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Extension Agent: Maintain sprinkler to save water, keep plants healthy

By By Peter J. McGuill
Aug. 6, 2013 at 3:06 a.m.

Peter McGuill

Watering the lawn and other plants in the landscape seems to be an unending task as we battle dry conditions and endless heat. As the summer months heat up, many businesses and homeowners tire of dragging hoses around the yard or turning on automated sprinkler systems. Periodically, however, these systems need to be evaluated to ensure they are doing the job they were designed to do.

Properly maintained and adjusted sprinkler systems can be a good tool to irrigate the landscape. When used properly, they also help us reduce water usage by properly placing the water where it is needed, when it is needed and in the amount that is needed.

Over time, even the most efficiently designed irrigation system will begin to break down. In the absence of a regular maintenance program, minor operation and performance problems can continue for months, resulting in excessive water use, reduced efficiency and decreased plant performance.

Sunken sprinkler heads that do not "pop up" properly; misaligned spray patterns that throw water onto streets, sidewalks or hardscapes; and broken or missing sprinkler heads resulting from mower damage can result in significant water waste.

Scheduling of irrigation can also reduce water usage and increase utilization by the plants in addition to reducing the risk of many of the plant disease issues that we frequently see in our area.

Early morning irrigation is widely accepted as the best time to irrigate lawns and landscapes. Cooler temperatures and reduced evaporation during the morning hours allow more of the water to go into the soil and be available to the plant's roots, thus reducing the amount of water that must be applied, while daytime heating will dry the parts of the plant above the soil.

Although evening watering will also reduce evaporation that takes place during warmer times of the day, high moisture environments on the leaves and crowns of plants through the night provides a terrific host environment for pathogens that attack plants.

Watering in higher quantities less frequently will also increase water utilization and improve plant health and performance. This heavy watering allows the moisture to move deeper into the soil profile to be stored for use as the plant needs it.

This deep watering also encourages the plant to set roots deeper into the soil profile to capture this moisture, making the turf and landscape plants more tolerant of dry conditions.

Other ways to conserve valuable soil moisture should also be explored. Using drip irrigation systems in beds and using adequate mulch in the landscape will allow for more efficient use of water, thereby saving time, money and, more importantly, conserving our finite water resources.

By taking the time necessary to audit your sprinkler system and watering habits, the beauty and health of your landscape can be improved while reducing water waste.

Peter J. McGuill is the Victoria County extension agent - ag and natural resources. Contact him at 361-575-4581 or pjmcguill@ag.tamu.edu.

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