and adjust throughout the year to meet changing weather conditions and landscape needs. This is an on going task that many don't know about, forget about or choose to ignore. If settings are not monitored and changed, at some time during the growth season a landscape will be either under or over watered. Over watering is especially easy to do if the system does not have a rain sensor, which will keep it from applying water during and after a storm. Rain sensor switches are available at home and garden centers, plumbing/irrigation suppliers, etc. for approximately $25.
Note: Please be aware that you can damage and kill plants by over watering. Especially low water use native and adapted plants. Some ways to help minimize over watering include the routine monitoring and adjustment of your system, installing a rain sensor switch and manually operating the system.
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Runoff occurs when water leaves your property by flowing over curbs or into streets. This wasted water will not benefit your landscape or pocket book. There are two common causes of runoff, which you can control fairly easily.
The first is spraying water on concrete or asphalt surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways that lead directly to the street. Installing or aligning adjustable spray heads/hose sprinklers will fix this.
The second cause is watering at a rate faster than the ground can absorb it. Many water sprinkler systems have high volume heads that apply water at a rate faster than the ground (especially clay soils) can absorb it. Fix this by installing sprinkler heads that apply less water or by running each station several times for a shorter period of time.
Remember - no matter how much you water it, concrete will not bloom! Save the water for your plants.
Drip irrigation systems are very efficient (use up to 60% less water) at supplying water to smaller areas of a landscape. These systems are based upon the fact that plant roots stay in an area that has sufficient water. Drip irrigation places a small amount of water (and, as an option, nutrients) close to the roots. Almost 95% of drip irrigation water can reach a plant, while traditional automatic sprinklers are much less efficient. If you've not considered drip irrigation before, talk to your contractor or landscaper about it. You can also check out the do-it-yourself systems available at garden and home improvement centers.
Even if you already have or are going to install an automatic sprinkler system, drip irrigation can be added to it. Using a retrofit kit, any individual sprinkler riser can be replaced with a drip irrigation head. The head contains up to 12 connections for dripper tubes. These tubes are then routed to different areas or plants.
Another inexpensive drip irrigation system is a hose kit that attaches to a faucet (with a back-flow preventer). Using a simple tool provided in the kit, position the hose and attach dripper buttons, emitters, etc. wherever you need them.
The simplest and least expensive example of drip irrigation is the use of soaker hoses. These are especially useful in flower beds and around trees. They can also be placed next to the house to stabilize soil next to the foundation.
Note: When using them, turn the faucet only a quarter of a turn. Soaker hoses are pressure sensitive, if the pressure is too high, water flows through them like an open hose. Check them every 30 minutes until the water has soaked to the desired depth (Usually 6 inches). Use a garden trowel to dig into the soil to see how deep the water has penetrated. Once you have the timing down, this will be an easy way to use drip irrigation.
Hand watering means using a combination of hose end yard sprinklers that have to be moved and the use of a handheld hose.
For most applications, the first thing to consider is using a sprinkler that does not produce a fine mist. Fine mist evaporates more quickly and is easily blown out of the area you want to water. When using a sprinkler on your lawn, be sure that you deliver the amount of water needed. For specific information about watering lawns refer to the General watering comments section.
Once you know how long to leave the sprinklers running, you should get a faucet timer that will automatically shut off the sprinklers at the time you select. Since forgetting to turn off a faucet is pretty easy to do (personal experience), the timer will keep you from over watering lawns and plants as well as wasting water. There are both manual and electronic timers from which to choose.
If you have many outdoor containerized plants in your landscape, you will be spending a considerable amount of time keeping them watered (probably by hand) during the hot Texas summers. You may want to consider alternatives such as drip irrigation.