Although hand watering has been shown to be the most water saving method of irrigating (people tend to water by hand only on an as needed basis), an automated sprinkler system, if designed and programmed correctly, can be a great time and water saver. Automatic irrigation systems can also bring a certain “peace of mind”; knowing your garden is irrigated while you are on vacation helps to make for a worry free trip.
There are three important steps to an efficient irrigation system: DESIGN- PROGRAM - MAINTAIN-
Keep in mind, even after your system is installed there is maintenance that will need to be addressed on a yearly basis.
Planning an irrigation system need not be a mystifying experience. Todays’ irrigation technology is very efficient, and even with “smart’ irrigation time clocks, a system is only as good as the pipes and sprinklers installed in the ground. Each type of sprinkler system will have some limitations. Using the correct type of irrigation for a specific situation is important. Drip systems work well for trees, shrubs, and some perennial bed situations but not in a lawn. It is critical to calculate the volume, pressure and number of emitters correctly. Drip systems are very “flexible” and can “grow” as a garden does. Separating trees and large woody shrubs into a station of their own and installing enough emitters to cover the whole root area will make your system much more user friendly in the long run. The smaller plants typically used in perennial beds have different watering needs than trees and large woody shrubs, and designing to those differing needs will make your system easier to use. Vegetable beds, where crops should be rotated, are easier to irrigate with soaker hoses that can be configured easily to crops.
In lawn/ turf areas pop up sprays are more efficient in small lawns, and rotors or impact heads are better used in large areas. Keep in mind, rotors and impact sprinkler heads apply water at a much slower rate than pop up heads, and need to be timed differently to accomplish the amounts needed for good applications. The most critical concept to keep in mind in a lawn watering situation is ”head to head coverage”. This means the water drops from one sprinkler head must reach all the way to the neighboring head. Many people skimp on the number of sprinkler heads in a lawn only to have to hand water areas to keep dry spots from appearing, or over water some areas to keep the area without sufficient head to head coverage green. Using all the same type and brand in an area is also critical so that uniform irrigation distribution is obtained. It is easy, simple, and recommended before programming your irrigation clock, to perform a simple water audit on lawn areas to determine the actual amount of water a station applies. Remember: water is water and time is time. Knowing how much water is being applied in a given amount of time will help to make you a skilled irrigation clock programmer, because you will have the data needed to be proficient. See the Lawn Watering Guide for Southeastern Colorado below to learn how to measure sprinkler precipitation rates.
Even if you install an automated system it is critical to inspect it yearly to maintain peak performance. This means turning it on station by station, and viewing each head in the station to make sure they are working properly. This should be done at the beginning of each growing season. Don’t assume your automated system will not have misaligned or broken heads from year to year.