Irrigation Best Management Practices

There are many opportunities to conserve water in the landscape. New irrigation technologies and other water-conserving landscape practices allow landscape water conservation to be easy, affordable and rewarding.

Properly designed water efficient landscapes need one inch of water per week (When rainfall is scarce). Many homeowners water their landscape two or more times a week which can actually damage the landscape by encouraging a shallow root system. Frequent watering produces shallow roots whereas deep and infrequent watering will produce deeper roots. Deep roots have access to water lower in the soil profile which is also available for an extended period of time. The conservation and landscape practices outlined below will provide guidance to keep your landscape alive during a drought.

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Water without creating runoff. *See Cycle and Soak Method

Check your irrigation system monthly for problems. Flag problem areas so you can locate them easily when it’s time to make repairs.

Water only when needed, not just because it’s your day to water. A soil moisture probe is an inexpensive tool that can be used to gauge soil moisture at a depth of 6”-8”. A long screwdriver can also  be  helpful. Like a toothpick into a cake, if the screwdriver easily penetrates the soil and has damp soil on it, irrigation is not required. If it is unable to penetrate the dry clay soil, supplemental irrigation could be necessary.

Water new plantings more frequently during establishment, depending on the specific needs of each plant species. After this period, adjust your irrigation method accordingly, tapering off to less frequent watering to help develop a deeper, less dependent root system.

Water your lawn after 6:00 p.m. and before 10:00 a.m. to slow evaporation rates during the active growing season, usually March-October.

Watering in the winter is not usually necessary, unless it is unusually dry.

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Visit for weekly advice on when and how much to water.

Efficient Irrigation is Essential

If your irrigation system is not working properly, no matter how much you water, the landscape suffers and water is wasted. Check for pipe and valve leaks (indicated by greener faster growing grass), breaks, clogged heads, sprinkler heads not working, misaligned heads, misting versus spraying due to too much pressure, water spraying onto hard surfaces and runoff into the street. See the ‘Irrigation Checkup’ * Hyperlink list for ideas on how to fix these problems. Some cities have an irrigation professional on staff that will check your system and make recommendations for repairs and efficiency.

Multi-Stream Rotors

sprinkler head

These pop up heads use multiple water streams to apply larger droplets of water slowly and evenly for greater efficiency, increased water savings and are perfect for landscapes with slopes or clay soils. Many have an adjustable pattern from 45 to 270 degrees in addition to radius adjustment. Other multi-stream nozzles can be purchased to mimic the specific pattern of your existing sprinkler nozzle.

Drip Irrigation

drip irrigation

This practice offers the most efficient irrigation delivery system by slowly  applying the water through emitters or bubblers to the root zone, reducing water loss from evaporation. Understanding proper design and management is key for drip irrigation to work effectively. A properly designed and installed drip system gives you the ability to be precise when dividing precipitation rates for hydro-zoning AND reduces, if not, eliminates runoff.

Rain & Freeze Sensors


These tools aid the homeowner by preventing the irrigation system from running during a rain event or when temperatures are near or below freezing. Freeze sensors can also aid in preventing damage to irrigation systems, as well as safety hazards. It is important to note that rain and freeze sensors are required in many areas and applications.

Long Term Plans for Landscape Water Conservation

Change Nozzles

Change sprinkler head spray nozzles to water conserving multi-stream nozzles which apply water in heavier droplets, so less water is lost due to displacement by wind and evaporation.

Replace Controller

Replace an older irrigation controller with new models with water conserving settings (soak and cycle; seasonal adjustment) or with a smart controller which use evapotranspiration or moisture sensors to determine runtime.

Install a Rain and Freeze Sensor

This sensor prevents an automatic system from applying water while raining or during freezing conditions to avoid loss of water and prevent hazardous ice conditions.

Aerate Lawn Area

Clay soil becomes compacted over time from activities, rain and irrigation. To increase the soil’s ability to absorb water, aerate the lawn area in the spring and apply about ¼ inch of compost. Do not however, aerate your lawn during a drought it will cause undue stress to the root zone.

Drip Irrigation

Install drip irrigation (many existing irrigation systems can be converted to drip irrigation). Drip irrigation is 90% efficient compared to spray irrigation which is about 65% efficient if designed, installed and maintained properly. There is now sub-surface drip tubing available for lawn areas. Drip irrigation tubing is available for you to do it yourself or hire a licensed irrigator. In some cases drip irrigation is exempt from drought restrictions.

Plant Drought Tolerant Plants

Utilizing native and adaptive drought tolerant plants reduces the amount of landscape water needed. However changes should not be made to your landscape during a drought. Wait until drought conditions and watering restrictions have lifted before making any changes. The best time to plant is during the fall, winter or early spring. Search our online database to find the perfect plant.

Plant Trees

Shade trees cool the landscape therefore lower the evapotranspiration rate. Evapotranspiration is the loss of water from the soil due to evaporation and from plants due to transpiration. Plant trees on the western side of your landscape to receive the most benefit from shading (this will also save electricity). Select trees from your cities’ recommended plants list or go to our online database.

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