Is Your Irrigation System Running At Optimum Efficiency?

With the end of the rainy season and the onset of Florida's long dry season it's a great time to take a look at your irrigation system and determine if everything is in order.

Below are some tips to help you make sure you are both providing enough water to keep your turn and landscape healthy and not using too much resulting in higher costs, unhealthy plants and breaking water restrictions.

What Time Of Day Is Your Irrigation System Running?

Make sure that your irrigation system is running only in the early morning, just before the sun comes up. When the season change that time will have to adjust as well. Running an irrigation system during the early morning hours when it's cooler will allow the water time to soak into the soil where it can be absorbed by the plants. If your sprinkler is running during the day the hot sun and warmer temps will evaporate as much as 60% of the water. If your sprinklers are running in the middle of the night, the prolonged time that the plants are covered with water can lead to mold, pests and other problems for your landscape. So make sure your system is only running in the early morning, shortly before the sun comes up.

How Much Water Should I Be Using During Irrigation?

Depending on your system, types of sprinklers, water pressure etc... your irrigation system will have to run for a different amount of time to provide the optimal amount of water for your landscape.

The soils in Sarasota and Manatee Counties is mostly comprised of sand with very little organic matter or clays, as such our soil is not great at retaining water for very long. However it usually takes just one half inch or so to hydrate the turf. This will allow -even the roots to be adequately watered. The turf should be allowed to dry out between waterings to encourage a deep root system. Just be sure to check with the local water restrictions for your area so you are compliant. Watering regulations can change depending on the drought level of your area through out the year.

How can I tell how much water my system is providing?

Knowing how much water you should be providing for each application does not help without knowing how long it takes your irrigation system to do the job. There is a simple test figure this out. Simply place cans or cups that are all the same size in each zone of your irrigation system. Placing more than one cup in each zone at different distances from the spray head to also measure if your irrigation zone is providing constant coverage through ought the zone.

After you have placed the cups, run the system for 15 minutes then take measurements from each cup to determine how much water has been used. From your measurements (the depth of water in each cup), you will be able to figure out how long to run the system. For instance, if the sprinklers filled the cups to an average depth of one quarter inch than running the system for a half hour should give you a half inch of irrigation.

How will the changing season effect the amount of irrigation needed?

The changing season will require your system be adjusted to keep optimal performance. Both the time that the system runs and the amount of water dispersed will need to be adjusted. Fortunately most modern irrigation systems are computer controlled and should run reasonably well throughout the year if installed and programmed correctly, and some even come with weather stations to adjust automatically for the weather.

However during each seasonal change you should check on your system to make sure nothing is amiss.

During the fall in the Sarasota area less irrigation is required. Our temperatures are generally in the mid 80s to upper 70s so evaporation is reduced somewhat. However regular irrigation is important during this time because with the cooler temps come a lot less rain, but be careful not over water or fungus and other plant pests can cause problems.

The spring can be the driest time of Florida with rain often not returning until the end of June. Early spring is usually the coolest time of the year but often temps will swing wildly between as low as the 30s in at night to over 80 in the day just 48 hours later. Keeping your system delivering just enough water at a regular interval during this time and again be careful not to over water.

Late spring early summer will be hotter and usually require irrigating twice a week to maintain a healthy lawn. Unfortunately this is also often a time of water restrictions so be sure you are not exceeding restrictions or you could be hit with a fine.

If you would rather leave the landscape irrigation to the professionals, contact Grants Gardens and we would be happy to help maintain your property at optimum water efficiency.

Irrigation and Runoff Planning Is Essential For Turf At Waterfront Locations

As a landscape designer who believes in a reduced impact on the local environment is always the best way to go I rarely recommend large amounts of turf, especially when that turf is located along Sarasota's canals or bays.

However sometimes it can't be helped, either it's already in the design or the client simply wants to keep views as open as possible.

Having large square footage of turf directly against a salt water presents several challenges for the responsible landscaper that must be addressed. These challenges include the potential for saltwater inundation, proper irrigation, pest management and fertilizer programs that won't end up in the bay and of course control of storm water run off.

