Maintaining Soil Moisture
The amount of moisture available in the root zone (0-12 inches) of most small-stature landscape plants,when balanced against the evapotranspiraon rate, indicates most lawns only require irrigaon once ev
ery four to eight days to stay healthy. This predicon should be periodically ne-tuned depending uponobserved weather condions and, parcularly, sprinkler zone variaons in aspect, slope, shading, anddistribuon eciencies. Severe condions could double evapotranspiraon rates. Providing periodic irri
gaon sucient to thoroughly wet the top 12 inches of the soil prole guarantees deep percolaon suf
cient to meet the needs of large-stature landscape plants like shrubs or even trees. Allowing depleonof water in the soil prole (not quite to the point of wilng small-stature plants) provides oxygenaon tothe soil’s micro-ora and fauna and encourages plants to extend root systems deeper into the soil.The resulng balance of the important irrigaon factors might look something like this:For example, 12 inches of a well-weed, sandy loam soil should hold between 1.3 and 1.8 inches of moisture (Table 1). Assuming no rainfall, the water in the soil should be sucient to last ve to sevendays in an average July when evapotranspiraon is 0.25 inches per day. Seng the program to apply1.25 inches on ve-day intervals will meet needs while a four-day interval provides extra insurance.
Programming The Automatic Irrigation System
Many water-related landscaping issues can be traced back to the sengs programmed in the automacwatering system. Oen, the contractor sets up the system to irrigate for a few minutes every morning.Somemes it is programmed to irrigate several mes a day for newly seeded or sodded lawns. Thesestrategies please the homeowner who has invested in a system with such capabilies. The strategy isgreat for establishing turf from seed. It is, however, absolutely the incorrect program for establishedplants. The installer’s error is in not encouraging the landowner to alter the schedule to a more properregime. In addion, many systems will revert to some default program aer power outages requiring ahomeowner to periodically check the current program for correctness.Shallow-rooted plants result from irrigang every day. Irrigang less oen and applying more water perirrigaon results in deeper-rooted plants and healthier turf. Plant roots grow deeper into the soil and theplants become more vigorous if enough water is applied when you do irrigate. Deeper-rooted plants usewater and nutrients from a larger volume of soil and are well-prepared to withstand occasional neglectand short-term drought condions (or system outages). As a guide, if Kentucky Bluegrass doesn’t springback aer being stepped on, it’s probably me to irrigate. Moisture-stressed grass oen takes on a dull
er blue-green color indicang the need to adjust watering schedules.The system’s applicaon rate is easily determined by placing something as simple as empty soup cans inthe sprinkler zone and measuring the me taken to accumulate a measured depth of water. If soil prop
eres are such they aren’t capable of absorbing recommended irrigaon volumes (Table 2), runo willoccur. Runo water is wasted water, and the rate of applicaon must be managed. One strategy is tochange to smaller, lower-output sprinkler nozzles and longer run mes. A more praccal soluon is tosplit irrigaon into shorter me segments and alternang run me with soak periods to accommodateapplicaon of the proper irrigaon volume during the scheduled irrigaon day (Figure 2).