Mow at Higher Setting: Adjust the height setting on your mower up one or two notches. Taller grass will create shade which will reduce evaporation of water from the soil and protect the roots from excessive heat.
Aerate Lawn Area: Clay soil becomes compacted over time from activities, rain and irrigation. To increase the soil’s ability to absorb water, aerate the lawn area in the spring and apply about 1/4 inch of compost. Do not however, aerate your lawn during a drought it will cause undue stress to the root zone. See “Turf Aeration” section for more information regarding aerating your lawn & landscape.
Do Not Fertilize: Plant growth naturally slows down and/or plants go dormant during a lengthy drought. Do not encourage new growth by fertilizing.
Mulch All Planted Areas: Mulch is like icing on a cake because mulch keeps the soil moist the same way icing keeps a cake moist. Mulch slows evaporation of water from soil, allowing water to infiltrate the soil efficiently, moderates the soil temperature, and breaks down into nutrients for the plants. Maintain a 2 to 4 inch mulch layer in all planted beds and containers. See the “Mulch Installation” section for more information regarding the benefits of mulch.
Plant Drought Tolerant Plants: Utilizing native and adaptive drought tolerant plants reduces the amount of landscape water needed. However changes should not be made to your landscape during a drought. Wait until drought conditions and watering restrictions have lifted before making any changes. The best time to plant is during the early spring, fall or winter. See the “Xeriscaping” section for more information on planting drought tolerant plants.
Plant Trees: Shade trees cool the landscape, thereby lowering the evapotranspiration rate. Evapotranspiration is the loss of water from the soil due to evaporation and from plants due to transpiration. Plant trees on the western side of your landscape to receive the most benefit from shading (this will also save electricity). Select trees that are recommended for your area. See “Flower, Shrub & Tree Installation” section for more information regarding planting trees.
Watering Time: Be sure to water your lawn and landscape before 10:00a.m. and after 6:00p.m. for best effectiveness. However, it is not recommended to water at night due to potential fungus growth.
Efficient Irrigation is Essential: If your irrigation system is not working properly, no matter how much you water, the landscape suffers and water is wasted. Check for pipe and valve leaks (indicated by greener and/or faster growing areas), breaks, clogged heads, sprinkler heads not working, misaligned heads, misting versus spraying due to too much pressure, water spraying onto hard surfaces and runoff into the street. See the “Irrigation Installation & Repair” section for more information regarding sprinkler systems.
Judge Irrigation Requirements in the Morning: High afternoon summer temperatures cause plants to wilt, be off color, drop leaves and/or shrink, even if there is significant moisture in the soil. Once the sun sets, the lawn and plants look normal; if in the morning the lawn and plants look like water is required, irrigation is justified. If in doubt, use a long screw driver to test for moisture in the soil. Push the screw driver into the soil (like a toothpick into a cake) to see how much moisture is in the soil. The screwdriver will push easily into moist soil and will not push easily into dry soil.
Catch Can Test: A catch can test is used to determine how long to run an irrigation system or hose-end sprinkler and how well the water is distributed over the landscape. The root zone (where water and nutrient absorbing roots grow) is typically 6 inches deep in clay soil and 8 to 10 inches in sandy soil. Usually 1 inch of water will fill this root zone, but in many cases, irrigation systems apply water faster than the ground can absorb. During a summer drought with high temperatures, the water requirement may be higher. Each type of sprinkler (spray, rotors, multi-stream rotor, drip) applies water at different rates, therefore the catch can test is essential to determine the run time and efficiency of the system. To determine the runtime of your irrigation system:
- Place 5 to 9 catch cans (tuna or cat food cans work great) in each irrigation zone or station.
- Run each zone for 3 minutes to determine how much water is applied in each zone by measuring the amount of water in each catch can.
- To determine run time (time each station should run), use this example: if there is 1/4 inch of water in each catch can after running for 3 minutes, to apply 1 inch of water set run time for 12 minutes (This is just an example, your measurements could vary greatly). Some irrigation systems apply water faster than the ground will absorb 1 inch of water. To avoid water running off the landscape into the street, you may need to run these stations several short times instead of one long time. With this example, set the controller to run 6 minutes 2 times. See ‘Soak and Cycle’ and ‘Aerate Lawn Area’ for more ideas.
- If the water levels in the catch cans are equal or near equal, your irrigation system is working efficiently (distributing water evenly). If the water level in each catch can vary greatly, it may be time to contact an irrigation system professional like us to diagnose the variances and to improve distribution of water.
- Test each zone. Water application and distribution can vary by zone.
Soak and Cycle of Irrigation Method: Some irrigation systems apply water faster than the ground will absorb 1 inch of water. This is especially true in lawn areas. Mulched areas absorb water more efficiently. To avoid water running off the landscape into the street, you may need to run these stations several short times instead of one long time. Use soak and cycle method by:
- Determine how long to run each zone. (see ‘Catch Can Test’)
- Water these areas in 2 or 3 short cycles or 4 cycles if on a slope instead of 1 long cycle.
- Wait 20 to 30 minutes between cycles.
Most irrigation controllers have a way to set different start times. If you have trouble programming your controller, contact us.
Change Nozzles: Change sprinkler head spray nozzles to water conserving multi-stream nozzles which apply water in heavier droplets, so less water is lost due to displacement by wind and evaporation.
Replace Controller: Replace an older irrigation controller with new models with water conserving settings (soak and cycle; seasonal adjustment) or with a smart controller which use evapotranspiration or moisture sensors to determine run time.
Install a Rain and Freeze Sensor: This sensor prevents an automatic system from applying water while raining or during freezing conditions to avoid loss of water and prevent hazardous ice conditions.
Drip Irrigation: Install drip irrigation (many existing irrigation systems can be converted to drip irrigation). Drip irrigation is 90% efficient compared to spray irrigation which is about 65% efficient if designed, installed and maintained properly. There is now sub-surface drip tubing available for lawn areas. In some cases drip irrigation is exempt from drought restrictions.