We have all been there. Rain is pouring, and somebody's sprinklers are running. Water is streaming down the street, and you imagine dollar bills flowing down with the water. Let's all agree not to waste water or money this summer.
Adequate water is essential for healthy turf. May is the month most of us will turn on our irrigation systems. Rainfall and temperatures in our region can be very variable, so it is important to not turn your sprinklers on autopilot in May and not pay any attention until they are turned off in October. Water is a precious resource, and we should use it as wisely as possible. Here are a few hints to help you get your irrigation optimized:
- Water only when your grass shows signs of dryness. Look for grayness and footprints left on the turf for more than one hour. Applying water only when the lawn is dry will lead to more efficient water use, less runoff and deeper root systems.
- If you must water on a fixed schedule, update the cycle times at least once a month to accommodate changes in precipitation and temperature.
- Consider "smart technology" evapotranspiration (ET) controllers that perform daily adjustments of water applications according to weather information delivered via radio page, phone or internet. ET controllers adjust the amount and frequency of water applied. Other smart technology such as rain sensors, which prevent irrigation systems from operating during or right after rainfall, can save water. These systems are ideal options for those who travel frequently and want to prevent their sprinklers from turning on in the middle of a downpour.
- Do an irrigation audit. Place several equal-sized containers around a sprinkler zone. Colorado State University Extension has some inexpensive cups designed for this purpose, or you can use empty tuna or cat food cans. Turn on the sprinklers in the zone, run for 10 minutes, then compare the amounts of water in each can. Ideally, each part of the zone will receive the same amount of water. Repeat with the remaining zones. If the results do not indicate even water patterns within a zone, you may need to correct sprinkler head problems.
- Apply water slowly to minimize runoff. This may require updating sprinkler heads. If the soil conditions prevent fast water absorption, consider setting up a cycle where water is applied for a short time to each zone, then repeated immediately. With this sequential water application, the ground is pre-moistened and the subsequent cycle(s) will be more readily absorbed.
- Early morning or late evening is the best time to water, minimizing evaporation loss in the heat of midday.
When you have questions, email ask.extension.org or call 719-520-7684 from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday. For garden tips, visit facebook.com/ColoradoMasterGardeners.EPC