by Rob Maday
Out of the countless ways a conventional landscape can become more “green” and sustainable, we’ve compiled a list of 3 suggestions with the best ROI for property managers.
1. Install a Smart Irrigation Controller (Rebates available in most municipalities)
At a time when cutting edge technology is so prevalent in our daily lives, it makes no sense that your irrigation controller is from the Stone Age. At a minimum, your irrigation controller should be connected to a rain sensor that will shut down any programming if a set amount of precipitation collects in a small basin. Also, your controller should have a “seasonal adjust” feature that allows you to quickly reduce your set watering times by a percentage, making adjustments to your program quick and painless. If you have a larger property, upgrading to a smart controller that accesses weather data, ETo, soil moisture, and other conditions will no doubt save you water, money, and keep your plants healthier.
2. Conduct Quarterly Irrigation System Check-Ups
Odds are if sprinklers pop up or start dripping in the early morning hours, you and your landscape maintenance crew rarely see the system in action. If anything, you see evidence the system ran as you drive past and see the sidewalk and driveway wet. So take 20-30 minutes during daylight to turn on each sprinkler valve to check each head and emitter for proper functioning and alignment. There should be little to no overspray onto pavement, no geysers erupting from drip tubing, and absolutely no puddling. If you see puddling, you are applying too much water too quickly. To remedy, reduce watering times to cycle-soak intervals, replace sprinkler heads with rotary nozzles, and/or install a thick layer of tree trimmings to absorb and retain the moisture. Conduct these irrigation check-ups on quarterly intervals as a poorly maintained irrigation system will eliminate the savings of even the most state-of-the-art irrigation controller.
3. Minimize the Size and Impact of Lawn
As discussed in greater depth by others, the conventional lawn is a remnant of Landscaping 1.0. We are now well into Landscaping 2.0 and the notion that lawns should continue to be front-and-center of our properties is baseless. The percentage of time a maintenance team spends maintaining lawn is disproportionate to the value it provides. And needless to say, the time spent maintaining a lawn is not cheap. The water cost alone in warm climates is enough to make you reconsider its place in the landscape. For a quick illustration on the cost of water for a lawn compared to a drought-tolerant landscape, see the Water Usage Calculator at Landscape Resource.
However, if your lawn is to remain in its current form for practical reasons, consider implementing the following practices for increased health and reduced maintenance costs:
- Grasscycling: Leave your grass clippings in place to reduce the amount of fertilizers needed to keep your lawn green.
- Aeration: Using an aerator (mechanical or manual), plug holes throughout your lawn 2”-4” on center. This will alleviate soil compaction and allow moisture and nutrients to be more successfully absorbed into the root zone.
- Reduce watering times: Statistics show that over 50% of people overwater their lawns by a factor of 1.5-2 times the amount needed. Try cutting back watering times by 3-5 minute increments. If you notice your lawn browning after a few reductions, bump the time up a bit and you’ve found a more accurate schedule and saved some water.
- Mow High: For most lawns, you can set your sharp mower blade higher. This encourages a stronger, healthier grass that is less dependent on outside inputs