The City of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management has implemented water restrictions once again in 2015. The objective is water conservation and the restrictions are intended to curb the expensive and energy-intensive process of water treatment as well as minimize burdens on our lakes and streams. The current water restrictions are less severe than those implemented when Georgia is in a state of drought, but they still pertain to all Atlanta residents and affect the way we irrigate our lawns and flower, vegetable and herb gardens.
To support Atlanta’s water conservation efforts we should use irrigation water as efficiently as possible. Here are eight tips to help our gardens thrive while minimizing the environmental impact of our water usage.
1. Water in the early morning
The best time to water is between 3 am and when the morning sun first crests the trees (about 8 am in Atlanta). Watering after dew fall minimizes risk of fungus disease. Sun and heat evaporate water and moisture rapidly, making it less likely that water will penetrate deep beneath the soil surface. Thus watering at 4 pm is extremely inefficient, even though it is within the water restriction limits.
2. Choose drip or soaker hoses
The best delivery method is the one which allows the least amount of contact between water droplet and air, minimizing evaporation and maximizing our water dollars. Therefore the best method of delivery is a drip or soaker hose, because it delivers the water directly to the soil. Incidentally, because they are such an efficient water conservation tool, soaker hoses may be used any time of day, not just between 4 pm and 10 am, under the current water restrictions. The worst delivery method is with misting irrigation heads – too much water is dispersed in the atmosphere, not on the plants. Another worst is hand watering. It’s nearly impossible to water evenly or find the time to deliver the appropriate amount of water in any given direction.
3. Use timers to regulate watering frequency
Watering in the early morning hours is inconvenient and difficult to keep up with. Battery-operated, automated timers are affordable and easy to find in the garden hose section of your hardware store. They are available with multi-hose capacity too, to allow for varied water applications to different areas of the landscape.
4. Apply irrigation water at the appropriate rate
The best rate of delivery is generally one inch per week but that may vary depending on the species in the landscape. This should be applied all at once to ensure that water penetrates the soil deeply which in turn encourages roots to grow more deeply. Water pressure varies by neighborhood so there is no one prescribed length of application. To gauge how long it will take to achieve this rate of delivery, slip a shallow pan beneath a bit of soaker hose (or within the path of your sprinkler) and time how long it takes for an inch of water to collect in the pan. This is admittedly an imperfect method but it will always be more accurate than a guess.
5. Group landscape plants by their needs
The best landscape plan is one which groups plants based on similar sun, soil and moisture requirements. The best irrigation plan should accommodate these groups by assigning distinct irrigation frequencies and volumes to each zone based on that plant grouping’s watering needs.
6. Mulch liberally
Mulch offers numerous benefits in the landscape including minimizing water evaporation from the soil, which allows the water to penetrate further into the soil, luring the plant roots deeper beneath the surface and encouraging the plant to become more drought tolerant in the heat of summer.
7. Take good aim
When using sprinklers and irrigation heads, take time to set them so that they don’t water the driveway or street.
8. Check hoses, fittings and timers regularly for proper function
Make sure water loss isn’t occurring within the irrigation system. Leaks due to malfunction of any system components undermine water conservation efforts, which is the whole purpose of the water restrictions. Since irrigation is continually exposed to the outdoor elements, deterioration will inevitably occur. Inspect at the beginning of each season, and periodically throughout the season.
Following these eight tips will help us keep our landscapes lush this summer, while practicing good water conservation techniques that operate within Atlanta’s current water restrictions.