Monday, May 13, 2013

A "Micro" Miracle

Three years ago, Rick and I took a micro-irrigation workshop at the Hillsborough Extension office. We received a free starter micro-irrigation kit at the end of the class.

We brought the kit home and put it in our shed, intending to install it in a few weeks.

There it sat, collecting dust and nibbling around the edges of my guilty conscience, until last month. 

The thought of enduring another spring dry season of hauling buckets and hoses around the yard to water my beloved plants was just too much. Added motivation came when my yard was selected for a neighborhood garden tour -- a can't miss opportunity to showcase the eco-friendly elements of our low-maintenance landscape. Installing micro-irrigation moved right to the top of the Honey-Do list!

Yes, we have a drought-tolerant landscape. And yes, it mostly survives on the rainfall Mother Nature provides. But there are always times, especially in the spring, when Mother Nature is stingy, I am refreshing my landscape with new plants, and we may not get a drop of rain for weeks.  I have a lot of money, sweat and love invested in my  landscape, and I don't want to see my plants keel over and die.

For the last three years I have hauled watering cans from my rain barrels until they ran dry, and then hand-water plants to keep them going during the usual March-May drought period. But standing in my yard with a hose in my hand does not meet my definition of "low-maintenance." And, even with a shut-off nozzle, it's still wasteful.

Enter micro-irrigation. Short of Mother Nature herself, it's the most efficient watering system around. Traditional  in-ground irrigation systems typically apply 3 gallons of water per minute. Our micro-irrigation system uses 10 gallons of water per hour! Plus, micro is so easily customized that you can virtually ensure the water goes only to your plants -- no more watering sidewalks or streets!

Other benefits:

  • Micro, especially drip irrigation, applies water directly to the root zone of a plant, reducing evaporation, runoff and pest problems. It's ideal for watering plants on steep slopes.
  • Tremendous flexibility in tailoring irrigation to the differing needs of new versus mature plants.
  • The system connects directly to your outdoor water spigot.
  • Ease of adjustment: As you modify your landscape over time, moving the tubing and/or spray heads to accommodate the changes is a snap. We've already moved our components a few times to get the spray heads away from fast-growing plants that caused interference with the water stream.
  • Micro-irrigation is so efficient that it is usually exempt from watering restrictions, except for the time-of-day limitations. Of course, that doesn't mean we run ours every day; after all, we are committed to conserving water. But it does mean we don't have to remember which day is our "watering day."

Alas, micro-irrigation is not recommended for use on lawns, but that is just another great reason to ditch your lawn in favor of landscape plants!

Micro does take a while to install -- pretty much an entire weekend. But it truly is easy to do.  

And our free starter kit wasn't nearly enough to cover even our small urban lot, so we had to make multiple trips to the store for additional tubing, extensions and spray heads. We used a combination of Mister Landscaper products available at Lowe's, and DIG products available at Home Depot.

All told, we spent about $250 on the system - including the required backflow preventer and pressure regulator for our outdoor faucet, and a good-quality digital timer so our system comes on automatically early in the morning, two days a week.

Currently only our backyard has microirrigation. But we are so pleased with it, we already have decided to install it in our front yard too.

Our only regret? That we didn't do this a while lot sooner. Like three years ago! 

Do you have micro-irrigation in your landscape? Please share your experience installing and using it. If you don't have it, I'd also like to know if I've inspired you to give it a try.

For those of you who haven't yet "waded in" to the world of micro, here are some online resources to nudge you off the fence:

A Guide to Micro-Irrigation for West Central Florida Landscapes

Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards: Efficient Irrigation (Video)  

Micro-Irrigation How-To Videos (Mister Landscaper products)

Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

Free micro-irrigation workshops are offered by many Extension offices. Sign up early as the classes fill quickly!