Water is Life

Water for your lawn and garden
Credit: kumaravel / flickr.com

A beautiful lawn and garden requires water, but wasting water isn't beautiful.

Hey, there: looked at your water bill lately? If there's an in-ground sprinkler system at your house, you might be able to trim that bill back substantially this summer (and spring, and fall). Sure, in-ground sprinkler systems make irrigation a lot easier, but you can waste a lot of water if you're not careful, and (at least according to your bill) that water is money. By combining a little common sense, a bit of research, and some sweat equity, you can optimize your sprinkler system and save money in the process. Here are five steps to a more efficient in-ground system.

A Deceptively Simple Little Device

Standard Rotating Head
Credit: imelemchon / morguefile.com

This standard sprinkler head allows for adjustment of pattern, angle, and reach.

Evaluate the Heads

Does each head put out a consistent spray all across its assigned area? Do all your pop-up heads pop up? Are there puddles at some sprinklers and brown patches where there's supposed to be green grass? If the answer to any of those questions is “Yes,” you need to remove and replace any ailing sprinkler with a new one of the same type. Sprinkler heads have a finite lifespan, and every one eventually clogs up with grit and minerals over time. Regular checkups can keep your entire lawn watered without wasting resources[1].

Your Sprinklers Aim to Please. You Aim too, Please!

The Gray Stuff Doesn't Grow
Credit: lauren mitchell / flickr.com

Water in the gutters comes from misdirected sprinklers or overwatering. You can fix either condition with a little work.

Evaluate the Patterns

Watch each sprinkler head as it cycles through its whole pattern. Is your system watering sidewalks, the driveway, and the street? Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they're cement - and cement doesn't grow! Pop-up sprinkler heads are adjustable in several ways. You can:

  • re-aim a sprinkler so it doesn't spray onto hard surfaces
  • adjust the distance so you don't have overlap from two heads
  • narrow or widen the spray pattern to cover exactly what you need and no more.

If a fixed-pattern sprinkler head wastes water, replace it with a one with a more efficient spray pattern. Don't worry, sprinkler heads are pretty inexpensive!

Handy-Dandy Tools

Rain Bird PTC1 Spray Head Pull-Up Tool
Amazon Price: $16.79 $7.50 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 17, 2015)
A special tool like this Rainbird spray-head pull-up tool can make short work of testing and removing worn-out or malfunctioning spray heads.

Don't Look a Gift Shower in the Mouth

Did your system run today even though it rained an inch and  a half yesterday? You’re a water waster! Read through the manual for your system's timer (search for resources online if the last owner didn't leave you a copy) and learn how to turn the sprinkler off by hand using its RAIN setting. It makes no sense to water your lawn after a heavy rain, because the water will probably run off, anyway. If you're a forgetful type, you might want to look into a rain sensor that shuts off the sprinkler system after rainy days[2].

An Automatic Shutoff for Rainy Days

Do Your Research

Call up or visit your county extension agent or visit a local garden shop to find out how much water your grass, flower beds, and other plantings need. Don't bother with the "landscapers" who cut your grass and your neighbors – most of them know next to nothing about plants. Many people overwater their lawns; watering too much, too often, or both. Grass needs to be watered well and rarely to force it to grow deep, strong roots. Almost no species of grass requires water every day: if you irrigate that often, water will usually just run off the lawn into the gutter or evaporate in the midday sun. It wouldn't hurt to have a look at your soil, too. In other words, shorten the length of time your system runs and schedule it less frequently

Does Your Water Go up in "Smoke"?

Sprinkler Mist
Credit: fir002 / wikimedia commons

The mist from this sprinker is more likely to evaporate than benefit any of the plants.

Water Early

If you water in the middle of the day when it's hotter and drier, you can end up losing water to evaporation[3]. Besides, bright sunlight might burn tender plants when water droplets on their leaves act like magnifying glasses, sort of  like a mean little kid burns ants. Don't water late in the evening, though, because plants that are constantly wet at night are more prone to rotting and disease

Follow these easy suggestions, and you can save as much as half of the water that your in-ground sprinkler system dumps on your lawn. Like I said before: “Have you looked at your water bill lately?”