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.”
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.
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.