Water: The Key to Plant Heaven












New England landscapes are fortunate in that they receive generous amounts of natural rainfall. If you could average out the peaks and valleys to receive equal amounts of precipitation each week, there would be little need to irrigate. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world, and our “cool season” lawns are forced to do battle with extended periods of heat and drought.


The importance of a beautiful landscape has dramatically increased our reliance on water supplies over the years, and this trend will surely continue. Personally, I don’t feel bad about watering. After studying the H2O cycle I understand that water is a renewable resource. Water penetrates the soil, evaporates into the air, and is carried through streams and rivers to the sea. After all, matter can neither be created nor destroyed, it just gets redistributed, and if there’s one thing this beautiful planet has plenty of; it’s water. That being said, water is a resource whose available quantities fluctuate, and conservation is essential, especially in times of drought.


As an Emerald Acres customer you are clearly concerned about the health and appearance of your landscape. Therefore, you probably use more water than average. There are two approaches you can take when watering your lawn and shrubbery. The Neanderthal approach: “Just water the heck out of it, it sure is green!” Or a more measured approach which will put a more reasonable demand on our resources. Both approaches work, but the measured approach will take am initial investment of time. The investment will pay for itself over and over however, by reducing watering costs.



The first step in developing a watering program is site review. It is important to take into account such factors as sun, slope, soil composition, and exposure. One worst case scenario would be an open, sunny, sloped area with porous soil. The Neanderthal approach will work well here. The reverse situation can be equally troublesome. A sheltered, shady, low area with peaty soil could stay continuously moist making moss growth and disease development a problem.



Before beginning a watering program it is important to calibrate your sprinklers. By placing a few cans in an area to be watered and running your sprinkler for a set period of time you can determine the inch per hour rate. If you have an irrigation system this rate could vary from zone to zone depending on the number of heads and the elevation. Using cans is also a great way to test your irrigation system if brown areas are turning up. Place a can on a green area and another where it is brown. By comparing your catch you can determine if the system is providing equal coverage.



When watering manually, the best time to water is when you have time! If you enjoy the luxury of owning an irrigation system, begin watering in the wee hours around 1:00 AM. Watering for short periods in the afternoon has been shown to reduce heat stress especially during heat waves, but otherwise should not be done due to rapid evaporation. It is also important to avoid watering later in the day. Lawns that stay moist throughout the night are much more prone to disease problems. Begin watering in May when temperatures increase or when dry weather prevails. When summer is in full force you may have to go to a daily watering program to keep the lawn from slipping into dormancy. Watering can usually be curtailed in mid-September except where seeding has been done. In most cases over watering is not harmful, just wasteful. Shady areas require much less water and your plan should reflect that. By observing and modifying your plan you will eventually come up with the ideal scenario. This can vary from watering sunny zones twice per day (during the heat of summer) to watering shadier areas once or twice per week. When watering manually, always start with priority or sunny areas. Manual watering is time consuming, so it may be necessary to allow some lawn areas to go dormant during summer months.



Dormancy is a temporary condition where the roots cease to maintain the top growth. By doing so the root system cuts off the part of the plant which loses moisture until more favorable conditions persist. If a lawn does go dormant it is still important to water, but at greatly reduced intervals. Without natural rainfall a lawn must receive at least 1” of water once every three weeks. This will preserve the root system ensuring recovery when better conditions prevail. Don’t worry that you look silly watering a seemingly dead lawn, this is the one time when looking silly will pay off.



Shrubbery have different watering requirements. Usually a good watering once per week will keep shrubs happy. Thirty seconds of water from a hose for each plant or a bucket full if beyond the hoses reach will do nicely. If you have an irrigation system for your lawn but do not have a separate zone for plant material, train your lawn sprinklers to hit as much of the shrubbery as possible. Only a relative few plantings are hurt by overhead watering (Roses and Coleus included) and most will improve dramatically with the pampering water provides.



If you’ve read this article your probably thinking how much easier caring for your plantings would be with an irrigation system. You would be right. There is no single better thing you could do for your landscape than to add an irrigation system. Regular watering combined with a good fertilization program will compensate for poor site conditions and allow your lawn to achieve its maximum potential. Of course the initial cost is a factor; a msall system covering 5000 square feet of lawn area would cost about $1700.00. Larger homes on an acres plus lot can expect to spend $5000.00 to $6500.00 depending on local plumbing ordinances and the systems complexity. The high cost of municipal water supplies is also an issue. The installation of a well would cost approximately $5000.00, but could save you $1500.00 per year in water charges.



Some communities base their sewage rate on water consumption. By installing a separate meter for outdoor water, you can significantly reduce the sewage portion of your bill. If you need a quote for the installation of an irrigation system, we would be happy to refer you to a competent contractor in your area.

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