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Drought Busters: Expert Tips on Landscape Water Conservation

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With the current drought conditions in California, it’s time to rethink the way we approach landscape irrigation. Photo: American Ratings Corporation (2015)

For more information on water conservation, visit our drought resource page here.

In light of the ongoing drought in California, the government has called for a 30 percent statewide reduction in water usage. While measures like minimizing shower durations and running dishwashers less frequently will help, in order to achieve this goal, we need to focus our conservation efforts where the lion’s share of our water is expended: outdoors.

There are several ways to conserve water on a landscape, but these can be boiled down to three primary aspects: rethinking conventional watering methods, upgrading inefficient irrigation equipment and implementing drought-tolerant landscaping techniques. To address these points, we’ve asked four Diamond Certified Expert Contributors to weigh in with some professional insight.

Amend your watering habits
Californians have a tendency to overwater lawns, trees and plants, but with the current drought conditions, this is no longer a luxury we can afford. That’s why Jeff Sheehan of Confidence Landscaping, Inc. proposes a switch from conventional watering practices to a “need-based” approach. “Instead of anticipating your plants’ needs by watering at the normal tri-weekly intervals, turn off your automated irrigation controller and wait for them to ‘speak’ to you,” he says. “Once they start to show signs of wilting, turn on the water. Repeat this process a few more times, and take note of the timeframes in each instance. By observing your plants and gauging the amount of time they can go before they start to wilt, you can establish a more accurate, need-based irrigation schedule.”

One of the most common watering errors that property owners commit is watering every day for short intervals. According to Alain Joske of Inscapes, this is the opposite of how irrigation should be approached. “When you water every day for a few minutes, very little of that water makes it past the surface soil,” he explains. “The key to effective watering is to water less often but for longer durations of time. Two or three thorough soakings per week will have a much greater impact by allowing the water to penetrate the soil and reach your plants’ root zones. Plus, it’ll reduce your water usage in the long run.”

As water becomes more scarce, it's time to move beyond conventional irrigation methods. Photo: Masterpiece Gardens & Design (2015)

With the growing scarcity of water, it’s becoming necessary to move beyond conventional irrigation methods like watering by hand. Photo: Masterpiece Gardens & Design (2015)

Upgrade your irrigation equipment
While a reformed approach to landscape irrigation will go a long way toward reducing waste, another important aspect is the irrigation equipment you use. For example, many California residents are still using conventional lawn sprinklers, which are highly inefficient compared to more modern implements like streamers and drip irrigation.

In many cases, property owners are hesitant to update their irrigation equipment because they assume it will involve a substantial cost. Fortunately, as Alan Kostelnik of Gardens of the Wine Country explains, upgrading irrigation equipment is often easier and more affordable than you might think. “Large shrub areas that are currently being sprayed can easily be converted to drip systems by plugging most of the spray head inlets and then tapping into a few existing outlets to add drip hoses and emitters,” he says. “Groundcover beds and areas can be converted to drip in a similar manner. However, instead of drip hoses and emitters, consider using a product called Netafim, which has emitters impregnated in the piping. You simply snake the flexible pipe throughout the groundcover beds and tie it into the existing PVC lines underground.”

Mr. Kostelnik says there are several new, highly efficient irrigation products available that can easily be added to old systems, including “Smart Controller” rotating spray heads and check valves that ensure water lines don’t continue to drain when turned off. These are just a few examples of how modern technology can be used to increase the efficiency of your existing irrigation system.

In addition to amending wasteful watering habits, another way to combat the drought is  installing native, drought-tolerant plants. Photo: Inscapes (2015)

In addition to amending wasteful watering habits, another way to combat the drought is by installing native, drought-tolerant plants. Photo: Inscapes (2015)

Rethink the way you plant
Even after updating your irrigation habits and equipment, if you have a lot of thirsty plants, you may need to improve your landscape’s drought tolerance. Drought-tolerant landscaping (also known as xeriscaping) is a fresh approach that utilizes creative design techniques to maximize aesthetics and minimize water consumption. By incorporating California native plants, accentual ground covers and hardscape features like flagstone walkways, you can maintain the beauty and functionality of your property while reducing both water usage and maintenance.

Despite the growing popularity of xeriscaping, not all California residents are thrilled by the prospect of giving up their beloved lawns. Fortunately, as Stephen Wood of EW Landscape, Inc. explains, with the right methods and technology, you can maintain your lawn without the need for excessive amounts of water. “Raising a water-wise lawn involves a number of important elements, but the foremost is an efficient irrigation method,” he says. “Drip systems have been in use for a long time, but they’ve only recently been applied to lawn irrigation in the form of subterranean drip emitter systems. With these systems, the emitters are situated a few inches below the soil, which enables them to target grass roots while minimizing evaporation.”

Other aspects of raising a water-wise lawn include proper installation method (Mr. Wood recommends growing from seed, as it requires less water than laying down sod), fertilization and the application of soil polymers, which create tiny reservoirs within the soil. When used in conjunction, these elements result in a healthy, aesthetically pleasing lawn that requires a substantially lower amount of hydration.

For more information on water conservation or to find a Diamond Certified company that can help you with your landscape irrigation needs, visit our drought resources page.

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Posted in Consumers, Diamond Certified Experts, Home Tips, Landscaping Tips | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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About The Author
James Florence

James Florence is Senior Writer at American Ratings Corporation. He can be reached at (800)738-1138 ext.323 or [email protected]

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6 Responses

  1. Olivia Sherwin says:

    These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to water your plants manually when they show signs of needing it. This is a great way to gauge the individualized needs of your landscape. That way, you can keep your plants healthy while conserve significant amounts of water. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Drew says:

    Grouping plants by their water needs is a great trick to conserve water. Some plants need a lot less water than others so separating them can save a lot of money. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Judy Wilson says:

    I thought that you made an important point for people to update irrigation equipment. It seems like there are more efficient pieces of equipment being made all of the time. Updating your equipment would be a good way to get the most out of the water that you use for your garden. Thanks for the information!

  4. Nash Rich says:

    I also live in the high and dry desert and I can’t stand to see people over watering. I liked the advice about waiting to see when your plants tell you they need water. People may not like the idea of that, but they are just plants, and I don’t think we can afford to waste water. Great advice on here, thanks!

  5. April Cook says:

    Thanks for this information. I am always trying to reduce my water use, and this will definitely help. I didn’t realize that watering every day for short periods would be bad. I’ll take your advice and start to water less often and for a longer time. Is there a time of day that is best for watering? Thanks again!

  6. Drew says:

    I started watering for longer periods fewer times a week and my grass was noticeably fresher and greener. These are fantastic tips. Thanks so much for sharing!

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