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Sprinkler systems

 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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I've just stumbled into this topic and I'm loaded with questions and filled with ideas. My family is moving to Dover, DE in December (we're military in England at the moment). We're pondering our housing options at the moment. After reading the lawn care guide, I'm getting the sense that a properly done lawn will not require a vast amount of watering. Should a sprinkler system be something we'd like to have in a house? Would it be something we should consider adding to a house if there isn't one present? If you don't have a sprinkler system, how is it you go about getting the 1/2 inch followed by 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches of watering (particularly if you have a large lawn)?

I'll have tons more questions when we figure out where we'll be living and what the lawn situation is I'm sure!
 
jeremiah bailey
Posts: 343
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Personally, a sprinkler system is not on my wish list. My lawn keeps up just fine with the other lawns over the growing seasons and I just let the rain do its thing. A couple of neighbors go to the hassle of watering, (no, I don't keep track of how they water or how much.) Their lawns go dormant for the summer just the same as mine. The biggest thing to keep in mind for our cool climate lawns, is they go dormant and turn brown over the summer. No reasonable amount of watering is going to change that.

If you buy a house with a sprinkler system, I'd actually discourage its use for at least one year. I didn't say to not use it. If during the spring and fall growth seasons you notice the lawn needing water, by all means water it! During the two years that I've been a home owner, I haven't seen my lawn actually need water during those times. My grass remained lush, green and growing the entire time. Except, of course, during summer. The one year should give you enough time to decide how often you really need it, instead of wasting water by routinely watering just because you have a sprinkler system.

Minimal watering of the lawn is key for a very good reason. It increases drought tolerance. If you are consistently watering on a regular basis, the root zone stays moist, and the roots have no reason to grow deeper. If you let your lawn go long between waterings, the roots will grow deeper in search of water. Most likely they'll reach the water table. Then your grass should have enough water to last between rainfall.

My final suggestion is this: if you find a house with a sprinkler system, great, it will probably prove itself handy. If the house doesn't have one, I personally don't think it is worth the money to install one. Definitely do not let the sprinkler system be the deciding factor in the house. I think you'll be severely disappointed if you do.
 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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jeremiah bailey wrote:
Personally, a sprinkler system is not on my wish list. My lawn keeps up just fine with the other lawns over the growing seasons and I just let the rain do its thing. A couple of neighbors go to the hassle of watering, (no, I don't keep track of how they water or how much.) Their lawns go dormant for the summer just the same as mine. The biggest thing to keep in mind for our cool climate lawns, is they go dormant and turn brown over the summer. No reasonable amount of watering is going to change that.


I read in another topic that Paul said

For me, it is a thick, green turf .... green throughout the summer ...  speckled with herbs and wildflowers ...  that feels spongy under my bare feet and smells wonderful when I mow it.


So that isn't realistic?
 
jeremiah bailey
Posts: 343
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Very realistic, depending on your taste for greeness. However, I'm talking about nearly 100% grass. Which is most likely what you'll start with, because that is the status quo. The grass will turn brown, or at least a slightly brownish-green. The watering only when in dire need or not at all actually helps it stay green through the summer, because that encourages the roots to grow down to natural water sources. I might suggest adding some clover to help with a lush, green summer time lawn. My lawn has several patches of clover and they all stay nice green and soft through the summer heat. Regardless, your summertime green is not going to be nearly as green as spring and fall. It will seem kind of brown in comparison.

Paul's ideal lawn has a bunch of other things besides grass and clover that help it remain green and spongy all summer. I haven't tried any of them yet, but hopefully this spring I'll have a chance to experiment.

My point is that watering isn't all that some make it out to be. Some people believe in watering religiously. I think that is a waste of resources for the most part. Watering done properly involves a very thorough soaking after and before letting the upper soil levels become nearly bone dry. Watering even on a weekly basis I think keeps the upper soil moist enough that the roots become content and won't grow down far. I let nature do her thing and I'm rewarded with a nice green lawn without fussing about watering.
 
