Growings On: July is Smart Irrigation Month in Georgia

Roger Gates

Following a stretch of 15 days with no rainfall recorded in Dalton, welcome rains have returned along with some cooler temperatures. Dry spells of two weeks or more create moisture stress for many plants, both in home landscapes and gardens, and for important agricultural commodities. Irrigation of some form is an important tool in limiting moisture stress and the resulting production consequences.

Landscape irrigation can be tricky, especially in the summer. July has been designated “Smart Irrigation Month” in Georgia to draw attention to the importance of the state’s water resources and the critical importance of careful stewardship of that water.

Statewide, Georgia receives an average of 52 inches of rain per year. Unfortunately, precipitation timing and distribution is never “average.” Supplemental irrigation is the single most effective risk management tool that provides a safeguard against drought and unpredictable rain patterns. Georgia has an abundance of water resources and resilient aquifers that supply water, supporting millions of people and globally significant industries. Smart irrigation ensures that water is being used wisely and conserved for many more generations to come.

Smart irrigation is the application of the right amount of water in the right place at the right time to optimize growth. Smart irrigation occurs across Georgia — from backyards to the farms that produce our food, fiber and fuel. University of Georgia experts have developed research-based recommendations about careful irrigation use in home landscapes.

According to UGA Cooperative Extension urban water management agent Rolando Orellana, typical lawns and plants require 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Consider the water source, air circulation, slope, drainage and other conditions of the landscape when creating an irrigation plan.

“Make sure you know the plants in your garden,” Orellana said. “Not all plants have the same water requirements. You can ask your Extension agent to find out more information about plant water requirements."

With this understanding, individuals can ensure that the root systems of plants are in top shape. It is best to apply deep and infrequent watering to establish strong root systems and healthier plants. Applying small amounts of water frequently will create a shallow root system and more water evaporation. It is ideal to have an irrigation schedule and system that replicates rainfall to ensure landscapes are not overwatered and plants stay healthy and beautiful, Orellana said.

The best time to water landscapes is between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., keeping in mind that deep, infrequent watering is best to avoid waste, runoff and evaporation. Orellana advises adding that gardeners should water by hand when possible, as it is the most effective method of ensuring that water is delivered only where needed.

While hand-watering is preferred, it is not always practical. When using irrigation equipment, be thoughtful about how, where and how often to turn on your sprinklers. Before setting up portable sprinklers, soaker hoses or an in-ground irrigation system, consider the following:

• How much of the landscape needs to be watered?

Where can the equipment be placed to reach the maximum amount of area and provide even coverage?

Where are the outdoor water sources located and where can one be added if needed?

To reduce waste and get the most efficiency out of irrigation equipment, Orellana suggests installing rain and moisture sensors. He also recommends making a periodic inspection of irrigation part of a regular landscape maintenance routine.

It is most important to irrigate based on plant needs rather than a predetermined schedule. Using a simple rain gauge in your garden can allow you to monitor rainfall and make irrigation adjustments as needed.

Plant type, plant maturity, soil type and sun exposure are all important factors to consider when planning your lawn and garden. Grouping plants with similar sun exposure and water needs can make your irrigation system more efficient, and choosing native plants and plants adapted to the region will improve water efficiency and plant health.

Soil health is an important factor in soil moisture retention, proper drainage and plant health. Break up compacted soil to encourage root growth and incorporate organic matter into your soil. Mulching landscaped areas is also a great way to prevent evaporation of water from the soil and retain soil moisture, and provides additional benefits like weed and disease suppression.

Georgians are generally favored with adequate and timely rainfall. Careful irrigation can be an aid to times when moisture is limiting. Maintaining the availability of water for all uses requires diligent stewardship by all users. Plan your watering and avoid careless use — no one benefits.

Roger Gates is the agricultural and natural resources agent for University of Georgia Extension, Whitfield County. Contact him at roger.gates@uga.edu.

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