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Beyond Brown Lawns

30 Mar

Why Watering In Oregon Makes Sense

By: Lars Nielsen, Landscape Designer at Dennis’ 7 Dees

Thriving Landscape Courtesy rainbird

“But it rains here all the time.  Why should I water?”  If I had the proverbial nickel for every time I heard

that I would probably not be writing this and be on a beach in Bora Bora.  As a resident of the northwest for over a decade and working outdoors the entire time, I’ll be the first person to ask the same question.

The major reason we need to water in Oregon is that when it gets dry here in summer it gets verydry. Added to this is the fact that summer often means vacations, so who is going to protect your investment and take care of watering your landscape when you’re gone?  Most importantly, there’s established health reasons beyond the aesthetic gains of watering that make perfect sense for us to water in our climate, specifically automated watering.

I’ll address those beyond the aesthetic first.  Brown lawns are more than just unsightly. They’re unhealthy, weed harboring sites that not only adversely affect you, but also your neighbor’s landscape. Weeds can survive with much less water than a healthy lawn and they thrive in the neglect that harms lawns. Once the rains return, the same weak and unhealthy lawn will be more susceptible to moss and our dreaded crane fly.  Watering your lawn when it needs it reduces these issues.

Brown Lawn Courtesy Rutgers University and California water Alert

Other landscape plants will suffer in similar ways.  As a designer, it’s always been my philosophy that plants that perform the best in a landscape are those specifically chosen for their environment rather than plants chosen purely for aesthetics, which often get planted in questionable locations. I have literally seen thousands of landscapes. The ones that look best are the ones where the plantings are thriving because the design and planning was such that they were carefully selected to grow and perform as they should with the areas they were given.  However, it’s next to impossible to achieve this without some sort of supplemental watering.

The main factor controlling the amount of required water is what you are watering. The water requirement of a drought tolerant landscape is much less than one consisting of lots of lawn and other water hungry plants no matter how the water is applied. So if water conservation is important to you, first look at what you are watering rather than how you are applying the water.

Rain Bird Rotary Nozzle Courtesy rainbird

I have to admit I do not water my landscape. This probably sounds odd from someone writing an article such as this. I live in a native Oregon forest and it mostly cares for itself.  The many species I have in my landscape grow in very specific micro climates.  I’ve tried to move some plants many times with poor results. Even though all the plants are native, they have very specific needs and only thrive in very small portions of my landscape and not others. I could not have the same plants in another area of Oregon or even 50 feet away and expect the same results, so native plants are not necessarily the solution. If you want to have specific plants in your landscape and they’re even slightly out of their comfort zone, you must provide them with some supplemental care and, at the very least, some supplemental water.

For lawns you might consider replacing your typical Oregon rye lawn with a fescue lawn. Tall fescues use about one quarter the water of rye with very little sacrifice in looks or texture. It’s the lawn of choice in drier areas and fits into our climate very well.

Watering helps just about any landscape perform as it was designed, so how do we do it and do it well?

Drip Hose Courtesy rainbird

There are basically three water application methods for irrigation systems – drip, spray heads and rotor heads.  These are often combined separately into various zones within the same system and must be controlled by an outside source.  In most cases, this source is a type of automated electronic controller rather than by manual operation.

Rain Bird Timer -Courtesy rainbird

At Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping, we choose to install Rain Bird Smart™ controllers as standard practice on all our residential systems.  These “smart” controllers do away with the old way of manually programming-in specific watering days and times that do not give any consideration to your site’s environment and weather. Instead we’ll tell the Smart controller where you live, your soil types, plant types, watering method and it automatically sets the cycle, continually adjusting as necessary. Add to this the internal plant and weather data along with the included rain/temperature sensor; and watering during rain events is virtually eliminated, while long hot spells will increase the necessary watering accordingly.

Our systems are also designed to water areas that need it and avoid watering areas that don’t, like driveways, walks, and streets. Carefully designing an irrigation system in this manner will help ensure that the applied water goes where it’s needed, that being the root zone of your plantings or lawn. Add to this the option of low-volume heads, and wasted water from runoff is reduced even further.

Wet Pathway Courtesy Rainbird

Drip watering is the most efficient and exact method of watering, eliminating many of the above ground problems associated with spray and rotor heads, such as wind drift. There’s no overspray and just about all the water goes into the soil at only the root zone. They are however, more prone to routine maintenance.  The many buried lines, fittings, and emitters are more susceptible to damage than a spray or rotor system. Also, drip water application is not typically visible; so usually the first sign that something is wrong is a struggling or dead plant.  That said, we have technicians available to keep your drip system running smooth and care free for you.

So if your goal is to have a thriving landscape that uses a minimum of water, first look at what you are watering and then look at how that water is applied. It’s likely that very minor changes to one or both will keep that landscape looking great and keep you from being afraid to open your water bill.

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