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Posts Tagged ‘irrigation’

by Charlene Burgi

Over the years, many questions have popped up regarding the best way to irrigate. Some customers asked if it was best to irrigate a little every day, or every two days, etc. Others asked if it was best to irrigate in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Some wanted to know what irrigation method is best for hillside planting.

Overspray, an irrigation don't

Overspray: an irrigation don’t

And, over the years, many of you have heard me say to irrigate effectively as well as efficiently. To irrigate efficiently is to apply water to the root zone of the plant and replace just the amount of water lost due to evapotranspiration (ET). ET is the loss of water through transpiration from plants (we perspire, plants transpire) and through evaporation from soil. MMWD uses data from its weather stations to calculate the rate of ET and generate the Weekly Watering Schedule. Replacing just the amount of water lost keeps the plant and surrounding areas in balance, but this alone is not necessarily effective.

For example, suppose the ET loss for the week is one inch. A person could water a tiny bit daily, replacing just 1/7th inch of water each day to total one inch for the week. However, that tiny bit of water would barely wet the surface of the ground and evaporate quickly. Much better would be to apply a half inch twice a week or one inch of water weekly to get down to the root system of the plant. Water at that depth will take longer to evaporate—especially if there is a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil. That would be effective as well as efficient.

Another means of being more effective is to avoid irrigating when it’s windy or during the heat of the day. Typically, there is little wind during the evenings or early morning. If you set your controller to turn on after sunset or before sunrise, you’ll save water and comply with MMWD’s new daytime irrigation prohibition. Since your irrigation system will be in action while you sleep, do a quick monthly system check—running each station for a minute—to look for blown emitters or misaligned nozzles. During the month between system checks, simply look around in the morning. Do you see a puddle? Are the sidewalks wet? Are you finding dry spots or wilting plants? These are signs that adjustments or repairs may be needed.

Watering hillside plantings is a challenge in anyone’s book. There are steps that can be taken to make this irrigation challenge both effective and efficient. First, use very low-flow methods of irrigating such as drip emitters or MP rotators for overhead irrigation. Next, use multiple start and stop times on your controller. Some controllers call this the cycle/ soak program. Water for a brief time before you see any sign of runoff. At that time, program the controller to turn off. Let that water soak into the hillside for 20-30 minutes before setting the controller to start again. Continue the cycle/ soak until the water penetrates to the depth of the root system—but not until you find water run down the street!

Be water smart. A few moments to adjust your controller will yield water savings and happy plants. And please take a few minutes to become familiar with the current water conservation regulations.

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In response to the continuing drought, the State Water Resources Control Board announced new emergency regulations in July designed to reduce outdoor water use statewide. To fully comply with the state, on August 19 the MMWD Board of Directors adopted an ordinance amending the water waste section of the district’s code.

Most of the new state regulations mirror water waste restrictions MMWD has had in place for some time. However, two changes may affect you: Irrigating between 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. is prohibited, as is using a hose without a shutoff nozzle. We’ve long recommended that our customers follow these water-saving practices; now, these recommendations are requirements.

We appreciate your cooperation!

Prohibited Water Uses

Under state and district water conservation regulations, the following are prohibited:

  • NEW: Irrigating between 9 a.m. – 7 p.m, except for system testing and repair
  • NEW: Using a hose without a shutoff nozzle
  • Allowing irrigation water to runoff or overspray the irrigated area
  • Hosing down sidewalks, driveways, and other hard-surfaced areas
  • Non-recirculating decorative fountains

FREE hose shutoff nozzles are available at MMWD’s Corte Madera office (one per household, please).

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by Dan Carney, Water Conservation Manager

Small grass area for children's play yard

Children’s play yard (photo and design by Michelle Derviss)

If you are looking for an ideal landscape area to have a picnic, play games with your kids, or rough and tumble with the family dog, a lawn may be a good choice.

When properly cared for, lawns have many environmental benefits: They clean and cool the air, filter storm water, produce oxygen, and require much less water than you might think—lawns are commonly overwatered by as much as five-times! As a rule of thumb, unless it’s the middle of summer and the lawn is in full sun all day long, a healthy lawn only needs to be watered one day per week if it’s not raining. If it needs more, chances are your lawn needs some help.

