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The key to any successful water conservation program is to address the most efficient way to water our landscape. Growing plants and turf in Texas can be a challenge, but with just a little bit of education, efficiently watering your yard can put you way ahead of the pack. Here you will find great information on clay soil, hardy Texas plants and proven irrigation practices.
The following are some good tips to get the most out of the water you apply to your yard:
- During the warmer months, water very early in the morning to prevent excessive evaporation.
- Use the cycle/soak method of irrigation to get the water deep into the soil.
- Raise the height of your lawn mower to protect your grass roots from sunburn.
- Be sure to check your irrigation system each year to make sure it’s working properly. Observe each zone for a few minutes to be sure all of the sprinkler heads are pointing in the right direction and they have an even flow of water.
- Visit Watermyyard.org to sign-up for free weekly watering advice customized to your local weather data.
There’s good news and not-so-good news (but mostly good) when it comes to irrigating clay soil. The good news is that once we get water deep into the soil, it has a tendency to hold it for a while which is good because it means we can water less. On the other hand, getting the water deep into the tightly packed particles of clay takes a certain technique. No worries, it’s not difficult at all, just a little different than most of us are used to.
Clay soil has a very slow water absorption rate. In other words, it must be watered slowly. More often than not, running an irrigation zone for 15 to 20 minutes at a time is too much water for the soil to absorb and it just ends up running off of the yard and down the street. The best way to ensure that the roots of your turf and plants are getting watered properly is to use the Cycle Soak Method of Irrigation. Instead of running each zone one time around for too many minutes at a time, try breaking the run time into 3 shorter cycles.
For example, instead of running the zone for 15 or 20 minutes straight, break the watering cycle into 2 cycles of 7 to 10 minutes or 3 cycles of 5 to 7 minutes with about 30 to 60 minutes in between cycles. This gives the clay soil time to deeply absorb the water that you have applied and will be ready to absorb more during the next short cycle.
The plant’s root system will reach for this deep moisture and will be well protected from the summer heat. A deeply irrigated soil bed creates long, healthy plant roots that will not only survive in the Texas heat, but will flourish!
Good Water Stewardship
By using this method, irrigation should not be necessary again for at least 3 to 5 days, depending on weather conditions.
The irrigation controller is usually found inside the garage. It is the system's computer or "brain" and tells your irrigation system when to come on and for how long to run. Many times the controller is set to run during periods of time when we are away from home or are asleep. Automatic irrigation controllers are a great convenience for getting the job done, but beware, without a personal check on your system, you may have leaks or equipment malfunctions that are causing damage and/or wasting water without your knowledge. Think of the controller as an "automatic withdrawal" of water which greatly affects the size of the water bill you get each month.
Weather-Based Irrigation Controllers (or Smart Irrigation Controllers)
Smart irrigation controllers reduce outdoor water use by monitoring environmental conditions such as rain, wind, temperature, soil moisture, slope and plant type. The program in the controller uses this information to adjust the amount of water each time the system operates. With a Smart irrigation controller, the right amount of water can be applied to maintain healthy plants.
Your sprinkler system is sectioned off into zones. Most residents have between 5 and 12 zones. Hopefully each zone waters a different type of plant material. In other words, zones that water turf are separate from zones that water planting beds because they definitely have different watering requirements. Based on water pressure, only so many sprinkler heads can be on a single zone. If you have a large property, you'll generally have more zones.
Take a little time to get to know the zones on your system. Manually turn on zone 1 and see how many sprinkler heads are in the zone and what area they water. Do this for all of the zones on your system. Be sure to right down the information for each zone so you will be familiar with your system and how it applies water to your landscape.
Each zone on your sprinkler system is controlled by a valve. When the controller sends a signal to the valve, it opens a gate and allows water to run through the pipes and activates the sprinklers of that particular zone. When the programmed time is done, the controller shuts the valve to the zone and opens the valve on the next zone to continue the watering cycle.
The Sprinkler Heads
Sprinkler heads are the most visible part of an irrigation system. It is the small round device where the water comes out and sprays your landscape. They are installed underground and connected to the pipes and the water source. The “sprinkler head” is the outside casing that is attached to the pipe. The “nozzle” is the interchangeable insert at the top. Nozzles come in a variety of sizes, shapes, patterns and spray ranges so you can water any size or shape area in your landscape. Sprinkler heads generally spray between 7 and 17 feet. Installed nozzles can be either fixed pattern or adjustable to help apply water to an area that has unusual size or shape.
PLANT MATERIALS (Choose Native or Adapted Plants)
Texas can be a harsh environment for growing plants. The good news is that if we focus on using Texas Native and Adapted Plants, beautiful, green and colorful landscapes are easily within our grasp. Check out the Texas Smartscape website for an extensive list of wonderful plant selections for our growing zone (which is Zone 7 and 8). Also be sure to watch for educational classes offered throughout the year that will help guide you to the very best plants for your home landscape.
Here in Garland, we live in a region called the “Blackland Prairie”. This name comes from the rich, black clay soil beneath our feet. Growing plants and turf is often difficult in clay soil because it's thick and gooey when it's wet and hard as concrete when it's dry. Because clay particles are so tiny, they pack together easily and become very dense, virtually impermeable to water and air, which are essential for healthy soil and plants.
But there is good news! Adding organic matter to the soil breaks up the clay particles so water can get through and roots can get some air flow. Fall and winter is a great time to amend your soil because it gives the decomposing organic matter time to break down and mix with the clay soil before the spring growing season begins. Dig up the top layer of soil in your planting beds, add your organic materials and blend with a garden fork, a shovel or by hand.
Complete this process more than once during the fall and early winter so the soil in your planting beds will be loose and ready for the spring. For larger areas, consider buying or renting a rototiller that will effectively churn up the clay soil being careful not to injure the roots of existing plants.