Landscape irrigation design tips for northern virginia homeowners

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Is it worth the investment to include a landscape irrigation design in your landscape plan? Yes. Think of irrigation as an insurance policy for your landscape. It will be there when needed to sustain your gardens through a prolonged dry spell.

Here in Northern Virginia, our increasingly unpredictable precipitation patterns don’t always cooperate with the needs of our landscapes. When the rain comes makes all the difference.

Established trees and perennials, especially natives, aren’t much affected because they can withstand dry periods. What we are most concerned with are the newly installed plants. They haven’t had sufficient time to develop full root systems.


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The Importance of Irrigation System Management

Regular precipitation in late winter and early spring is critical to landscape plant development. A prolonged dry spell at this time of year can be destructive to plants because they are just coming out of dormancy and putting all their stored energy into growth.

About 80% of landscape plants do most of their growing from March to mid-June. And, aside from autumn, this is typically the time of year when we get most of our rain. If the rains don’t come, the irrigation system can fill the gap.

That’s why it is important to do system maintenance checks and adjustments to the settings so that your system will work properly when it is needed. Here are a few tips to help you ask the right questions when selecting a garden maintenance team to manage your landscape irrigation system.

Adjust Landscape Irrigation Settings for the Way Plants Use Water

First, we want you to understand three principles of how plants use water that directly impact your irrigation system settings and the watering schedule:

1 When to water

Morning is best because plant root systems take up water most efficiently early in the day. The evening is okay as long as you are certain that the plants being watered are not susceptible to fungal diseases. For example, red twig dogwood likes damp soil, but for many other plants, nighttime watering could cause problems. A well-designed garden usually has plants grouped according to their soil, sunlight, shade, and moisture requirements.

2 How much water

Water generously and infrequently. Infrequently? Yes. A deep, thorough soak followed by a period long enough for the soil to dry out in the top several inches will stimulate deep root growth. This makes the plants more hardy and self-sufficient.

3 Water delivery system

There are two basic types of irrigation: overhead spray and drip. Most shrubs, small trees, and planting beds will do better with a drip system that lets water penetrate directly into the root zone. If set up properly, the drip method is extremely efficient: no wasted water and almost no loss to evaporation. For lawns, overhead spray delivery is the way to go.

Conditions That Affect the Effectiveness of Landscape Irrigation

There may be special conditions on your property that influence how effectively your landscape irrigation system works. Here are some technical adjustments to your system design that will support water conservation while ensuring that your plants get the most benefit.

1 Plant Types With Different Moisture Needs

The well-planned landscape irrigation system design will include high and low-pressure nozzles, or nozzles preset on differing cycles. This way, different groupings of plants can receive only the water they need.

2 Compacted Soil

When soil is hard-packed or dry, it takes longer to absorb moisture. So, unless you rework a compacted area, you can’t fully soak it in one cycle because it won’t have time to penetrate. It will simply run off and be wasted. The solution for this issue would be a programmable sprinkler set to deliver small amounts of water at intervals that allow water enough time to penetrate the roots in between cycles.

3 Small or Oddly Shaped Areas

To achieve even coverage in small or uniquely shaped areas, use more sprinklers and adjust the water flow accordingly. This will conserve water keeping by it on the lawn and landscaping–and off sidewalks, driveways, patios, and decks.

4 Uneven Terrain

Slopes and low spots can cause overwatering (areas at the bottom of the slope) or puddling which can cause problems, particularly with turf. Here again, your landscape maintenance contractor can make adjustments to flow rates or add sensors that will shut your landscape irrigation system down if flooding occurs.

Modern smart irrigation systems are adaptable to a wide variety of site conditions and weather conditions. Having the right equipment in place is just as important as having the right garden maintenance contractor with the expertise to manage the system for you. 

If you have questions about your landscape irrigation system and would like an assessment, contact one of our garden management specialists to schedule a walkthrough at your home.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering how to bring out the fullest expression in your landscape and gardens. Our eBook: Choosing the Right Kind of Landscape Maintenance Firm, is full of valuable information to help you understand the fundamental differences between landscape maintenance companies.

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