                            
Posts: 41
Location: Colorado
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Don't know how much lawn you're talking about, or if it's existing or something new you are thinking about doing.  If it's more than the average small back yard, then yes, a sprinkler system is definately the way to go.  If properly designed for head-to-head coverage, you'll use alot less water than if you try to get every spot sufficiently irrigated by hand, and if you have quite a bit of lawn, you'll be out there all day with a hose.  If you have a little more $ still, a programable clock and a rain sensor can be added.  The rain sensor will skip the regularly scheduled watering in case it rains, hence the name.

If you're doing a new lawn, choose a mix of drought tolerant grass seed types suitable for your area.  Adding innoculated clover (dutch white) is also a good idea as it will supply added nitrogen to your lawn.  You can supplement it's nitrogen needs using corn gluten (organic if at all possible, and avoid use during seed germination period).  Also, it's always good to do a soil test through your local extension service.  Tell them you'll be planting turfgrass so they can recommend the proper soil amendments.  Then, if you're like me, disregard any synthetic fertilizer recommendations and find an organic source for your needed nutrients.  Proper calcium levels will keep dandelion from taking over, and trust me, dandelion is tough to get rid of once it gets a foothold.

As was previously stated, it's better to water deeply and infrequently, as this will encourage deeper root growth, which in turn will make your lawn more drought tolerant.  Another way to save water is to get a mower that can cut the grass "higher," say...in the 4" range.  Some people may think it's time to cut the grass when it's at this height, but if you don't mind the look, longer grass blades help to shade the soil and decreases water requirements.  And don't throw away those grass clippings!  These contain nutrients from your soil that you don't want to have to replace.  If you mow often enough (generating just a small amount of cut), leave them in place for the earth worms to eat!  If you cut too much at one time, compost them and spread over the lawn when ready.

Hope this helps.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 20404
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Rather than buy a sprinkler system, I think you would be FAR happier buying topsoil.  After all, suppose you have 18 inches of topsoil - you would never need to water. 

If you buy a sprinkler system, you would have to not only pay for it and possibly pay for the installation, but you are probably going to pay for all of that water to be added - and is that water chlorinated?  What do you suppose chlorine does to the microbial life in the soil?  And all of that water will rinse away some of your precious organic matter and other nutrients, slowly converting your soil into cement-like dirt. 

I wouldn't even think about installing a sprinkler system unless I've exhausted the possibility of adding topsoil.
 
                            
Posts: 41
Location: Colorado
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Paul...a couple thoughts regarding the points you brought up:

1) The poster didn't identify the quality or quantity of their existing on-site topsoil.  It may already be adequate.
2) We don't know the size of the intended lawn area (how much topsoil would you need?).
3) Buying imported topsoil isn't free either, and is certainly more expensive than water.
4) When you import topsoil, you'll be raising the grade, unless you also intend on removing existing on-site soil (also very costly).  If you raise the grade, then you also need to deal with grading and drainage issues (more cost again).
5) You need to water the lawn to establish the seed, and getting back to the size of the area, an irrigation system may make more sense.
6) Yes, most municipal water supplies are chlorinated, but there are millions of lawns that are fine using this water.
7) You don't need to use the system nearly as much if my other recommendations are followed, so chlorine becomes even less of an issue.  You may just use the system during drought conditions, and only periodically.
Rain can leach nutrients just like watering with an irrigation system.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 20404
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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3)  draw out a ten year plan including all costs.  I think you will find that most city water situations will make the irrigation route more expensive.

6)  "fine" is relative.  And my standards tend to be much higher.

  But you cannot control the amount of rain you get.  You can, however, choose to have less sprinkler.

If somebody is exploring the idea of installing a sprinkler system, I would strongly advocate this alternative.  I suspect that the cost of installing a sprinkler system is about the same as putting in the topsoil.  And then you cut WAY back on irrigation and fertilization costs.  Far fewer problems and everything you plant does far, far better.  Trees, gardens, shrubs .... everything.

