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Monday, July 17, 2017

Sometimes You Must "Bite the Bullet" When Conserving Water in the Landscape

Q. You emphasized it's better to water longer rather than more often. But what if that's not possible? Our small condo community has an old irrigation system with everything watered from the same lines. We irrigate for nearly 24 hours. Less than that and small plants really struggle. Is there anything we can do? 

This picture says it all. This is an example of the Mini-oasis landscape design pioneered by the late Dr. Warren Jones (University of Arizona). He and Mary Rose Duffield published a book called "Trees for Dry Climates" in the 1980's that talked about this water saving design technique now renamed hydrozoning. I "borrowed" this picture from Sunset Magazine many years ago. Thanks Sunset!
A. Telling you to water longer rather than more often, I am telling you what to strive for, what’s best for the plants, your condo community and your landscape. There is no “quick fix” to use when irrigating that solves this problem without making major changes to the landscape and irrigation system.
This is a "birds-eye view" of the same landscape in Tucson. Thanks again, Sunset!
            I am very confident your condo community could have an eye appealing landscape that could save water and energy while not using more than about 2 to 3 feet of water applied to your landscape per year. Lawns use between 6 and 8 feet of water per year, 200 to 400% more.
This shows an irrigation layout for a minioasis design. The valves are isolated to three different watering zones; high, medium and low. This is how water is conserved while still making life comfortable in our hot desert climate. I am indebted to you, Sunset!
            Landscape water use should aim for between 650,000 to 975,000 gallons per acre per year. Some areas of the landscape, where people are active, are more intensively planted and use more water while other areas use less but the average should fall between these numbers.
            If you are currently using an amount of water that is close to this and happy with how your landscape looks and performs, then do nothing. You are doing a very good job in managing exterior water use.
            But if landscape water usage is considerably higher than this, then consider re-landscaping the common areas. This can be done in stages so the upfront cost is manageable.
             Most likely the irrigation strategy used now in your condo community is giving landscape plants many small “sips” of water rather than large gulps. It is not ideal but if it’s working for you, and not cost-effective to make changes, then keep everything the same.
            Plant replacements should be planted during the coolest times of the year and not during the heat. Designate someone to water these plants with a hose about every 3 days after they are planted. After new growth has begun, they can be turned over to the irrigation system.
            Seldom are there noticeable problems from watering plants with too much water unless the applications are excessive. Excessive watering causes plans to yellow and died during the heat.
            However, problems you MIGHT see irrigating daily with tiny sips of water include plant leaves scorching, plants dying back, large trees that blow over in strong winds and excessively high water bills.

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