Common environmental problems with lawns occur when people overwater, use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, do not compost clippings, mow too often, and have a larger lawn than they actually use. This article focuses on the essential things you need to know in order to successfully grow healthy lawn grass in an environmentally responsible, Marin-friendly manner.

But first, ask yourself this question: Do you really need a traditional lawn at all? If your answer is no, then please consider planting a no-mow meadow of native grasses, low-water groundcover, or other drought-adapted plants. Even when perfectly maintained, lawns require more water than any other landscape plant and are best reserved for landscape areas where they will be actively used rather than just a pretty green surface to look at. If you have a lawn area you want to convert into a low-water using garden, check out this video to learn how to sheet mulch. Then, browse our conservation coupons to find discounts on mulch and other supplies from local retailers.

If you still choose to have a lawn on your property, here are the basics of Marin-friendly lawn care:

  • Incorporate a generous amount of organic compost into the soil (1-2 cubic yards per 100 square feet).
  • Select a drought-tolerant grass species.
  • Apply enough organic fertilizer to maintain plant health but not to stimulate fast growth.
  • Irrigate with a high-efficiency irrigation system, and adjust watering times frequently to match seasonal plant demand. Never water between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., the time when 97% of evapotranspiration occurs.
  • Mow infrequently, use a manual or electric mower, leave the grass blades 2-4 inches tall, and compost the clippings.
  • Use graywater, rainwater, or recycled water whenever it is available.

By following these basic steps, you will be training your lawn grass to develop a deep and extensive root system—the key to growing a drought-tolerant lawn with the most environmental benefits and the fewest problems. MMWD offers a number of free services to help you make your landscape Marin-friendly. Visit our Conservation page today to schedule a free water use survey through our Conservation Assistance Program (CAP), sign up for a Marin Master Gardener Garden Walk, and take advantage of great rebate offers for smart irrigation controllers. And, be sure to sign up for MMWD’s Weekly Watering Schedule to get updated watering information for your climate zone delivered to your email box each week.

 

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This is the first in a series of posts by MMWD’s interns, summer helpers, and watershed aides about their experiences at the district.

by Philip Shea, Information Technology Intern

As a lifelong Marin resident, growing up in close proximity to the MMWD watershed has always provided me with ample access to abundant habitat away from freeways, cars, and traffic. I learned to mountain bike at a very early age. I’ve hiked miles upon miles of access roads surrounding just about every community and township in the central Marin areas.

Throughout all of this time, I had never considered MMWD as a potential workplace until seeing a job posting for a summer intern. Being here now has brought me back to doing the work I love after earning my Associates degree at College of Marin last May. As an Information Technology intern, I’m assisting anyone at the district using computers (meaning everyone at the district).

I came here in June, a few months after voluntary water-use reductions were requested by our Governor Jerry Brown and MMWD’s Board of Directors. With the education provided by our knowledgeable Water Conservation Department here at the district, I’ve learned that with planning and a little modification of my daily routine, using 25% less water throughout my day really isn’t too difficult and makes me feel like I’m making an important difference.

I’m not a homeowner (yet). But, if I were, I would absolutely take advantage of the education and rebates the district is offering to residents who want to use less water. Even in the lobby of the district offices here, I’ve seen free supplies for testing for toilet leaks, changing showerheads, and learning better water practices, as well as 20% off coupons to Fairfax Lumber & Hardware for outdoor irrigation supplies.

With all of the resources offered, it seems to me we could go above and beyond the 25% voluntary reduction requested by the board, which benefits not only your household, but all of Marin.

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Save Your Green Save Our BlueMMWD is partnering with local retailers to help you give your garden a water-efficient makeover for less. For a limited time, participating businesses are generously offering coupons for a variety of water-conserving products for your landscape.

You’ll find discounts on smart irrigation controllers (which also may be eligible for a rebate from MMWD), mulch, drought-tolerant plants, drip irrigation supplies, and more. Each retailer has a different discount, so visit our website to browse the offers and print the coupons that best meet your needs. Or, drop by our lobby at 220 Nellen Avenue in Corte Madera to pick up some coupons and other water-saving information and gadgets.

Thank you to Fairfax Lumber & Hardware, Horizon, Marin Landscape Materials, Sonoma Compost, and The Urban Farmer Store for helping MMWD customers save water and money!

