Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thirsty Lawns and Gardens; Watering Responsibly During Drought by Steve Sherwood

As we all know, Colorado is a dry state, averaging only 15 inches of precipitation a year.  According to Denver Water, the average single family household uses approximately 130,320 gallons of water per year.  Of this total, approximately 55 percent or 65,000 gallons is used to water lawns and gardens, and for other outside needs.
With the continuing drought, water restrictions have already been announced so how and when you water your lawn and garden is very important.


Home based lawn irrigation systems are usually one of two types.  The first includes hand watering nozzles that can be moved around the yard to get complete coverage.  According to Denver Water, it is best to “avoid oscillating sprinklers and other sprinklers that throw water high in the air or release a fine mist.  The most efficient sprinklers release big drops close to the ground.”

The second type of lawn watering system is the automated system.  Automated systems are usually one of two kinds.  The first is a fixed-head sprinkler system that pops up from the ground and waters the lawn in a fixed pattern.  The second is a rotating sprinkler head that pops up from the ground and rotates back and forth during operation.   Both of these systems are usually on an electronic timer so once they are calibrated you can usually set them and forget them.

Regardless of what type of system you have, there are often ways to further improve watering efficiency.  For example, how many times have you seen sprinklers hard at work during a driving rainfall?  I for one have seen it plenty of times.  Even in Colorado where it doesn’t rain frequently, watering during a rainstorm results in a lot of runoff from lawns where it goes down the drain, carrying with it fertilizer and other chemicals that are not healthy for our lakes and water supplies.
Instead of having to manually turn off your sprinkler system when it rains, how about installing a rain sensor?  For about $30 to $40 you can install a senor that interrupts the circuit of an irrigation system’s zone valves when a predetermined amount of rainfall is collected.  Once the sensor dries up, watering is allowed to resume according to your programmed days and times.

For additional information on lawn irrigation systems and water wise practices, check out the On-Line Yard and Garden Publications on Colorado State University’s Extension Service website at
Another excellent source of information is Denver Water’s Water Wise Landscape Handbook located on-line at:

Vegetable Gardens

Does a vegetable garden use more water than a lawn?  According to Denver Water, “a healthy vegetable garden needs about the same amount of water as a lawn does…. Vegetables don’t need more water than grass, but they need water more often.  Use wood mulch around the base of plants to maintain proper soil moisture.”

 I, for one, enjoy hand watering my garden in the evenings at the end of a long day.  It is relaxing and I get to experience first-hand how my garden progresses over the course of the summer.  But what if I want to go on vacation for two or three weeks?  That could be a problem.

So, if taking the time to hand water your garden isn’t your thing, there are several different automated methods for watering your garden.  If I had it my way, I would install a drip or soaker hose system.  Soaker or drip systems are more exact because they allow the gardener to pinpoint where they water by placing the hose directly at the base of individual plants.   Soaker or drip hoses can be hooked up directly, along with a timer, to an outside faucet and/or garden hose or they can be run from the same timer and control valves that run your lawn’s sprinkler system.    There are also small, elevated sprinkler heads that can be inserted into soaker and drip lines.  I personally do not like these sprinkler heads because they are easily damaged and/or moved and require considerable maintenance.

Want to Learn More?
If you want to learn more about the basics of lawn and garden irrigation systems, Colorado Master Gardeners are hosting an outdoor class on irrigation systems  and irrigation system mapping on May 4th from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM at the Jefferson County CSU Extension’s demonstration garden at  15200 W. 6th Ave in Golden, Colorado.

This class is the third in a series of hands-on classes offered by Master Gardeners at the Jefferson County Extension Office.  Session 1 on April 20th focuses on seed starting.  Session 2 on April 27th will cover soils and amendments.  The final class will be held on May 11th and will teach principles of garden planting and protection.  Classes are $20 per session. For additional information, please contact the Jefferson County Extension Service at 303-271-6632 or stop by their offices in Golden.