Prepare for the Growing Season with High-Efficiency Irrigation

harvesting vegetables

March 31, 2017


As the gardening and landscaping season approaches, horticulturists, home gardeners and farmers are starting to prepare for a successful growing season.

Watering is one of the biggest challenges for growers of all types and skill levels. Excessive water can drown plants and permanently damage their roots, while too little moisture can stunt their growth. Other factors, such as soil type, plant species, and evaporation speed can further complicate matters.

Is Drip Irrigation the Answer?

Drip irrigation is one of the best methods for optimal watering in gardens. With this controlled method of irrigation, water is applied in small amounts over a longer period. Aside from limiting water loss through evaporation, drip irrigation amplifies plant health by ensuring the soil is not oversaturated. According to Texas A&M, drip irrigation reduces water loss by up to 60 percent. This efficient and precise use of water minimizes the amount needed, thereby reducing overall water costs.

A drip system is comprised of hoses, allowing the water to flow under low pressure and, as the name suggests, drip from small outlets directly onto the soil at the base of the parched plants. This leads to what may be considered the greatest drawback of drip irrigation: the need to purchase and install new equipment.

Is Installing Drip Irrigation Difficult?

Drip irrigation systems are not extremely complicated. In fact, the experts at This Old House suggest homeowners may be able to install a drip irrigation system themselves. The home improvement gurus say that for home gardens and basic landscaping, you can buy a hose that has small perforations to allow for dripping, or even create the perforations yourself in a regular hose. Since the hose rests above the ground and is covered by mulch, no digging is required. To ensure the job is done right, hiring an experienced contractor is recommended. Because drip irrigation increases water efficiency, this upgrade qualifies for something called PACE financing.

PACE stands for property assessed clean energy, a financing program that allows property owners to finance energy-saving and water-saving upgrades for no upfront cost, and then pay for them over time on their annual property tax bill. Therefore, homeowners can use any money saved on water bills (thanks to drip irrigation) to help pay for the system over the long-term. As drip irrigation can reduce water usage by up to 60 percent, the savings can add up quickly, depending on acreage and watering needs.

Are There Disadvantages to Drip Irrigation?

Drip irrigation does have potential drawbacks, but these can be overcome with professional installation and special care. The emitters (perforations where the water drips out of the hose) must be placed correctly so that plants absorb the appropriate amount of water. Also, if the hoses are covered with mulch, it can be difficult to tell whether the system is working or not. And finally, the emitters can become clogged with dirt or mineral buildup from unfiltered water. Regular maintenance, such as flushing the system and using a special filter can help prevent these issues.

What About Hand Watering?

Hand watering is the fallback option for people who do not want to install a sprinkler system or rely on drip irrigation. It can still be an efficient option if done correctly. The best watering strategy for most plants is to irrigate deeply but infrequently. For lawns, moisture should seep down into the soil to a depth of six to 10 inches. Gardeners can measure this by watering until the soil stops absorbing liquid, and then waiting an hour for the water to seep in. They can then use a long screwdriver or similar tool to confirm that the soil is wet to the correct depth.

For other plants, watering depths vary depending on their size. For regular garden plants, ground covers, and annuals, the water depth should be no more than one foot. For larger shrubs, two feet in depth is needed, while trees should be watered up to three feet below the surface because of their more expansive root networks. If you choose hand watering, you should water your plants in the early morning to avoid evaporation. Why not water at night? Plants can develop fungus if they are overly moist when it is dark.

Save Money by Harvesting Water

One of the best ways to save money on watering is to install a rainwater catchment system. These systems, often attached to a home’s gutters, make it possible to capture rainwater and save it to use for irrigation. Like drip irrigation improvements, catchment systems may qualify for PACE financing. To harvest rainwater, homeowners will need a collection point (usually their gutter system) and a way to connect that collection point with storage units. Barrels are the best kind of storage tank, though they need to be outfitted with spigots and, most importantly, with an overflow system to direct excess water away from the house in the event of heavy rains.

Fake Grass

Artificial turf is not just for sports fields. To save money on watering, people in arid or drought-prone climates occasionally replace their lawns with turf. Not only can this low-maintenance alternative to grass reduce your water bill and your lawn maintenance, it may also qualify for PACE financing.

Xeriscaping

Another popular option for a low-maintenance garden is xeriscaping – a practice that involves landscaping with drought-resistant plants. Usually, this is accomplished by using local plants that able to thrive in the climate without human help. Although this type of landscaping does not depend on much water, it will require maintenance. Plants that thrive often require pruning and may overtake a garden if left to grow without any intervention. Xeriscaping is not completely water-free. The plants may require water during heat waves or droughts, and young plants will need to be watered to start their growing process. Overall, though, the plants will not need to be watered as extensively as non-native species.

How does xeriscaping stack up overall efficiency? According to Treehugger, drip irrigation can save approximately 50 percent on a watering bill versus standard sprinklers. Xeriscaping can be even more beneficial, depending on the plant species: the environmental site suggests that it can save between 50 percent and 75 percent on water costs.

Small Changes Add Up

Drip irrigation, water catchment systems, and more efficient hand-watering practices can all help gardeners, farmers, and homeowners save money this growing season. If these improvements result in provable water savings, they may qualify for special financing. Even taking simple steps, like switching out some of your plants for lower-maintenance, drought-resistant species, can lower the amount of water you will have to use to keep them alive and growing. Harvesting rainwater and planting the right species can also contribute to a notable impact on water usage throughout the growing season.


Interested in saving water and contributing to a healthier planet? Contact Ygrene at (855) 901-3999; info@ygreneworks.com to learn how.