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Marin County FairOur partners Marin Master Gardeners will be at the Marin County Fair today through Sunday with lots of great advice and resources for gardening in a drought. Drop by the “Potting Shed” to learn about designing low-water-use landscapes, water-wise edible gardening, and much more! Check out the schedule of activities.

The fair is open daily 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., July 2 – 6, at the county fairgrounds at 10 Avenue of the Flags in San Rafael.

Can’t make it to the fair? Marin Master Gardeners will come to you! Sign up for a Marin-Friendly Garden Walk at your home and get personalized, water-wise tips for a beautiful, healthy landscape. Watch the video below to learn more about the walks, then call 415-473-4204 to schedule your free appointment.

 

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by Christina Mountanos

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

As I looked around my garden this past weekend, I felt myself sigh in both satisfaction and a little relief. No doubt summertime is here and the plants in my north-facing garden are enjoying the warmer weather and longer days as much as I am! The star jasmine that turn pitifully bare every winter have resurrected themselves once again, and my bougainvillea is back and bigger than ever, spilling its maroon blossoms wildly over my neighbor’s fence.

As a beginning gardener, this has been my most productive spring yet. In contrast to previous years, almost all of the projects I’ve been working on have yielded good results. I’ve been successfully coaxing two morning glories up a trellis, patiently shaping a small collection of rosemary topiaries, and the petunias I received for my birthday in April are still alive and thriving in the intensifying sun. Surprisingly even the poppy seeds I scattered at the end of May have sprouted and grown!

Maybe it’s safe to say that I’ve finally gotten a handle on how things grow, and it’s likely that working in water conservation has helped. But, as far as I’ve come, I do often find myself still grappling with some of the most basic of gardening concepts. One that I struggled with recently? Roots! What’s so complicated about roots, you ask? Well, let me start by saying that if you’re well-versed in water-wise gardening, you’re surely familiar with the principle of watering deeply, but infrequently to encourage more drought-tolerant plants. If you haven’t heard this before, watering in this manner can create plants with roots that grow more deeply. Not only can plants with deeper, more extensive root systems find water and nutrients in more places, but having roots further away from the surface of the soil means they also stay moist longer and plants don’t dry out as quickly.

Rooting petunia

Petunia cutting sprouting roots on a window sill

It was this concept that got me thinking. How deep is “deeply,” exactly? Of course, watering my potted plants has always been easy; I simply water until it comes out the bottom (fool-proof!). But, as I graduated from the simplicities of planter gardening, I began wondering about the tall shrubs that run around the perimeter of my yard. How deep are their roots? And what about trees? Is it both possible and necessary to water their entire roots zones?

Well, what I have found is that plants and trees have portions of their root systems that can, in fact, grow very deep in the soil. You may remember Charlene mentioning in a previous post that some California annuals have roots that reach 20 feet! These deeper roots can serve as structural supports and to find water and nutrients in extreme conditions. Oak trees growing naturally on our watershed, and throughout Marin, typically have taproots that grow deeply for this reason.

However, I was surprised to find out that the vast majority of a plant’s root system is concentrated much closer to the surface than I originally thought. Roughly 80% of a tree’s roots, for example, are concentrated in the top 12 to 36 inches of soil. Quite amazing when you think of how tall trees can get! Roots are confined to this depth, for the most part, because this is where the most oxygen, minerals, and nutrients are readily available. These elements become less and less prevalent as depth increases, and thus roots do, too. Not surprisingly then, watering beyond a depth of 36 inches essentially wastes water and effort.

A great take-away tip that I found from the California Master Gardener Handbook, and one that I now use for hand watering, is the 1-2-3 rule. Water to a depth of one foot for small plants (like annuals and groundcovers), two feet for medium sized plants, and three feet for large shrubs and trees. How long it will take to reach this depth will vary depending on your soil type and the flow of your hose, so some initial experimentation is necessary. A day or so after watering, use a soil probe or a shovel to dig down and to see how far the water has traveled, then adjust accordingly. Consider using this same procedure to check that your irrigation runtimes are sufficient as well.

With this small token of wisdom comes another sigh of relief. So far, gardening has surely been a process for me. It’s been a piecemeal operation with successes, frustrations, a lot of listening to those wiser than me, and most importantly, enjoyment.

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