What Is Landscape Irrigation?
Simply put, irrigation is water management. Irrigation can be achieved in a number of ways, but some solutions are more efficient than others, while several may be less costly but also less efficient. Irrigation in the landscaping sense is about managing water to ensure that the vegetation on the property gets the water they require to thrive.
That kind of irrigation can be done in a variety of ways, from owners taking it upon themselves to water turf, trees, and other plants regularly to hiring gardening staff to do so or even installing an automated irrigation system. Irrigation systems are required in situations where rainfall can’t provide sufficient water for the survival of the vegetation on the property.
How Is Irrigation Conducted?
There are many different ways for irrigation systems to be implemented. Traditional irrigation techniques take advantage of natural sources of water, redirecting water from abundant areas to wherever it is required. Today, while that is still a workable solution, there are other modern alternatives thanks to the system of water pipes that act as a network, delivering water to all areas of major urban centers.
Water via irrigation systems can be as simple as water poured into an old-fashioned watering can and used on a flower bed, or someone taking a hose and spraying down the hedges. They can even involve attaching a sprinkler to that hose and running it for 20 minutes on the lawn. In more extensive private residencies or commercial settings, they can be a network of installed sprinklers running underground to evenly distribute water to properties all at once when required.
Proper irrigation is when the vegetation in an area is considered well-watered. This means that water access is more than adequate and that the plants aren’t suffering.
Why Is Irrigation Needed In Sarasota Landscapes?
Even though Southwest Florida gets its share of rainfall most of that rain comes during the summer months, it does not follow a schedule that property owners can rely on. In southwest Florida winter, spring and fall can have sustained hot and dry periods when there is no rain.
When that happens, the growth of plants can be affected. In some cases, with more delicate vegetation, lack of water during that time may cause them to die, necessitating expensive replacement if their presence completes the look of the property.
What Happens When Plants Are Not Properly Irrigated?
To a degree, plants can become stressed due to insufficient access to water, and this is referred to as water stress. Depending on the type of plant and the stage of life it is at, water stress can have many different effects. As grass or turf, for example, becomes water-stressed, growth, and coloration are impacted. Green turf may start looking brown or yellow as the grass attempts to conserve water until the next time it is available.
For plants or trees that have recently been planted or transplanted, regular access to water is crucial during the early growth phases. If water-stressed, young trees and plants can’t spread roots in the ground as quickly, making them more vulnerable to damage and impeding their stability and growth. When water-stressed, plant growth is always negatively impacted, even if the plants themselves may be able to survive during dry spells.
Is There A Right Way To Irrigate?
The answer to this is complicated. On the one hand, the direct answer is, “Yes, there is always a right way to irrigate,” but the more accurate answer is, “Proper irrigation varies wildly from one property to the next, so there is no generic, one-size-fits-all right way to irrigate.”
The size of the property, the types of plants and turf on that property, and, perhaps most important of all, the weather conditions at any given time of the year all contribute to what proper irrigation is. For example, if you have an automated sprinkler system that runs by itself and you leave it running even during the rainy season, your property is not being irrigated correctly, even if the right schedule is being rigorously followed. In this situation, over-irrigating is occurring, and this can have a negative impact on the landscape.
On the other hand, someone who chooses to transplant a lot of cacti to the landscape does not need to irrigate the cacti area as regularly as the other parts of the property, even during a drought. While some plants will require regular irrigation when water is scarce, others such as cacti will not suffer from water stress when exposed to conditions that less hardy vegetation would suffer under.
The best irrigation technique has to do with assessing the needs of the plants on the property and coming up with a schedule for irrigation based on that data. It’s important to not over-irrigate since water can be a precious resource and over-irrigation has no benefits.
What Is The Right Way To Irrigate?
There are some general rules of thumb that expert landscapers apply when it comes to proper irrigation and trying to avoid wasteful overwatering, but these depend on the type of vegetation present.
Ornamental Trees And Shrubs
Water is required in abundance for new trees and shrubs to ensure the proper growth of their roots and healthy development. However, water only needs to be confined to the root ball area of the vegetation. Trees and shrubs do not require or benefit significantly from an extensive sprinkler system. Of course, it can be used to fulfill the same function.
