15 August 2011

What a Drip

We're really liking the palisades zoysia sod we've had since April, but lately, our front yard has been looking kind of...sad.

The half of the lawn closer to the street has been turning brown over the last several weeks. (Austin did just hit 60 days over 100 degrees this summer, after all. Sigh.) We suspected that our grass situation was because that side of the lawn gets more afternoon sun. We turned up the watering, but it's been getting worse, not better. At a recent lawn care class, I learned that the proper way to arrange the zones in an irrigation system is by sun conditions -- areas with more shade should be on one zone, and areas with less sun should be on another so that you can give the sunny spots more water. Our landscape designer had recommended our irrigation guy, telling us that he was "the best," but our front yard wasn't zoned that way, so we had to turn both front lawn zones on to get more water on the brown patches.

Or so we thought.

We asked him to come back and adjust our system (I thought we might need more heads in the front half). He took one look and concluded that we weren't watering enough. When we told him that we had already increased the water on the lawn, and it was resulting in too much closer to the house and not enough closer to the street, he reminded us that one front lawn zone covers the lower half, while the other zone covers the upper half and the edges. He reprogrammed the system and set up the dry spots to run for two cycles with a short break in between so the first watering could soak into the ground before the second one turns on. (That's better for retaining water and encouraging healthy plants than one cycle that's twice as long -- which leads to runoff -- or watering twice as many days -- which provides double the opportunities for evaporation.)

We were perfectly happy to be wrong, since that means that our system was installed in a way that's going to work really well for our yard (as long as we stay up on how to make the most of it). And I guess our irrigation guy's status as "the best" is intact.

Anyway, he came by with his crew at the end of the day, and unbeknownst to us, he had also planned to take care of some other tweaks to the system (add a missing head here, move a misplaced head there). When he saw that our beds were mostly planted, too, he had his guys get started on the drip irrigation system. He didn't have enough supplies for all of the beds (since he didn't know that we were ready for the drip system), but even just that one bed was a thrill for me because it meant that I wouldn't need to haul a bucket to every single plant every morning anymore.

Yes, for the last four months or so, I've been watering by hand every morning, and it's a chore. Even before the sun comes up, just being outside for ten minutes gets sweaty fast. So I was especially delighted when he came back a couple of days later and finished the drip system.

Back when the main irrigation system was installed, they ran PVC pipes for the drip portions of the system, like this one (at the bottom of the picture, between a gaura and a lamb's ear):

Once we planted the beds, he would come back and run small lines directly to the base of each plant. Especially in our climate, that's important because water will be slowly dispersed right onto the roots, encouraging deep roots (to better take advantage of limited moisture) and leaving less surface area for evaporation. A side benefit is that we won't be watering the leaves (which can burn them or lead to fungal growth).

Last week, they attached main drip lines to the PVC pipes, cutting the PVC down so everything would be underground:

In the front yard, they actually dug a little trench to bury the main drip line:

In other areas, the lines are on top of the landscape fabric (covered by mulch). There are pros and cons of each approach. Either way, they then pierce the main line:

And attach the individual lines so each plant has its own directed water supply:

They're called "emitters," by the way. And these systems can be DIY'd and tied into existing irrigation systems, too. Once we add some more mulch (which the plants probably need anyway), our watering system will be pretty much ideal for these hot, dry days. And I no longer have to lug a bucket around the house every morning. He's the best, indeed.

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