Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Soak it Up...

Landscape water conservation seems to be one of those on-again, off-again topics that’s dependent on the amount of rain we’ve received in the last 30 days. Rainfall totals low – we’re all about conservation. Plenty of precip – who cares?

One group that takes water conservation seriously are the water municipalities that regulate/control how we use water. During periods of drought they can implement various water use restrictions, limiting landscape irrigation. These folks also have some say in setting the amount of $$$ we pay for water. Generally speaking water for landscape irrigation is becoming less available and more expensive to use.

Some years back I made the commitment to reduce the amount of water we use in the landscape. Primarily because I’m cheap but I am also interested in preserving and conserving this important natural resource. I use a variety of techniques (i.e. adapted plants, improved soil, mulch, etc.) but I also use a low volume irrigation system. For most of the landscape beds around the house I’ve been using the relatively inexpensive, permeable soaker hoses. I have them hooked up to the irrigation system just like most folks have their sprinklers set up. By directing water to the root system and not applying it overhead via a spray head, I manage to significantly reduce the volume of water used in the landscape. For the most part I am very happy with this approach. But like all things there are some challenges.

Water distribution (particularly on a slope) can be somewhat uneven.

Hoses typically last for a couple of years but holes can develop that require mending

Soaker hoses can be a pain to wind around plants and through the garden

On more than one occasion I’ve cut the hose while digging in a bed

In areas with high pH/alkalinity a permeable soaker hose can get “clogged up”

One thing I have learned is that, even though they look similar, all soaker hoses are not alike. There are different diameters, wall thickness, and permeability. BTW – none of these properties/characteristics are explained on the packaging. It’s pretty much a trial and error system.

This spring I went to Home Depot to pick up a replacement roll and found they no longer carry the black stuff I was using and have replaced it with a new and improved material. And indeed it is improved – with much better water distribution. In ain’t cheap (about $10 for a 50’ roll) but I give it a thumbs-up compared to the older version.

When it comes to running the irrigation system, I typically water 3-4 times per week. (FYI - not allowing the soil to dry excessively is a key to efficient water use in the landscape). But because I’m applying a limited amount of water through the soaker hose I feel like the overall volume of water I’m using is considerably reduced. Oh - and by the way – plants respond well to this approach.

This system may not be the answer for all applications or every situation but it has worked well for me. Might be worth a try and it could save water and $$$.

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