If watering is manually done for turf, it is recommended to irrigate about ½ to ¾ of an inch of the surface when the turf shows about 30-50% wilting during the daytime. If there is an automatic sprinkler system in place, then more care must be exercised, mainly to avoid over-irrigating and wasting water. You can turn to guidelines and recommendations by experts, though care must also be taken to observe day-of-the-week usage if those regulations are in place.
Can Water That Is Not Suitable For Drinking Be Used In Irrigation?
Yes. There are three classes of water safe for humans. Clean water is water derived from treated sources such as a city water supply or from pure sources such as a spring or rainwater that has been gathered in a suitable container. This type of water is safe for human consumption but also ideal for plants.
Black water is on the other end of the spectrum, so it is not considered safe for human consumption. In many regards, it may even be dangerous. Wastewater from a toilet, for example, is considered black water, and humans can get very sick from consuming or even touching it. It is also deemed generally unsafe for plants.
However, there is a middle ground known as greywater. This is water that may be contaminated and may not be safe for humans to drink but is otherwise acceptable for plants. For instance, water from the sink or shower that has no harsh chemicals would be considered greywater. Water from a dehumidifier is another example of water that may not be safe for us to drink, but even if bacteria are present in it, plants can safely make use of it.
This means that reclaimed water is a viable irrigation solution in Florida and, in some cases, maybe strongly encouraged for better sustainability and less impact on the environment.
What Is Irrigated On A Property?
For landscape specialists, vegetation is classified into two types when it comes to property maintenance. These are the following:
Most people would simply think of these as plants, but they comprise the entire range of free-standing vegetation. Topiary like bushes and hedges, flowers and flower beds, and even trees would all be considered ornamentals on a property.
This is usually thought of as grass or lawns by property owners. It is a common sight on many properties, and it is critical for certain commercial properties such as golf courses. Of course, the primary appeal of turf is its vibrant green surface.
Ornamentals and turf have different water demands and tolerance levels of water stress. If you are not an experienced arborist or botanist, you should leave the task of determining the ideal irrigation requirements for your property to experts.
What Is The BMP?
BMP stands for Best Management Practices. In landscaping, it is a certification that is issued by the Florida-Friendly Green Industries Best Management Practices Education Program. The BMP was formulated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and it is a program designed to ensure that professionals within the landscape industry work in a way that doesn’t have huge, negative impacts on the environment and its sustainability.
Some types of land care maintenance such as applying certain fertilizers now require BMP certification before permission is granted for it. A BMP certificate is not just a sign of more advanced, science-based training applied to landscaping but also an indicator of a wider range of certified and approved landscape maintenance techniques and materials.
Can Plants Survive Without Diligent Irrigation?
The answer to this depends on the plant, but in general terms, yes, many plants that are ornamental and much of the turf that is selected for properties can still survive in a water-stressed state. However, whether a property owner is willing to accept the appearance of vegetation in a stressed condition is another matter entirely.
Grass, for example, can survive during a drought period. Still, water is required for grass to retain its green color and vibrancy. It is still capable of surviving even when it is wilted, discolored, and dried out, but this is generally deemed unattractive by most property owners and a sign of neglect or dereliction.
Do Indigenous Plants Require Less Irrigation?
While common sense might indicate that plants native to the region would be low-maintenance or can be set and forget when compared to imported plants, that is not necessarily the case. It’s important to remember that in a carefully designed and sculpted landscape, the positioning, and environment an indigenous plant finds itself in may not match the actual environment it would typically grow in.
This can mean that proper watering and irrigation for indigenous plants may not be less demanding than that for plants native to other regions of the country or anywhere else in the world. Never assume that an indigenous plant will be hardier and less vulnerable than other ornamentals.
Is Over Watering An Irrigation Issue?
Yes, it is in Florida. While usage statistics indicate an overall drop in irrigation usage in the winter, it is clear that in many cases, especially those that set and forget automated sprinkler systems, over-irrigation of landscapes is a regular occurrence among many Florida properties.
This is bad for two reasons. The first is that it places a strain on the environment, especially if the water being used is potable or drinkable water provided straight from municipal water lines rather than more environmentally friendly reclaimed water.
The other issue is that this financially affects property owners. That water is not free, and over-irrigation means that these property owners are wasting money on higher water bills than they need to. While it takes more diligence to irrigate sensibly, it lowers bills and is much friendlier toward the environment.