A Watering Plan as Unique as You Are

Seth Patterson

Every landscape has its own quirks and charms. So ditch the one-size-fits-all advice and find out how much water your unique yard really needs.

Living in Texas, we’re all accustomed to extended periods of extreme heat and prolonged drought. This year is no exception. While always a precious commodity, water is even more vital when the earth is dry and parched from the intense summer heat.

Of course, with the busyness of our daily lives, it can be hard to step back and see the bigger picture. We may only see a parched lawn, so we water it. But we don’t consider how much water our landscapes really need.

As a conservation consultant for SAWS, it’s my job to know precisely that. When I visit customers’ homes, I check their irrigation systems and fine-tune their watering regimen based on their unique landscape requirements. Still, no two irrigation systems are alike.

Some sprinklers run conservatively, putting out very slow, steady streams of water. Others blast with such ferocity and volume they easily deliver two to three times more water than their conservative counterparts. And this presents a problem for homeowners when trying to determine how long to run each zone.

How do we calculate how much water to apply when our irrigation controllers only measure in minutes? The simplest method to convert minutes of irrigation run time to inches of water is to use shallow catch cans, the size flaked tuna comes in.

Collect about five to nine of them and on a calm (not windy) day, distribute them evenly and level across the ground where the first zone of your irrigation system waters. Then turn the zone on manually for 20 minutes. After the zone is done running, use a ruler to measure the depth of water in each container. Add them all up and divide by the total number of containers.

Calculated run times will vary by zone and sprinkler head type (pdf). It helps to measure every zone to get the most accurate and efficient run times. Also, areas that get less sunlight throughout the day (those shaded by trees or along the side of the house) can be maintained on much less water and should be adjusted accordingly.

Similarly, if it has rained or if cooler weather sets in, the water requirements of your landscape change dramatically. I recommend sticking your finger down into the soil to check if it’s moist, and manually running the system only in dry zones.

Water conservation is a shared responsibility. The simplest way to water more wisely is to follow our weekly watering advice for South Texas.

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