Practice smart irrigation in the landscape

John Young, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  7/31/2009 6:47:48 PM

Sustainable Landscape News From LaHouse Distributed 07/31/09

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

The Irrigation Association recently wrapped up its national campaign to educate industry professional and homeowners on proper irrigation in the landscape. The association’s efforts reminded us to talk about best practices for watering our Louisiana landscapes.

For an irrigation system to be effective, it needs to be designed right, installed right and used right. Watering at the right time of day is important. It is best to irrigate when the sun is low (late afternoon, evening and just before sunrise), when the winds are calm and when temperatures are lower. This combination will save a lot of water – as much as 30 percent – by reducing evaporation losses.

Saturate the root zones. Roots are generally within the top 6 inches of soil. Then let the soil dry. Watering too frequently results in shallow roots, weed growth, disease and fungus.

Don't water too long. Water each zone several times for short periods rather than in one long session. For example, rather then watering for 15 minutes, water three times for five minutes, allowing time for the water to soak into the ground before watering again. This reduces run-off.

Take careful aim. Be sure your sprinklers are not watering driveways, sidewalks, patios or buildings. It's all water down the drain.

Conserving water doesn't have to involve a lot of trenching and plumbing. Regardless if you own an automatic irrigation system, you can save water in many ways. Implement the following tips as part of your normal landscaping and gardening routine.

– Aerate your lawn and around trees at least once a year to ensure good water penetration. Turn and cultivate soil. Add compost or fertilizer when planting. This procedure helps the soil hold moisture and produces healthier plants that require less water to remain strong.

– Mulch well around plants, bushes and trees. A 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch reduces evaporation, moderates soil temperatures, improves water penetration and helps control weeds that compete for water.

– Landscape to suit your lot. Evaluate conditions like sun and shade, dry and damp areas, what size plants you want now and at maturity and how you want to use each section of your yard.

– Purchase turf or plant species that have low water requirements and are well-suited to the environment and the area of the yard where they will be planted.

– Hydro-zone your yard. That means grouping landscape plants with similar moisture needs in the same area. Separate them from turf areas, which have different water requirements.

– Plant in spring or fall when less water is needed to establish new plants. Smaller plants also need less water to become established.

– Create functional turf areas, such as play areas. Avoid using turf where it's difficult to irrigate properly, such as on steep slopes. Good alternatives for hard-to-irrigate areas are ground covers, perimeter plants and mulch.

– Plant shade trees to lower the air and soil temperatures. This will reduce soil moisture loss.

– Maintain your yard by mowing, weeding, pruning and irrigating as needed. A well-maintained yard requires less water.

All of this is important information for using your irrigation system properly. Irrigation will continue to be important as we move through the rest of the hot summer in Louisiana.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. Go online to Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods for additional information.

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Editor: Mark Claesgens

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