Water-Wise Landscape Design Includes Your Sprinkler System

If you are changing your landscape — or if your landscape has grown and changed over time — you should also update your irrigation system.

The recent cold weather has caused many people to rethink their landscapes. Some might be moving forward with a pre-freeze plan to reduce outdoor water use by removing turf grass.

Whatever the reason, I’ve seen many landscape projects that skip a fundamental step: evaluating the irrigation design and layout. That can cause problems for you and your landscape, and it won’t save water.

All irrigation systems are designed for a snapshot of the landscape as it existed when they were first installed. If you are changing your landscape — or if your landscape has grown and changed over time — you should also change your irrigation system.

The first pitfall to avoid is blocking your rotors. Rotor heads are designed to cover large open areas of grass and they’re often located at the outside edge along fences and walkways. It seems many people feel the edges of their lawn are great places to add shrubs or flowerbeds. Not considering how the lawn is watered, they plant their line of plants along the fence preventing the rotor heads from spraying out to the grass. The end result is dry grass and a bush with half its leaves power-washed off. Even though there is less grass, no water is saved since the irrigation system is unchanged.

Know where your zones operate and design your plans to group like plants on the same zone.  Mixing perennials and grass in flower beds that span two or more spray zones reduces the efficiency of your system and negatively impacts your landscape because these two plant types have different water requirements.

Identify whole zones that currently water grass and design a landscaping bed of drought tolerant plants to replace the grass and retire the zone. By working from a zone-based model you can remove zones and time from your irrigation cycle, and that will save the most water.

Think of your landscaping project as an investment that pays back in lower water use. A project that doesn’t take into account the irrigation system may cost about the same, but the return will be lower or nonexistent.

Fortunately, SAWS has coupon programs and irrigation design rebates that you can take advantage of to make the investment more enticing.

Picture of Cleveland Powell
Cleveland Powell
Cleveland Powell is a conservation planner for SAWS. He is enthusiastic about grass taxonomy and milkweed propagation. In his free time, Powell enjoys hiking around area parks in search of intriguing bugs, birds and plants.
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