Next would be the discussion of quality of topsoil. 

 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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kahunadm wrote:
Don't know how much lawn you're talking about, or if it's existing or something new you are thinking about doing.


I don't know either. We're moving back to the US (Delaware) in December. The plots are generally between .33 and 1.25 acres, though we'll be putting in a (hopefully large) organic garden, so the size of our lawn will just kind of depend on what we end up buying. I'll know more in a month or so.

If it's more than the average small back yard, then yes, a sprinkler system is definately the way to go.  If properly designed for head-to-head coverage, you'll use alot less water than if you try to get every spot sufficiently irrigated by hand, and if you have quite a bit of lawn, you'll be out there all day with a hose.  If you have a little more $ still, a programable clock and a rain sensor can be added.  The rain sensor will skip the regularly scheduled watering in case it rains, hence the name.


I really like the easy organic lawn care page by Paul that I read. IIRC, he mentions that if the soil is deep enough and good enough that you may only need to water once or twice in a whole summer. I guess my question was predicated upon that notion. If I only had to water a few times, is it worth it?

As was previously stated, it's better to water deeply and infrequently, as this will encourage deeper root growth, which in turn will make your lawn more drought tolerant.


Aye, this is my new goal in life.

Another way to save water is to get a mower that can cut the grass "higher," say...in the 4" range.  Some people may think it's time to cut the grass when it's at this height, but if you don't mind the look, longer grass blades help to shade the soil and decreases water requirements.  And don't throw away those grass clippings!  These contain nutrients from your soil that you don't want to have to replace.  If you mow often enough (generating just a small amount of cut), leave them in place for the earth worms to eat!  If you cut too much at one time, compost them and spread over the lawn when ready.

Hope this helps.


All that helps. Yup, I'm thinking the tall, healthy, organic lawn is exactly what I want. I love the idea of frequently mowing a wee bit off the top, spreading compost once or twice per year, and other than that, sitting back with lemonade while my neighbors break their backs pulling their own weeds. I guess I'm just a little hung up on the best way to water when it comes time to do so.
 
                            
Posts: 41
Location: Colorado
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I respectfully stand by my prior comments.

 
jeremiah bailey
Posts: 343
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lanemik wrote:
spreading compost once or twice per year

With a lawn as described above, that maybe overkill as well. Think: more lemonade and watching the neighbors. Unless of course you hire your neighbors to spread the compost for you. 
 
                            
Posts: 41
Location: Colorado
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Well, you could always try it without an irrigation system and see if things work out for you.  A system can be installed after-the-fact if you decide you need more water than nature provides (alot will depend on the grass varieties you pick).  If your soil is loose enough, someone can "pull" pipe (smaller 3/4" size) without having to trench.  (trenching would still be needed for larger sized mainline pipe).  If you do this, then make sure to patch the disturbed areas with the same seed mix/varieties, so as to hide where the repair work occured.  If you use different seed for the repaired areas, you'll always see where the trenches were, as the grass will have a different appearance.

Whatever you do, don't let the soil dry out when the seed is germinating.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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An irrigation system I might consider building would be a drain bed for rain collected by my (still hypothetical) roof.

I'd prefer to channel that water into a garden rather than a lawn, but the downspouts might not be located conveniently.

I'm thinking a branching pattern of French drains built mostly of wood or bamboo, maybe some arteries built with gravel and salvaged tejas if they're available and possibly plastic pipe for part of it.  Branch tips could be stakes driven into the trench walls at a shallow angle, to save digging. I could run a hose into the system during a drought if I really felt the need (or pour in greywater...shh!), and it would be important to add enough organic matter in the space above the system that roots/mycorrhiza could reach that water, preferably enough that the system can store a storm worth of water.  Because I am nerdy, I would also include a few home-built moisture sensors at various depths.