Anyone who has spent much time at a coastal waterfront location becomes aware the bay does not always stay below the seawall. When large storms combine with high tides often the bay or canal rises above the seawall and can flood the landscape. Planning for this eventuality is a must at waterfront job sites, and proper plant and turf species selection is the key component. Many types of palm trees and tropical shrubs are salt-tolerant but what about the grass? While no turf is completely invulnerable to prolonged salt water exposure there are a few types that make for great lawns that will survive being inundated with saltwater if properly flushed. Zoysiagrass in particular is a nice choice when salt exposure is an issue.

Saltwater inundation is one consideration but in general it is water coming from the property that requires the most planning. Many of Sarasota's waterfront homes have very large roof surface areas. During a storm huge amounts of rainwater are collected by roof, paved drives, paths, decks and patios and will rush towards the bay or canal. This runoff will contain pollutants that have settled on the roof over time, oil and other pollutants from drives and excess fertilizers and pesticides from turf areas. Low close cropped lawns are perfect for allowing all of this run off into the bay if not managed properly.

Grants Gardens takes this into consideration and will install measures that can both work to greatly reduce storm water runoff and clean that water on it's way to the bay. By grading the landscape to direct runoff water into retention drainage swales and cisterns water can be stored for later use in dry times or allowed for natural biological processes to clean captured water in underground drainage swales. After proper installation of these features the next best thing to do for improving your waterfront turf's environmental impact is to make sure you have a proper fertilizer and pest control program in place. Again proper planning makes all he difference. By fertilizing during times of lower rainfall in amounts that are not in excess of what the lawn will consume, there will be far less excess nutrient that makes it's way into the bay even during the summer rainy season. These measures will go along way keeping polluted or nutrient rich water from entering Sarasota Bay.

Last but not least is irrigation. A well-designed irrigation system will provide what water your lawn needs when it needs it and not excess. Grants Gardens are experienced at designing and installing highly efficient irrigation solutions that will be so water efficient they often are not effected by Sarasota county's water restrictions. We us advanced computer controlled systems that include their own weather station. The control system has been programmed with years of historical data about how fast water will be evaporating from plants called evapotranspiration. With this data the irrigation controller will take into account the current date along with the current weather conditions and determine how much water is needed to irrigate without over doing it. Grants Gardens also uses a highly advanced irrigation spray head that creates water drops with a special size and shape that breezes will not blow away. In fact these spray heads are so efficient normal use is allowed even when we are under water restrictions.

While large amounts of waterfront turf is not ideal, if required Grants Gardens can make installing bayside lawns environmentally friendly and easy to maintain.

Reasons Why Consumers Detest Irrigation Systems

Here are some of the reasons why people become disillusioned with irrigation systems:

1. Old Controllers - Rotary telephones are pretty hard to come by these days. Does your cell phone still flip? Irrigation controllers that are older than five years are not using the latest technology. To obtain efficiencies in irrigation technology you must be using the latest irrigation controller.

2. Runoff - once water starts to sheet flow, all flow freely from the landscape onto impervious surfaces like sidewalks, driveways and roadways, the soil has reached a saturation point and can no longer absorb any further irrigation. The amount of time that it takes for the sheet flow to occur depends on the following factors:
a. Slope
b. nozzle type
c. head type
d. soil type
e. compaction
f. frequency of irrigation
g. volume of water per irrigation event

3. Misting - also known as aerosolization, is a result of high pressure and as much as 50% of the water is evaporating into the atmosphere before it can get to the landscape. Misting is affected by relative humidity and wind.

4. Irrigating when raining - if it is raining for more than 10 min. your irrigation should be turned off. There are numerous automatic shutoff devices sold in the marketplace. Sarasota and Manatee counties have a mandate that all irrigation controllers must be installed with the automatic shutoff device.

5. Broken heads - at a minimum, a broken nozzle will emit 4 gallons per minute. If a zone is operational for 10 min., 40 gallons of water will be wasted. If the zone is operational for three times per week, I hundred and 20 gallons of water will be wasted. The average consumer in America uses approximately 120 gallons of water per day.

6. Shrubs blocking spray patterns - during the establishment period of a landscape, plant material are usually small or young. As the landscape matures and grows into the desired design intent, the irrigation coverage becomes compromised. A plant interfering with a designated spray pattern may mean higher concentrations of water in one area and a “rain shadow” in another area of the landscape.

