One of our first questions we ask homeowner’s about their yards is, “Do you have an irrigation system or are you willing to install one?” There’s a good reason for that—a well designed irrigation system can help every landscape thrive from a lush tropical garden to a low-maintenance xeriscape.
Irrigation has come a long way from setting a sprinkler on the lawn and hoping for the best. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Irrigation?
Irrigation—meaning the supply of water to plants through installed channels—is a technique that can help maintain any landscape. Basically, irrigation is the practice of piping water directly to your plants where it’s needed most instead of having to lug around a watering can. The method has been used in farming for millennia, and now those same techniques have gotten a sleek upgrade to fit in seamlessly with your home landscaping.
The layout of a good irrigation system is sophisticated! It requires carefully mapping out the overlapping watering zones of every sprinkler or drip irrigation pipe to make sure that no areas are missed. It also requires an understanding of how water runoff will flow to make sure that no water goes to waste and every drop is directed where it’s needed. That’s why we always recommend consulting an expert to get the most out of your irrigation.
Why is Irrigation Important?
There’s a reason we value irrigation systems so highly for newly installed landscaping. Freshly planted greenery, groundcover, and flowers alike all need stable and consistent watering to establish strong root systems. Once strong growth is established, most plants require less water—but a healthy dose still encourages flourishing growth. However, just making sure you spray the hose around the same time each Saturday isn’t enough to ensure a well-balanced water supply.
There are many factors that can affect how much water your plants need. Your soil’s water retention determines whether it will hold water like a sponge and provide a steady water supply for your plants or if water will run straight through, leaving roots dry almost immediately. Your local season and climate tell you generally whether you can expect snowfall or blazing sun, but day-to-day weather changes everything. You have to take a dry spell, a week of rain, or even a cloudy period which slows water evaporation into account.
We can’t all be meteorologists—and that’s why we’re such big fans of smart irrigation systems. These systems can vary in complexity, but all of them are useful. Basic smart sprinkler controllers will allow you to toggle the day’s sprinkler routine off if you know it’s going to be rainy. You might even be able to do that through your phone or Amazon Alexa! More sophisticated smart irrigation controllers can make many of those decisions for you—checking the weather and even soil moisture to decide when to turn on and how much water to use. It’s fool-proof.
What Landscapes Benefit from Irrigation?
Installing a lawn sprinkler system might seem like a no-brainer for anyone who’s devoted to their lush green grass, but there are many more reasons that a well-designed water irrigation system can help you. Irrigation can help groundcover, greenery, trees and shrubs, and garden beds—in any climate.
Even if you have drought resistant or low maintenance landscaping, those plants require water to become well established. Irrigation systems can continue to be a useful part of waterwise yard design and decor long after plants are hardy as well! Having a watering system in place will allow you to use it when needed to support your plants. You don’t have to run it every day, but it’s a good insurance policy to protect your landscape if there’s ever a prolonged dry spell.
If you live in a particularly dry region, irrigation installation will help lift a weight off your shoulders if you hope to keep anything green. An expertly designed irrigation system is an especially important element of water efficient landscaping for anyone living in areas prone to drought. The layout of an irrigation system can actually help to reduce surface runoff and evaporation. Carefully directing water to where it’s needed can actually save you water in the long run and help maintain a beautiful landscape.
Types of Irrigation Systems
There are several different types of irrigation systems that can be used for different needs. You can find the one that’s best for your landscape or combine methods to match different zones of your planting.
A drip irrigation system typically uses pipes or hoses and run along the base of your plants to deliver water directly to their roots. The water drips out from small holes in the tubes, giving the system its name. Drip irrigation systems have the advantage of very specific water application where it’s most needed which cuts down on the evaporation and water loss that can occur with spray systems. Drip irrigation is a popular choice for garden beds and greenhouses where plants are neatly organized in rows.
Sprinkler installation is the go-to choice anywhere water needs to be spread across a wide area, making it the most popular lawn irrigation system around. Whether you’re trying to cover a wide area of groundcover or you have scattered planting that would be difficult to drip irrigate, installing a sprinkler system can tackle it all. This is the most versatile irrigation system for a wide range of landscaping styles.
If you’ve ever been in the produce section at the grocery store when the misters turn on, you’ve already got a good idea of how mist irrigation works. This method is excellent for greenhouses where the goal is to build humidity and the mist will be contained and not immediately lost to evaporation. Mist irrigation is also sometimes used as a cooling system on patios for humans and plants alike.
Micro Sprinkler Irrigation
Micro sprinkler systems deliver water right to the base of plants using a low pressure system with less spray than a typical sprinkler system. Drip irrigation is actually one form of micro sprinkler irrigation, but the term also includes systems using sprinkler heads with a low and tight spray that help to keep water application localized. This technique is most often used in gardens, greenhouses, and orchards.
A good irrigation plan can also qualify you for water saving landscaping programs in some areas! Make sure to check your local landscape rebate programs to find out what rebate amounts they offer.