Sprinklers: The pros and cons

Sunday, June 23, 2013
A rotary head sprinkler with its 360-degree spray can be an efficient way to water an open area of a lawn. (Fred Lynch)

I recently had a discussion with a homeowner about some issues in her lawn. She had dead spots here and there and was wondering what was going on. I proceeded to ask her whether she was watering the lawn. Her comment was that they had an automatic sprinkler system, so watering could not possibly be an issue.

I also had a surgeon one time ask me to design and install an automatic sprinkler system for his vegetable garden. He wanted to set the watering schedule and then forget about watering for the rest of the growing season. He was too busy to be concerned about watering. I asked him "Do you send a patient into the operating room, punch a button, and have a robot automatically do the surgery?" He thought for a minute and finally said "I get your point."

The point I am trying to make is this. Automatic sprinkler systems for you lawn, landscape and garden can be time savers. But they are not so automatic that they don't have to be designed and maintained well. Let me give you some examples.

A few days ago we had a 5" rain in Cape Girardeau. The next morning at 5 a.m., I drove past a lawn at a commercial establishment, and was surprised to see the automatic sprinkler system pouring more water on the lawn. What a waste of money and water. In addition, the excess water creates environmental conditions favorable for diseases to grow rampantly.

Recently one of my co-workers was driving up an off ramp from I-55 and a jet of water from an automatic sprinkler system covered her windshield. She was so surprised that she jerked the steering wheel to the right. Had she jerked the steering wheel harder, she could have lost control of the car.

I often drive to work early in the morning and have to laugh when I see a lawn sprinkler head shooting water on the street, while the lawn next to the street that should be watered is turning brown from lack of water. I thought automatic sprinklers should water the lawn.

I recently got a call from a gardener who said some of the azaleas near the house were looking bad. After asking several questions, I found that the azalea bed design had been changed, but the automatic sprinkler system design had not. Some azaleas were getting watered about every other day because they were getting watered by a lawn sprinkler zone instead of a shrub bed zone.

The point I want to make is this: Automatic sprinkler systems need to be designed properly and must be maintained properly to effectively deliver water to the plants in your landscape. You also need to know when and how much water your plants need. Water delivered at the wrong time or in the wrong amounts will be more costly than no water delivered at all.

To have an automatic sprinkler system designed and maintained properly so it provides water at the proper time and in the proper amounts, you must either be an engineer or an experienced plumber. To know when and how much the plants in your landscape need water, you must be well educated in the field of horticulture.

If you are neither of these, then you should find an individual or company who has both engineering and horticulture experience to make sure that your investment in an automatic sprinkler system is a good one. Just knowing how to apply water is not enough, the water must be applied in the right amounts and at the proper time for your plants.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702-0699 or by email to news@semissourian.com.

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