7. Leaking valves - sand, rocks and small debris in and irrigation system can impact the operation of a valve. Typically, valves do not fully shut when debris is interfering with the diaphragm. These are “invisible” leaks where just enough water gets through the valve to the lowest head and oozes out at approximately half a gallon per minute, 30 gallons per hour, 720 gallons per day, 5040 gallons per week!

Here are some recommendations that Grant's Gardens, Inc. would make when encountering some or all of the above irrigation “headaches”!

Grant's Gardens recommends the following to remedy ailing or out of date irrigation systems:

Upgrading controllers to smart technology to accurately determine how much water a specific plant in a landscape requires.

Use a cycle-and-soak feature on the new smart irrigation controller so that zones run for a short amount of time, but may run more than once per watering cycle.

Install a pressure ridge use on the mainline to control the pressure. When renovating or installing a new irrigation system always use pressure regulating heads for better control of pressure. Always remember that water pressure at the bottom of the hill

Install a rain sensor or an in-ground soil moisture sensor.
Install a flow-meter along with the smart irrigation controller. If you have the right technology, the system will bypass the zone with the broken head and send a message to your smart phone to let you know that there is a problem!

If mature plant material is interfering with a spray pattern, and the head is next to a building, Grant's Gardens, Inc. may be able to change their head to a fixed riser. A conversion to drip may also be possible all, if the plant material is well-established and is in an area with ample rainfall, a well-established shrub bed may be able to be weaned off of irrigation.

Often valves in the landscape need to be taken apart and serviced by a professional. Leaking valves are an indication that the irrigation system is not being serviced proactively.

If you are dissatisfied with your current irrigation system contact Grants Gardens and we will be happy to design and install a custom irrigation system that will perform well without headaches. We also can repair or upgrade current systems to bring them into top performance.

Changing Seasons Brings Irrigation Challenges For Florida Landscapes

While everyone loves the cooler temps and sunny-all-day weather we enjoy during the fall and winter months in Sarasota, the dramatic weather changes from summer require adjustment for optimum landscape maintenance.

During the Florida summer, landscapes are usually blessed with plenty of water and optimum growing conditions for the tropical plants Southwest Floridians love. But with fall, it's as if a switch is thrown and just like that the rains nearly stop. For many it would seem the solution is simple – just increase your landscape irrigation or water your turf more, however while that is part of the solution it's not the whole story. Coupled with the dryer conditions is cooler temps, and an almost guaranteed cold snap or two. The somewhat unpredictable temperatures of our area during the winter months can make applying the correct amount of water to your landscape more challenging.

With cooler temperatures the need for watering is greatly reduced even with the dryer conditions – so be very careful not to over do it or your lawn could suffer a host of problems from over-watering. Over-watering during the cool season can cause root-rot, mildew problems, attract insect pests and is also less than ideal considering more often than not, by winter Florida is in a drought and under water restrictions.

To keep your plants healthy and your water use down be sure to have your irrigation system checked for problems. Check that the amount of run-time, and time of day that the system turns on is correct. Any good system with an electronic controller should be accounting for the change in seasons and daylight savings time, but even so, it should be checked to make sure it is running correctly.

Proper preparation for the Florida dry season actually begins in the summer. Your lawn maintenance company should have a sustainable and ecologically- friendly fertilizer program up and running well in advance. This will ensure your plants have good strong and deep roots that are better able to find the moisture they need. Over-watering combined with a poor fertilizer program can cause the plant to have shallow roots and thus be more susceptible to problems during the dry season.

Mulching is also something that should be done through the summer ahead of the dry season. Keeping your plants mulched when all of that summer storm rain is coming down will help add organic matter the soil. When the mulch and soil are wet the mulch will breakdown much faster and transfer the organic nutrients into the soil. This process certainly takes time so by having a properly mulched landscape during the rainy season you are improving the soil for the dry season. The added organic matter will help the sandy Florida soils retain water longer as well as offer more nutrition for growing plants.

Other adjustments that should be made by your lawn maintenance company is the grass should not be cut as short during the dry months. Having the slightly longer turf will help the grass conserve water and not dry out as fast.

If you are looking to keep your landscape and irrigation system in top shape over this year's dry season contact Grants Garden's. In Addition to being a full-service landscape maintenance, design and irrigation company we also offer a seasonal irrigation tuneup to make sure your home irrigation system will be in top shape all year round.