Water Wise

By Amy Winter

July 3, 2008 5 min read


When it comes to watering needs, many are all wet

By Amy Winter

Copley News Service

Homeowners tend to overestimate when it comes to how much water plants and grass need to survive.

"People are over-watering by 40 to 50 percent," says Dave Johnson, director of corporate marketing for Rain Bird, an irrigation company.

Johnson recommends reducing water amounts as long as the plants appear healthy. Increase the number of water sessions if you notice brown spots on the lawn or signs of a stressed plant. Michael Bloch, owner and editor of GreenLivingTips.com, says common mistakes that lead to wasting water include plant selection, watering during the warmest part of the day and watering too often.

Sonja Clark, senior manager of communications and community relations for United Water, says the water service company presents a lawn-watering program with tips for homeowners. Resist using the hose to clean off the sidewalk or pavement on the patio. Don't water during or immediately after a rainstorm. And water according to the seasons - you will probably use the sprinklers more often in the summer versus the winter.

Bloch recommends using mulch to retain water. Add layers of plant material like pea-straw or bark to keep the sun away from the soil.

"Mulch, a layer of non-living material covering the soil surface around the plants, conserves water by significantly reducing moisture evaporation from the soil," according to Rain Bird.

Watering too much in one area leads to waste. Rain Bird advises watering four times for 5 minutes each, allowing 15 minutes between sessions for the liquid to be absorbed by plants, rather than 20 minutes straight. More water will be absorbed and less will end up as runoff.

Water in the morning rather than during the afternoon. Cooler mornings will give plants and grass a better chance to absorb; water evaporates faster when it is warmer outside, according to Johnson. Rain Bird advises watering between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. - calmer winds, lower temperatures and less sun intensity.

Select native and drought-resistant plants to save on your water bill. Plant less turf grass and substitute with more shrubs or flowers; turf grass needs a greater amount of water. If you prefer large areas of grass, set your lawn mower to cut the grass about an inch higher during the summer. Longer grass improves absorption of water due to its ability to shade the soil from the sun. And get rid of weeds that take moisture from other plants.

"I think that given the challenges faced by many cities, there should be laws passed to prevent the use of non-native, water-intensive plants from being used in gardens when new homes are built," says Bloch.

An automatic irrigation system can water your yard more efficiently and consistently compared to a hose. A hose doesn't hit a full area, and is more wasteful concentrating on one area at a time, according to Clark. A sprinkler system allows a person to control the amount of water as well as the time of day. Check your irrigation system once a month to make sure there aren't clogged heads or torn lines. Look for leaks especially after the winter frosts. Rain Bird recommends dividing your yard and landscaping into separate sprinkler zones - the grass can be watered more often than the shrubs and flowers.

Drip irrigation is a less wasteful choice when watering individual trees, potted containers or flower beds. Drip or trickle irrigation has hoses that permit water to move directly to the roots, according to Bloch. Under low pressure, the water travels through spray heads or bubblers positioned at each plant, eliminating excessive runoff or evaporation.

Johnson suggests contacting your local water district to obtain tips on how much to water in your area.

"People are trying to change watering habits, especially when there is not an abundance of water in certain areas," says Clark. "They tend to be more mindful."

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