Subsoil around here is very heavy clay, so a system like this probably wouldn't work in faster-draining areas.  It might also take careful design to keep the run of drains from reaching deeper than roots plus mycorrhiza can reach, although species like tall fescue and bermudagrass give one a lot of room to work with.
 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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That's WAY above my head.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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The basic idea is to water from below, using rainwater.

Erma Bombeck wrote a book called "The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank", which is part of the idea.  Except that adding fertilizer to my hypothetical system would probably harm it...I was only thinking of irrigation.

The idea is overly elaborate and jargon-heavy as presented here, because that's a character flaw of mine.

But a lot of the complications are intended to save resources.  It's a branching design to cut the amount of digging necessary.  Wood takes less fuel to transport than gravel, and can often be obtained for free, including delivery.  A large volume of wood under ground, as Paul's hugelkultur article mentions, can store and distribute water, keeping it available to the plants above. The intent is to take an annual rainfall that wouldn't support a nice lawn, and comes all in a season, and re-distribute it in space and time so that what falls on the roof in the wet season can be used through the dry season.  And of course, an irrigation system with minimum pipes and fittings, and no sprinkler heads, has some advantages.

A good French drain, of course, is gravel right to the top, to keep soil from filling the gaps and stopping the flow of water.  Part of the problem with what I wrote is that it would all run beneath the lawn at various depths.  Since the lawn is available as a constant source of organic matter, the idea would be to have good soil right to the top, with water channeled by the heavy soil (well, dirt...) below.

I also left out an important point, which is that some mechanism should be included to channel water to the storm drain, preferably automatically.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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sprinklers should not be necessary if you have a well established healthy lawn..unless you live in a very dry area..

i do have a few sprinklers and hoses that I'll move into an area where I am established new grass seed..but in my beds i use soaker hoses as they are far superior to sprinklers.

when we have had construction done..we have had to sprinkle the grass during dry areas..when we reseeded..but only then..once it is established we don't water unless there is a very severe drought period..

there are more sensible things to do with the money that you would put into sprinklers..sprinklers also cause a lot of loss of water from evaopration..

try to find a better way to water the  lawn if it needs it..

or try to do two things at once to water that lawn...like take the car out on the dry area of lawn and wish it..killing two birds with one stone so to speak.

also after 38 years, i try to eliminate unneded lawn areas having lawn only where i really need it..we have a drive area from the front to the back that is lawn rather than bare ground or dirt, and we have lawn paths around our beds..there is also an area of mown field that is not really lawn but mixed plants..for grazing by the wildlife.

lawn for lawn is not really a good permanent solution ..always good to have a little open area for children to play or access, but try t o limit the size of the lawn for lawn sake..and plant ti large beds of mixed plantlife, trees, understory trees, shrubs, perennials, food crops and vines and groundcovers..that is what most of  my property is
 
                            
Posts: 41
Location: Colorado
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No, Sprinklers don't cause...I believe you mean't to say..."evaporation."  They can lose water to "misting" if a) the pressure is set too high, and/or b) you're watering when it's too windy.  The amount of water lost to evaporation is mostly a function of what time of day you water.  Ideally you should be watering in the very early morning or late afternoon/early evening.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 20404
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Erma Bombeck wrote a book called "The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank"


The funny part is that I think erma was trying to suggest that the grass was eating people poop or getting water - I think the reality of this phenomenon is actually that the septic tank is warmer in winter.


 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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The system I outlined would also be a solar soil-heater during the wet season.

Any water running off the roof would pick up warmth from it by flowing over bits of sun-heated sand and exposed tar, and carry that down into the soil. 

That effect would be minor, though, and probably wouldn't be of any use anyway, in the places that the system might make sense overall.

Isn't the leach field of a septic system shallow enough for deep-rooted species to reach, though?  I know she wrote "tank", but I'll give her a lot of poetic license there.
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