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Tips for Watering Wisely

Tired of dragging out the hose every day or letting your sprinkler cool off the sidewalk? The following tips can help you water much less—and more wisely.

Sprinkler Spruce–Up

sprinkler

Homes with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than those without. Your system can waste even more if it’s programmed incorrectly, a sprinkler head is pointed in the wrong direction, or you have a leak.

Simple Tips for Sprucing Up Your Sprinkler
When it comes to a home’s irrigation system, a little maintenance goes a long way. Before you ramp up your watering efforts, spruce up your irrigation system by remembering four simple steps—inspect, connect, direct, and select.

Inspect. Check your system for clogged, broken or missing sprinkler heads. If you’re not the do–it–yourself type, go with a pro—look for an irrigation professional certified through a WaterSense labeled program.

Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes or hoses. If water pools in your landscape or you have large wet areas, you could have a leak in your system. A leak about as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (or 1/32nd of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month.

Direct. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the landscape.

Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste water and money. Update your system’s watering schedule with the seasons, or select a WaterSense labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling.

You can save even more water outdoors by incorporating water–smart landscaping principles into your landscape design. Looking for more ways to save? Check out other outdoor water–saving technologies.

Give this a try!

Place a few empty tuna cans around your lawn while you're watering and measure how long it takes your sprinkler to fill them with a half inch of water. Then, try watering that amount of time twice a week, gauge how your landscape responds, and adjust based on weather conditions. Or simplify by replacing your standard clock timer controller with a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller.

Timing is Everything

No matter what kind of yard or landscape you have, it's important to know exactly how much water your plants need before you turn on the sprinkler. Smart watering practices that reduce runoff may decrease the need for pesticides and fertilizers, which can impact the health of streams, lakes and wildlife. Keeping the following questions in mind when you do water can help you maintain a beautiful and healthy yard without wasting water or money.

Contact your local water utility to find out exactly how much and when you should be watering in your area. Here are some guidelines to consider.

When? Avoid watering in the middle of the day when the hot sun will evaporate much of the water before it can get to thirsty plants.

How often?
The answer depends on several factors, including where you live, recent weather conditions, and the type of plants in your landscape. A rule of thumb for many areas of the country is that lawns only need up to one inch of water a week, including rainfall. Shrubs, trees, and other perennials generally will need even less because of their deeper root structure. Check with your area's Cooperative Extension Service Exit EPA Disclaimer or local water utility for expert advice on watering needs in your area.

A rain barrel is one of the many tools homeowners can use for sustainable gardening and sustainable landscaping.

How long?
If water begins to pool, turn off your sprinkler to prevent overwatering and runoff. Watering plants, including turfgrass, too much or too frequently can drown plants or result in shallow roots. Overwatering can lead to a host of other problems including weed growth, disease, fungus, and stormwater runoff that pollutes local waterways with fertilizers and pesticides. Remember, most of your plants will need less water than your turfgrass.

What else?
When the rain does come, saving water from storms is a great way to supplement your efficiency measures. Rain barrels or cisterns can be used to harvest rain water for irrigation and other outdoor water uses. Check with your local water utility for possible product rebates.

Did You Know?

A graphic demonstrates the need for low-water landscaping methods.

Manage Your Irrigation System

While up to 90 percent of the water used outdoors is for irrigation, having a beautiful landscape doesn't have to mean using a lot of water. Watering by hand is most efficient, but if your home is one of the more than 13.5 million with an in-ground irrigation system, try some of these simple strategies to reduce your water waste and protect the environment.

Look for the label. WaterSense labels irrigation controllers, a type of "smart" irrigation control technology that uses local weather data to determine whether your sprinkler system needs to turn on. WaterSense labeled controllers can help you save water, time, and money when compared to use of a conventional controller. Learn more about the ins and outs of upgrading your system with this smarter technology.

Adjust your irrigation system often. Get to know the settings on your irrigation controller and, if you haven't upgraded to a weather-based controller, adjust its watering schedule regularly to conform to seasonal weather conditions. A good rule of thumb—when you adjust your thermostat due to seasonal temperature changes, adjust your irrigation controller watering schedule as well.

Set sprinklers to keep the water on the landscape and off the pavement.
Lots of water is wasted by poorly designed and neglected sprinkler systems that spray sidewalks, driveways, and the street. Monitoring and making simple adjustments to the sprinklers saves water and reduces runoff from the landscape, helping to keep local water bodies clean.

Play "zone" defense.
Schedule each individual zone in your irrigation system to account for the type of sprinkler; sun or shade exposure; and type of plants and soil in the specific area. The same watering schedule rarely applies to all zones in the system.

Check for WaterSense!
A certified irrigation professional can design, install, maintain, or audit your system to ensure you're using the proper amount of water to support a healthy landscape. Ask if your irrigation contractor is certified through a WaterSense labeled program, a mark of distinction that means he or she has been certified through a program that focuses on water efficiency.

A homeowner sets his or her irrigation controller to save water outdoors.

Inspect your irrigation system monthly.
Check for leaks, broken or clogged heads, and other problems, or engage an irrigation professional to regularly check your system. Clean micro-irrigation filters as needed. Correct obstructions in sprinkler heads that prevent sprinklers from distributing water evenly. Keep water off pavement and structures.

Use smart(er) technologies.
Consider installing other water-saving technologies such as soil moisture sensors, efficient sprinkler heads, and micro or drip irrigation to get the most out of your irrigation system. Drip irrigations systems, for example, use between 20 to 50 percent less water than conventional pop-up sprinkler systems. Installing a drip irrigation system can save 30,000 gallons per year when compared to a traditional pop-up irrigation system.

Install low-volume micro-irrigation for gardens, trees, and shrubs.
Micro-irrigation includes drip (also known as trickle), micro-spray jets, micro-sprinklers, or bubbler irrigation. Micro-irrigation devices irrigate slowly and minimize evaporation, runoff, and overspray.

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