Angie's LIST Guide to
Lawn irrigation and sprinklers

Watering your lawn sounds simple enough, but many people don't do it correctly, even when they invest in automated irrigation systems. An inexpensive timer is the best investment whether you're using buried water lines or a garden hose.
 

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Built-in sprinklers make watering easier, but you still need to get the timing correct. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Peter K.)
Built-in sprinklers make watering easier, but you still need to get the timing correct. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Peter K.)
 
 
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How much is enough?

This doesn't seem complicated, but there's definitely a wrong way to water your lawn. Many people assume that a little watering every day is the way to go, but you can actually hurt your lawn by watering too frequently and not enough at any one time.

Assuming you're growing grasses and plants native to your area, a good rule of thumb is to emulate nature. In much of the eastern half of the United States, a good rainfall might occur once a week on average and last an hour or more. This gives plants a good soaking that goes down to the roots.

When you only water for 20 minutes, all you're doing is soaking the surface while the deeper roots remain dry. If you do this too frequently you will also encourage the growth of moss and water-borne diseases.

Experts say the optimum amount is one inch per watering session. You can measure this easily by placing an empty tuna can or other small container in the yard and keep the water on until an inch of water is in the container.

Above-ground systems

You don't necessarily need to spend a lot of money in order to rig up your own system. A lot can be accomplished using garden hoses, inexpensive sprinklers and perhaps a clock-style timer to remind you when it's time to move the hoses around. This low-tech method can be cumbersome, it also allows you to customize how much or how little water the yard and flower beds receive.

Above-ground methods can also include semi-permanent placement of pipes or hoses within a flower garden in order to provide slow-drip irrigation. Water is allowed to drip down at the emitters, soaking the roots of the plants.

Below-ground systems
below-ground irrigation systems

Expert advice on irrigation systems

We talked with four lawn irrigation experts in four different states.
Read more

Hidden sprinklers allow you to water your gardens and lawn without having to drag hoses around the yard. A network of irrigation tubes is strategically placed around the yard to keep your gardens and grass properly watered.

Small spray heads are available to create a basic fan-shaped water pattern. Specialty heads can be used to customize the system. This includes heads with lower pressure that will irrigate flower beds without soaking delicate petals and various shapes for watering add shaped areas. Rotor heads that will run the water in a circular pattern over a large area are also available.

Timers

lawn watering timers

Timers are available to fully automate this chore. You may prefer to turn the system on manually if you live in an area that gets a fair amount of rain. However, turning it over to a timer is an excellent choice to ensure that the grass will be watered for the exact amount of time required.

Though installing an in-ground system is something anyone can do, it might be best to call upon the help of a lawn irrigation specialist. A professional will have the right equipment to dig and lay the irrigation system and the knowledge of how to avoid disturbing any pre-existing lines, drains or pipes that run through your yard.

Water-saving tips

1. Choose native plants, which have had centuries to adapt to swings in environmental conditions.

2. Prioritize watering if resources are scarce or conservation is your goal. First soak newly planted lawns, shrubs, trees and perennials stressed by transplanting; then quench annuals, including vegetables and ornamental plants that need water to continue producing; and lastly sprinkle turf that can safely go dormant.

3. Water early in the morning to help plants withstand the heat of the day. Watering later can mean losing a lot to evaporation. Nighttime watering may contribute to fungus diseases. Be sure to check with your local municipality, as some areas may mandate residents water only during designated times on specified days.

4. Use drip irrigation or sweating hoses to water garden beds, trees and shrubs. These methods put the water at the root zone where it's needed.

5. Use a rain gauge or straight-edged container, such as a tuna can, to monitor sprinkler watering. Stop the sprinkler when the can collects the desired level.

Comments

your irrigation information is very obsolete. systems are not dug in leaving the yard a total mess. We finished a system today and there are no signs of us having been there except for the water when the system is on. One inch of water per watering cycle is totally over simplified one inch on clay soil and the majority will run off, one inch on sand is gone the next day ( thank you gravity). There are new water monitoring devices which actually determine the soil moisture and only call for water when the soil drops below optimal.

looking for free estimate to repair spinkler system.

I have two sprinkler systems that my dog chewed up. I need ones that have covers. also, my dog ripped out some of the drip sprinklers that go to the area around my pool (before the fence was put up). My grass is almost dead in my front yard and I live in an HOA. Therefore, I need to get this problem fixed. The issue is that I dont have a whole bunch of money to spend. I need reasonable priced service.

My dad started and owned the largest residential landscape company in Calif.
I have been in the business for 40 years. When meeting with a new client with a dog in the yard, The first thing we would ask is, do you want a nice landscaped yard or do want a dog? You CANNOT have both.
Unless they agreed to have us include a fenced in dog run with the landscape plan., we would not accept (or guarantee ) the job.

You can keep your landscape vibrant and still use less water. The key is efficient irrigation with an automatic irrigation system. First, make sure you get a rain sensor to turn off the sprinklers when its raining. Then, have the system designed with different zones for lawn and shrubs, shady and sunny areas, the bottom of a slopes and the top. Schedule the controller to water the different micro-climates throughout your property for different times and frequencies. The Irrigation Association and the EPA's WaterSence program have lists of certified irrigation professionals in your area that can design an efficient irrigation system.

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