You can conserve water while meeting the needs of your garden in several ways:
■ Use mulch to slow evaporation
■ Water in early morning or at sunset or later
■ Consider soaker hoses or trickle irrigation
■ Sprinkle your garden uniformly at a rate slow enough to prevent runoff
■ Check your soil first to determine whether watering is needed
It’s almost time to help Mother Nature in her endeavor to keep things green. Yes, I am talking about your irrigation system. If you are using an automatic system or dragging a hose around your yard, there are some pointers that can save you time, money and, most importantly, water.
When you first use your system, make sure all the parts are in good working order. Check your garden hoses for freeze breaks, make sure that the female ends all have rubber washers and the sprinklers operate correctly. For automatic systems, check for leaks once you turn it on and replace the battery in your controller if it is an alkaline. Go through your program on your controller and make sure the time is set for what you want and finally run through all the zones checking that each head is aligned for proper operation and coverage.
With either of these systems, you need to know how to apply the water. If you are watering a slope, make sure that you water from the top down. Start your sprinklers on the top and only water until you see runoff or standing water at the base. Your automatic system should be set up so there is a zone at the top and one at the bottom. You will be amazed at how fast the water will begin to runoff, and your heads at the base will need to water for only a minimal amount of time. If you are not able to apply enough water to keep the grass green before runoff happens, then more frequent, shorter watering times might be needed. Water an area only until runoff or standing water is evident, meaning you have reached saturation and additional water is a waste.
Timing is very important, too. You should water in the morning before it gets too hot or in the evening at sunset or later. If more water is needed during the hotter parts of summer, an additional run time should be added late at night. Watering during the heat of the day will be a waste because of evaporation. With an established yard, this should be done about every three days. Those of you new to the area who might be coming from a humid environment have been told not to water at night because of mold, but that won’t happen here. A healthy, well-established bluegrass lawn needs watering to a depth of 2.25 inches during peak summer conditions, and fescue lawns might require only half of this amount. To measure the amount of water you are applying, use empty, shallow tin cans placed in the irrigated area and measure the amounts of water in each after your irrigation cycle. Beware of overwatering as that makes lawns susceptible to lawn diseases like fairy ring.
Hopefully these tips will help you maintain a beautiful mountain landscape while conserving water.
Tracy and Chris Zuschlag are master gardeners through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.