Landscape Irrigation Information And The How To

Installing a home landscape irrigation system for the garden is a job best left to professionals. But the home gardener can play an active role with their landscaper if they understand the basics of an irrigation system.

Ambitious do-it-yourself gardeners should think twice before tackling the installation of a new irrigation system. Measuring the property, calculating its slope, and properly adjusting for water pressure are just some of the tasks involved in home garden irrigation, and to do it right requires the expertise of professionals. This doesn't mean that clients are left out of the loop all together. The professional landscaper will rely on you as the client to provide details of your gardening plan (turf vs. shrubs) and your budget. To get the most out of your relationship with your landscaper, however, a basic understanding of irrigation systems is quite an advantage.

Four common types of irrigation systems exist: spray, rotary, flood and micro-irrigation.

Spray systems are the most popular form of irrigation for home lawns and gardens, and are most advantageous for small yard areas. The nozzles are easily changed to accommodate different spray positions, and the system in general is quite dependable, requiring little maintenance. Spray systems are also ideal for weak pressure systems. The spray can throw a continuous stream of water from zero to fifteen feet. The only real disadvantage of a spray system is the wind factor, as high breezes lift the spray away from its target area. There are two head choices to consider in a spray system: spring loaded and gravity retention. Gravity retention heads use the pressure of the water to pop the heads up for watering. These heads are susceptible to slight changes in water pressure, and could remain in the raised position if the water is not fully turned off. Spring loaded heads automatically spring up when the water is turned on, and have less tendency to stick in the raised position. Most landscapers will recommend the spring-loaded heads.



Rotary systems are most frequently used for large areas and are commonly seen on athletic fields. Rotary systems throw one or more streams of water up to 100 feet. This system is advantageous to cover large areas in which a high number of spray heads would be impractical. Despite the velocity of the water from the sprayer, rotary systems actually produce less water than spray systems. The same-sized area on a rotary system would have to be watered four times more frequently than with a spray system. Also, rotary systems are prone to sticking -- watering in one direction without rotation. The heads used on rotary systems include gear driven, ball driven and impact devices. As the name suggests, gear driven heads use internal gears to rotate the head, while the ball driven head uses a small ball rotating in the head. Impact devices have the gear actually strike itself to rotate the head.

Flood systems are those that irrigate low to the ground. Bed sprays, bubblers and jet systems are all types of flood irrigation. Flood systems work well for plants, such as roses, that have adverse affects to damp foliage. Bubblers and jets are limited to the type of soil conditions in which they operate. Sandy conditions would cause the water to sink on impact rather than spread throughout the garden. Heavy clay soil, however, would cause immediate run-off. The reduced water flow from flood systems is not effective for large lawn areas.

Any system that generates a low volume of water is classified as a micro-irrigation system. Typical micro-irrigation systems include drip, trickle and some spray heads. Micro-irrigation is ideal for small areas of plants whose foliage cannot be sprayed. The water supply drips or trickles from plastic tubing close to the root, never touching the plants' leaves. This system is high maintenance, however. Tubing is often covered by mulch or plant foliage and the orifices can easily become clogged. Even the most diligent gardeners might not realize a clog in their micro system until the affected plants begin to show signs of stress. If not properly laid, the tubing can be unsightly and is easy prey for mowers and vandalism. The tubes are also known to break in freezing weather.

Irrigation installation requires more than laying piping and securing spray heads. Professional landscapers will know how to avoid gas lines when laying your new pipes. They will also be aware of any restrictions in using city or well water, and be informed of your special local codes. In North Carolina, for example, a professional plumber is required to hook the irrigation system to the main water lines, and an electrician is required to review any electrical work done in connection with the project (automatic timers). The use of a professional in your irrigation project doesn't mean that you cannot play an active role in implementing your new system. The four irrigation systems are only the beginning, and research on valve types and controller options will go a long way to ensuring that you receive the irrigation system that works best for you.

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