Harmony Horticultural Consulting assists the landscape and property management professional or property owner, helping to manage water, plant health care and pest issues to maintain attractive and productive properties. I help to fine-tune both commercial and residential properties incorporating horticulturally-sound techniques with practical applications. Service include one-time visits to help solve tree and landscape problems or routine site visits to help manage irrigation controller programming and create to-do lists for your maintenance provider. Customized training programs for the green industry and private classes for the gardening enthusiast are also available.
July is Smart Irrigation month, and we should all take a close look at how we can more efficiently water our landscaped areas. It is said that in Arizona, 70% of household water goes to water landscapes. In this video, I share five easy ways you can reduce your water use, helping improve water efficiency in your landscape.
1. Cap unused emitters
One two-gallon drip emitter could waste hundreds of gallons per year if it is not watering a targeted plant. Using goof plugs to cap the ¼” spaghetti line is a cheap and easy way to reduce water wastage in your drip irrigation system. Capping 5 two-gallon emitters in your landscape could save you about 2000 gallons per year! Also, look for opportunities to cap or reduce nozzle size (for example from a 2gph to a 1gph drip nozzles) to some drought tolerant plants, which could also help reduce water usage in your landscape.
2. Make sprinkler head adjustments regularly
Adjust sprinkler nozzles regularly to ensure they are spraying only the targeted areas: your turfgrass. If the head is unable to adjust to the angles, ask your landscaper or irrigation supplier for a specialized nozzle which might work better for those tricky corners, narrow strips or curved areas. Some manufacturer’s nozzles have special tools making these adjustments easy. Also, measure the distance between heads and check to make sure you aren’t overspraying turfgrass areas. While some nozzles have adjustable throw distances, some are fixed. Make sure you achieve head-to-head coverage with minimal overspray. To remind yourself to adjust your nozzles, plan to make necessary adjustments each week after mowing.
3. Swap out spray heads for high efficiency nozzles
Typically, these high efficiency (HE) nozzles have larger water droplets, reducing water loss due to misting or atomization. They also have lower precipitation rates, or deliver water at a much slower rate than traditional spray nozzles. Make sure to review the manufacturer’s chart to determine how much water your nozzles put out to determine ideal runtimes. A few options include Hunter Industry’s MP Rotator, Rain Bird’s HE-Van or Rotary nozzle, or Toro’s Precision Spray nozzles all which can greatly increase the amount of water which reaches the turfgrass. These nozzles can also be an excellent choice for sloped areas since the slower application of water reduces runoff which is common on grade changes.
4. Upgrade to a smart controller
Smart controllers use data from local weather stations to determine how much water should be applied to your landscape, thus, taking the guesswork out of calculating runtimes. It is very important to set up the parameters in the smart controller correctly or it won’t water your plants efficiently. You must know your plants’ water demands, depth of roots, microclimate and soil texture as well as your system’s precipitation rate in order for the controller to calculate proper watering intervals and runtimes. I’ve always said that smart controllers are only as smart as the person setting them up. It can be very frustrating to invest in this modern technology only to have it not work right since the installer wasn’t familiar with the plants, microclimate, soil or basic hydraulics.
Installing a flow monitor or sensor is also another great tool to add to your smart controller. This device tracks water moving through your pipes and will send you warnings if water exceeds the calibrated volume. If you travel or are rarely home when your irrigation is running, this can help identify leaks that go unseen, potentially saving you hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water. I highly recommend for a trained license contractor install the flow sensor.
5. Frequent controller scheduling adjustments
If you are not ready to drive into the smart controller scene just yet, you still have an opportunity to save water by using your traditional irrigation controller. Making frequent or monthly scheduling adjustments based on weather changes could help ensure you are watering to your plants’ needs. As a very general rule, I recommend making schedule adjustments anytime weekly average temperatures increase or decrease by 10 degrees. I try not to adjust runtimes too much during the year (to help encourage deep root systems) but generally only adjust intervals, or the frequency of the irrigation cycles. For example, for high water using citrus trees on one of my properties, I may water 4-hour cycles for most of the year, but will water every 4-5 days in the June, but only every 14-21 days in January.
All properties are different, and so it is difficult to determine the ideal runtimes and intervals without inspecting the site and plant conditions as you do when setting up a smart controller. I help both homeowners and commercial properties establish irrigation schedules for traditional and smart controllers. Please contact me if you would like to schedule an appointment to program your controller for maximum water efficiency in your landscape. As desert dwellers, we should pay attention to the amount of water we use in order to preserve this precious resource so that future generations may also be able to live and grow plants in this hot, arid climate.
Will tall fescue work in your yard
First step is determining if there is in fact enough shade to make it through the summer. Shade should be 60% or more coverage throughout the day. With less than a total of 3-4 hours of direct sunlight in any one area. Two hours of direct sun in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon is fine. If there is direct sun for longer periods of time, you will likely need to have bermudagrass (remember the texture differences seen in the last video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzn0KdQKM3Q&t=86s
Overseeded tall fescue the last week of Sept, and even in the middle of Sept. for higher elevations. Typically, tall fescue should be seeded two weeks before ryegrass in the southern region. Tall fescue has a slower germination than ryegrass; be patient with establishment. Allow 2+ months for seeds to tiller and begin filling in.
Sod is an option, but generally tall fescue sod is only available in the spring months. Contact your local sod farm to pre-order for the spring.
Tall fescue uses about 10-15% more water than bermudagrass in the summer months. Long deep irrigations are best for this deeply rooted turfgrass. In the summer month, irrigate 6 days per week, or put down just under 2” of water per week, compared to Bermudagrass which typically gets 1.5-1.8” per week in June. Reduce water based on your local ET (evapotranspiration) rate.
