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A New Level of Irrigation Efficiency

LORNE HAVERUK | Miscellaneous

Heres a scenario

You've created a cutting-edge landscape concept for an upcoming project. You know the plant material that you've selected will require supplemental watering to get it through the establishment period and the harsh weather days beyond. That means one thing: the landscape needs an irrigation system. However, the developer you're working with is hoping to get some tax rebates by earning LEED certification, so not just any irrigation system is going to suffice. You need to design and install a high-efficiency system that will qualify for LEED credits and earn LEED points. How do you do it? First, you need to understand what LEED is. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and refers to the LEED Green Building Rating System. It rates the design, construction, and operation of buildings based on the highest performance standards. To be LEED-certified, a building must be environmentally responsible, healthy, and profitable; it conserves water and energy. In exchange for constructing these eco-friendly buildings, developers in many areas receive tax rebates, zoning allowances, and other incentives. Landscape irrigation is one of many important areas in which buildings can earn points towards certification, in this case by conserving water. As LEED gains more and more recognition throughout the U.S., particularly in the Midwest, new classifications for irrigation efficiency are emerging. The new words used to describe certain types and efficiency levels of irrigation systems are: Traditional (conventional), High Efficiency, and LEED.

Traditional

11.jpgAlso called conventional, this is the old school spray sprinkler and rotary sprinkler irrigation system. It's controlled by an irrigation controller (or timer) which can be programmed Because chemical fertilizer has such a high analysis, less of it has to be applied to have a beneficial effect on a property. It also tends to be less expensive than organic fertilizers. However, while you do have to apply more organic fertilizer to achieve a beneficial effect, this is an advantage in and of itself. Many chemical fertilizers are used by plants very quickly, immediately releasing their nutrients. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, are generally slow-releasing. They break down and release nutrients over a period of weeks.

When a landscape needs to be irrigated, the controller sends an electrical current through a wire to a valve solenoid, causing the valve to hydraulically open. The water flows through the lateral pipeline to the various sprinkler heads, and as the line pressurizes, sprinklers rise up to perform their duty, watering for however long the operator has set them to run.

Spray sprinklers cover small areas, such as those measuring from approximately five to 15 feet. Rotors, on the other hand, move a stream of water throughout a preset pattern for larger applications, such as those from 16 to 40 feet or more. The amount of water released in both cases is usually measured in gallons per minute (gpm).

Traditional systems are known for watering driveways, sidewalks, and fences as much or more than the plant material in a landscape. This causes a great deal of water to run off and be wasted. The amount of wasted water makes a traditional irrigation system a poor choice for a site seeking LEED certification.

3_4.jpgHigh Efficiency

Drawing off of city water sources, these systems utilize efficient technology that has come from agricultural irrigation. They usually use what is commonly known as drip irrigation. However, I prefer to call it low-volume irrigation, as there are numerous components that can be employed in addition to drip emitters.

The amount of water released by low-volume devices is so little that it's measured in gallons per hour (gph) rather than gallons per mintute. The end of the spectrum, natural organic fertilizers typically contain much lower amounts of the primary nutrients. Because of this, both have their own advantages and drawbacks.

Because chemical fertilizer has such a high analysis, less of it has to be applied to have a beneficial effect on a property. It also tends to be less expensive than organic fertilizers.

However, while you do have to apply more organic fertilizer to achieve a beneficial effect, this is an advantage in and of itself. Many chemical fertilizers are used by plants very quickly, immediately releasing their nutrients. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, are generally slow-releasing. They break down and release nutrients over a period of time. Therefore, since you have to apply more organic fertilizer, and because it releases nutrients slowly, using organic fertilizer means fewer fertilizer applications. This can represent a significant labor savings.

Another factor that can affect your choice of an organic fertilizer over a chemical fertilizer is the environment. Environmental friendliness is a growing movement among American consumers. Many are concerned about chemical fertilizer's tendency to run off lawns and pollute the water supply.

Establishing yourself as a contractor who specializes in organic fertilizers can give you a good public image, and attract more business from eco-conscious customers. It can also help you comply with the increasingly strict stormwater runoff regulations being seen in many cities and states around the country.

"Every year, we're seeing more and more clients requesting an organic fertilizer program, in spite of the higher expense," says Bowman. "In our region, people are particularly worried about polluting Chesapeake Bay, so that motivates many customers to go organic."

The test

If the purpose of fertilizer is to provide plants with the nutrients that the soil may lack, then the real problem is in knowing what nutrients the soil is deficient in. Even the plants themselves may not be reliable indicators -- while some deficiencies are common enough that they are easy to visually recognize, others are rarer and may be nearly impossible to identify.

This is where soil testing comes in. "It's easy to brush off the importance of soil testing -- mainly because a thorough analysis can cost $50-$75 -- but being able to pinpoint the precise needs of soil is priceless. Soil testing is the backbone of any truly effective fertilization program," says Michael Frilot, plant health care supervisor for Stay Green, Santa Clarita, California.

A good soil testing laboratory won't just send you a piece of paper with a bunch of numbers and abbreviations printed on it, but instead will actually recommend a fertilization program for you to follow. With help like that, effective fertilization couldn't be easier. It helps the plants in your clients' landscapes bloom, and grows your profits right alongside them.

 
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