Now that summer has officially arrived, the Quad Cities Metro area is definitely feeling the heat! Aside from worrying about what SPF sunscreen to use and how many water bottles to take to the beach, we green thumbs have the additional worry of keeping our plants protected and hydrated, too! A question that we hear a lot this time of year is, “what’s the best way to water my landscape?” so we decided to dive in and answer that for you!
Sprinkler Systems vs. Drip Irrigation
The two main irrigation systems used on residential properties are sprinklers and drip irrigation. Both methods are much more effective than old-school watering cans, leaving you with happy plants and a healthy lawn.
Most of us are familiar with sprinkler systems, which spray water droplets into the air so that they fall on your landscape like rain. There is a wide range of different sprinkler heads and rotors available, so you can adjust the spray pattern, direction, and intensity, to suit your landscape’s needs. Although sprinklers are usually operated manually, they can be programmed to run on sensors and timers as well. The biggest thing to consider with sprinkler systems is that water falls on the surface of the ground, so you can lose a significant amount to evaporation and runoff. For the same reason, sprinkler systems should only be used in areas with adequate drainage.
Drip-line irrigation systems differ in that they run through a network of pipes and tubes that are often placed underground. While this requires a little bit more effort to install, when it comes to ease of use, efficiency, and water conservation, there’s no denying that drip line irrigation is the gold standard. These lines run underground, emitting a constant trickle of water at or below the ground’s surface. Because water soaks directly into the root zone, loss from evaporation and runoff is almost eliminated, and water delivery is much more efficient. Many drip irrigation systems are paired with sensors that shut off the water supply when soil is wet, and will only turn it back on when the soil needs moisture again.
Ultimately, the decision about which irrigation system is best suited for your landscape is yours. While drip-line irrigation may be the “best” way to water your landscape, we recognize that sprinklers are a little more budget-friendly and require a little less upkeep (they don’t clog as easily).
Proper Watering Techniques
Regardless of how you hydrate your landscape, there are some general techniques to follow when watering your garden. Use these tips for proper watering when you’re tending to garden plants with a hose or watering can, or, if you use a more complex irrigation system, keep them in mind when you set your irrigation sensors and timers.
Water deeply, infrequently. We understand that you want to provide constant care, but sometimes leaving your plants alone for a little while is exactly what they need. Watering deeply encourages deep root growth and a stronger, healthier plant. However, after a deep watering, your lawn and plants won’t need any more moisture for a while (unless the weather is particularly dry!). It’s important to avoid overwatering, as waterlogged soil is a breeding ground for fungal disease.
Try deep watering with a slow trickle. The best way to water deeply by using a garden hose with a pencil-sized hole for water to flow through. Let water trickle through the hole for 15 minutes per plant or shrub, and 30 minutes per tree.
Keep the foliage dry. On that note, wet plant matter is another way to encourage fungal disease (and the pests that come along with it). For this reason, it’s best to water the base of your plants at the soil level. Not only does this keep plant foliage dry, but it also delivers more water to the roots, and you’ll lose less from evaporation. If this makes sense to you, you can see why drip-irrigation systems are ideal—sprinklers water the plants, but drip lines water the roots!
Water in the morning or evening. Soils are able to retain much more moisture when they’re cool vs. when they’re warm. Watering your plants in the mid-day sun can also lead to leaf burn if you get your plants wet. Water your plants before you head to work in the morning, or later in the evening when the sun is setting. If you have a timer-mediated irrigation system, make sure to schedule irrigation for these times as well.
Keeping plants properly hydrated is one of the biggest challenges gardeners face in the summertime. With an irrigation system, you can leave all that hard work to technology and enjoy the lush landscape it leaves behind! If you’re thinking about installing a drip-line system, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Meyer Landscape & Design team for a consultation!