Sunday, June 3, 2007
Playing in the Sprinklers
It's Sunday and Owen (other Garden Wise Guy) and I are getting ready to shoot a new segment for Episode 7 of our show. We've discussed water-wise irrigation from many angles, but it always assumes that people have automatic irrigation controllers, underground piping and pop-up sprinkler heads. But what about everyone else--the folks who never invested in a professional sprinkler system, or renters who just have a hose and a thumb?
There's no reason that some of the common-sense principles of irrigation can't be adapted to a low-tech, Fred Flintsone system. There are a lot of gizmos in the gardening section you can buy. Here are a few rules to get you started.
1. Use the right tool for the job: If you have heavy soil or a slope, get a sprinkler that puts water on the soil gradually, so it has a chance to soak in before it runs off. Sprinklers that water an area, then move away and return would be the oscillating fan sprays and impact heads (those are the ones that look like the head of a bird and go "tsch, tsch, tsch"). If you need to slow soak under your fruit trees or rose beds, how about a leaky hose that lets water trickle out. You can snake it around the bed and let it gradually seep for a few hours.
2. Water to the correct depth: Lawns have relatively shallow roots, so it doesn't take long to get the soil moist, but large shrubs and trees have deeper roots. The best thing to do is dig down or get a soil probe (a hollow tube with a "T" handle) and see how deep the water really went. If you're watering deeper than the roots, you're wasting water.
3. Control how long you water: A kitchen timer or a watch with a timer with a loud signal will remind you that the water is running. Start with short increments (10 minutes) and check the results. Dig down or use the soil probe and see how close your guess was. If you need more, set the timer again. There are even electronic timers you can install between the hose bibb and the hose!
We all know the meditative benefits of standing with your thumb over the end of the hose, sipping on something cool and watering the lawn. Two problems with that: A) Your thumb will give out before you actually apply enough water to soak in, and B) the impact of the water hitting the soil compacts the top, turns it into crust, and keeps the water from soaking in. Kinda defeats the purpose.
So invest in the right tools, pay attention, use your water efficiently and you'll have time to strip down to your skivvies and play with the kids in the sprinklers! Who cares what the neighbors say?