(ARA) - Hot and dry weather provides reason enough to think about simple ways to save water while still enjoying beautiful yards and gardens. You may even find that your efforts to be water smart may improve the health and appearance of your plants.
During the summer, an estimated 30 to 70 percent of household water use takes place outdoors, depending on your local climate. Up to half of the water used to irrigate yards and gardens is unnecessarily lost due to evaporation, wind drift, watering non-plant areas due to poorly aligned sprinklers and simply overwatering.
With some easy steps, you can reduce your water bill, foster attractive spaces for you and others to enjoy and help protect water supplies for future generations. Do something good for your bank account, your yard and your planet by following these smart tips.
* Landscape to suit your lot and your climate. Choose grass or plants with low water requirements that will thrive in your local climate. Consider sun and shade areas, slopes and plant sizes for optimum growth. Group plants with similar water needs close together and separate lawn areas from planting beds.
* Keep soil healthy. Aeration helps improve water penetration and adding compost or fertilizer maintains plant health so they use water more efficiently. Mulch well around plants, bushes and trees. Two to 4 inches of mulch reduces evaporation, moderates soil temperatures and helps control weeds that compete for water.
* Maintain your yard regularly. Weed, prune and mow as needed. A well-maintained yard uses water more effectively.
* Set sprinklers to only water plants, not your driveway, sidewalk, patio or other hardscapes.
* Water at the best time. Watering during the heat of the day causes high evaporation loss. Watering early in the morning when winds are calm and temperatures are cooler minimizes evaporation by as much as 30 percent.
* Adapt watering to the season. Adjust how much you water based on seasonal weather and changing conditions. Weather-based timers are available and can make such adjustments automatically.
Maintain and upgrade automatic irrigation systems
* Inspect the system regularly. Check for leaks that can waste water and cause other problems. Also look for broken or clogged sprinklers that no longer operate efficiently.
* Check the pressure. Proper water pressure encourages more uniform water distribution and better sprinkler operation. Fixed spray-type sprinklers work well around 25 to 30 psi while sprinklers with moving streams of water work well at 40 to 45 psi. Water pressure regulation devices are easily added to valves to control a whole irrigation zone or can be part of individual sprinklers.
* Install a rain shutoff device. Rain sensors prevent irrigation systems from running when irrigation is unnecessary. These devices can reduce irrigation water usage by up to 35 percent and help extend irrigation system life. Sprinkler systems should never run in the rain and rain sensors can put an end to those wasteful situations.
* Utilize "smart" technology. Climate or soil moisture sensors and controllers evaluate weather or soil moisture conditions and automatically adjust the irrigation schedule so your landscape always receives the appropriate amount of water. The water savings can be significant and the convenience of these self-adjusting controllers is another great benefit.
* Consider drip or micro-irrigation for shrubs and ground covers. Rather than spray large areas with above-ground sprinklers, drip irrigation utilizes emission devices to deliver desired volumes of water to particular locations at or near plant root zones. Water drips slowly from emitters either onto the soil surface or below ground. Less water is lost due to wind and evaporation as a result, and weeds can also be reduced.
* Look for rebates. Many water utilities offer rebates for certain water-efficient products. Before upgrading your system, check with your local water provider for opportunities for free and discounted products.
Consider an irrigation professional
* Have your irrigation system audited. Hire a qualified professional to conduct a system review and uniformity test to ensure areas are being watered evenly and appropriately, and make necessary adjustments. Certified irrigation professionals have the training and skills to offer insight into unique watering challenges and can be located at www.irrigation.org/Certification/Find_a_Certified_Professional.aspx.
* Upgrade or invest in a new irrigation system. A water-efficient system requires a good design, quality components, proper installation and maintenance. Licensed and certified professionals can offer expert advice and services.
Although July is officially designated Smart Irrigation Month by the Irrigation Association and a number of states, it makes sense to promote smart irrigation every month of the year. Each individual effort makes a difference that results in more beautiful, productive and water-efficient landscapes for everyone to enjoy while conserving one of our most precious natural resources. For more information and helpful tips, visit www.smartirrigationmonth.org.