Reduce water when humidity comes in above 50%, or after monsoon season starts. Excess moisture in the thatch can encourage diseases like brown patch (Rhizoctonia solani) to develop.
Elevate mowing height from May- Sept. to 3- 3.5”. Skip mowing on hot weeks over 110 degrees. In the cooler months, mow at 2-2.5”. Remember to slowly reduce mow height- do not remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at any one mow. This rule applies to all turfgrass species.
After seeding, apply 1lb of nitrogen per 1000 square feet around Oct 15, and another pound of nitrogen on Nov. 15. Apply 1 lb of nitrogen in Feb., another pound of nitrogen in Mar., and if conditions stay mild, one additional pound in early April. For established lawns, resume fertilizing in mid to late Sept. to encourage fall growth. For most tall fescue lawns, you will use 5-6 lbs of nitrogen or 5-6 applications of fertilizer per year for maintenance, which is about the same as bermudagrass and overseeded lawns. Stop all fertilization in early April since nitrogen can encourage diseases development.
To calculate how much fertilizer your yard requires, use online fertilizer rate calculators, like this one. I like to make sure to use fertilizer with potassium which can help the plant have a fighting chance against the brown patch infections in the summer.
Soil texture may impact how well tall fescue performs. Conditions such as soil drainage and air flow could impact the success of your tall fescue in the heat. If you have poorly drained soils or poor air flow on your property, you might find the disease pressure is too great in the summer months. There are fungicides available for this disease. You can make the call if you want to go down that road.
Tall fescue can consume 10-15% more water than a bermudagrass lawn in the summer months. However, its water demand is comparable to perennial ryegrass in the cooler season. Expect a higher water bills in the summer months.
Tall fescue is an excellent option for densely shaded yards in southern, hot climates. Tall fescue demands a bit of extra attention and adjustment of cultural practices in order to keep it happy during periods of extreme heat and humidity. It is a great option for year-round turfgrass in shaded yards in the dry and arid climates. Please contact me if you would like help transitioning your shaded lawn areas to tall fescue. I service the central Phoenix metro area. firstname.lastname@example.org
“Why can’t I get bermudagrass to grow under my tree?” I get this question all the time, and while there isn’t a magic bullet to get your Bermuda dense and green in shade, I’d created a video to address those bare spots in shaded lawn areas of your yard.
First, off, most hybrid and common bermudagrasses grows best in a full 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. Any less is going to impact the vigor and appearance of your lawn. Filtered light and reduced hours of sunlight both impact the quality of bermudagrass.
Overtime, this sun-loving turfgrass will weaken with the reduction in photosynthesis, becoming patchy, long and leggy and also have a shallow root system, making it more susceptible to stresses associated with drought, cold and heat. Once it becomes sparse, weeds start to encroach on the area.
While the best recommendation I can make is to grow turf where there is sunlight, and trees where there is not turf, sometimes that recommendation isn’t always practical. More than once I’ve said trees and turf don’t work well together; you have to pick one and go with it. My clients don’t like hearing that, so I’ve come up with a few options for them.
1. Reduce turfgrass area
Reduce the amount of turf in the yard, converting the shaded areas to mulched or landscape is one option. If you do remove turf in these areas and you have established trees which depend on the water from the sprinklers, I highly recommend adding a supplemental water source to the trees. Netafim rings within and at the drip line is a great option for supplemental irrigation.
2. Raise and thin tree canopies
If your shade source is coming from trees, thinning tree canopies is one option to allow more light to penetrate to the turfgrass. However, elevating tree canopies should be done slowly and with extreme care, since sunburn limbs is a major concern for many of the shade trees in the southern areas. Talk to your tree care professional about the best time of year to elevate your trees’ canopies, and please do it over a few seasons.
3. Raise mow height of Bermudagrass
When mowing shaded bermuda the same height as in sunny areas, you may be cutting off 100% of the leaf surface (NOTE: only cut off 1/3 of leave blade length at each mowing to prevent stress.). Mow height should be at 2.25-2.5” in shaded areas to allow some leaf blades to form. Depending on your bermudagrass variety, your mow height in sunny areas may be anywhere from ½”- 2”.
Remember leaves = photosynthesis = plant food = healthy plant.
4. Re-sod with a more shade-tolerant variety of bermudagrass
There is a variety of hybrid bermuda called Tifgrand (purchased through Evergreen Turf) which is said to grow in as little as 4-5 hour of sunlight per day. Now again, it isn’t just the amount of sunlight hours, but the quality of sunlight hours that is important. If there is filtered sun for 8 hours of the day, but only 2 hours of full sunlight, you will still likely have weakened bermudagrass. To keep a solid stand of turfgrass, re-sodding every 2-3 years might be required.
5. Grow an alternative turfgrass species
Depending on your density of shade and microclimate, there are other turf species that might be options. The first option is to encourage the overseeded ryegrass to linger in the summer months. Winter lawns are overseeded with ryegrass each October and begin burning out in May when transitioning to bermudagrass in the heat. However, allowing your winter ryegrass to continue to grow in the shade is a great option. Mow height should be increased on the ryegrass and it should be not fertilized in the heat. Ryegrass is has a texture similar to bermudagrass so it blends well for an even lawn surface.
Two other turf options include tall fescue (high water use, won’t tolerate full sun in summer) or Palmetto St. Augustine grass (won’t tolerate dense shade and can freeze back in colder areas.) Both of these have broader grass blades and so using them adjacent to bermudagrass is not a great look. Also, these two grasses require different care in the summer months from hybrid bermudagrass. Check back for more information on preserving cool season grasses during the summer months as well as recommendations on caring for St. Augustine grass.