by Charlene Burgi
July is “Smart Irrigation Month.” You might think March would be better suited for this designation, as spring is when we check our irrigation systems for winter damage and get them tuned up for the season. The early-year inspection may even include plans for revamping an inefficient irrigation system from spray to drip. Still, July is also a logical choice as it is:
- one of our hottest months;
- the peak of evapotranspiration for the year;
- the time our plants require the most water; and
- time to recheck the system if you don’t inspect its performance monthly.
Of course the bottom line is that hopefully you are irrigating “smart” all season long.
Smart Irrigation Month was launched in 2005 by the national Irrigation Association to raise awareness of smart irrigation products—and practices—that can increase the efficiency of your irrigation system. After all, efficient does not always equal effective. You can have the most efficiently designed irrigation system and let it run three times longer than your plants require. That would not be effective.
Although smart irrigation is as much about technique as technology, there are lots of cool products out there that can help you save water. This year I learned about a subsurface irrigation system that was just picked up from Germany by one of our manufacturers. This product is similar to other subsurface systems in which tubes of water are installed and irrigate below the ground in a grid pattern—the perfect solution for groundcovers and lawns. The subsurface irrigation prevents water from evaporating into the air since all the watering is done below ground. However, this is where the similarity stops with other subsurface products. This German product runs the tubes through a felt-like fabric that wicks the water evenly into the soil instead of dripping it from each emitter. This is effective and efficient!
Another very inexpensive smart product is a rain shutoff device, which sits outside to collect any rain that falls. Once a certain amount of water has accumulated, it sends a signal to your controller that stops the irrigation cycle and allows Mother Nature to do the job instead. Keep in mind that you cannot place this device under a roof eave or canopy of trees that would block the rain from collecting, nor can it be placed where irrigation water will be captured. And, just for the record, since I have heard it so many times: A rain switch on the controller is not the same as a rain shutoff device. The rain switch requires that you physically turn it off. There are those who say they don’t need a rain shutoff device due to their ability to turn off the rain switch when needed. My question is this: If it is 3:00 a.m. and you hear it raining, will you get up, run to the garage or outside and flip the rain switch knowing the controller is set to go off in a few hours?
Still another great product to consider is a smart irrigation controller, which monitors weather conditions and is programmed to the specific conditions in your garden to really take the guesswork out of watering. More on these to come!