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GARDENING : In Drought, Planning Can Sprinkle Water Around

November 24, 1990|NANCY JO HILL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In these days of raised water-consciousness, few things are more annoying than seeing a gutter with a small river of precious runoff from a sprinkler left running long after the lawn has been soaked or watching broken sprinkler heads soak sidewalks or walls instead of landscaping.

This doesn't have to happen.

The overwatering that causes runoff can be avoided. And broken sprinkler heads can be fixed.

In fact, properly adjusted and maintained sprinkler systems can help homeowners save water, money and time. And by learning good water management, homeowners can actually make plants healthier and less prone to disease.

One approach that saves both time and water is to convert a manual sprinkler system into an automatic one by adding a timer/controller. Then you don't have to remember to turn the system on or off and this helps cut down on overwatering, saving water and money.

A good controller takes care of everything. A variety of controllers are available--from basic models that cost $40 up to computerized versions that are $1,000 or more.

Another approach is to replace broken equipment or install a more efficient sprinkler system when an old system is poorly designed. This helps avoid the waste of water and ends the problem of overwatered spots and dry spots.

Special devices can be incorporated into sprinkler systems to make them even more efficient. Moisture sensors keep sprinklers from cycling on when the ground is still moist. Rain sensors turn off sprinklers when it's raining.

Efficient use of sprinkler systems is important today because Orange County homeowners could reduce landscape water use by 30% if they understood how to use sprinklers efficiently, particularly on lawns, according to Mike Robinson, assistant administrator and public information officer for the Yorba Linda Water District.

That's why efficient sprinkler use is part of a free, three-hour class the district held earlier this month at the Yorba Linda Education Center. People attending the class on xeriscapes--landscapes with climate-appropriate and drought-tolerant plants--received a packet of materials, including a watering guide that helps gauge the water output of sprinklers and shows how to cut back on water use without harming plants and lawns.

Knowing about sprinkler-system maintenance is important because as much as 25% to 50% of landscape irrigation water probably is wasted by improperly operating sprinkler systems, poor sprinkler nozzle selection and overspraying onto sidewalks and driveways, according to Robin M. Tullener of R.M. Tulleners Landscaping in Laguna Hills.

The most common sprinkler problems are:

Broken sprinkler heads or valves, which cause flooding.

An old main water supply line clogged with residue, which restricts water pressure and limits sprinkler output.

The wrong size or type of sprinkler heads or too few sprinkler heads, which gives poor coverage and leads to a tendency to overwater to try and reach all the area that needs to be watered.

A main line can be replaced with new pipe and broken heads and valves are relatively easily fixed, but some problems are not so easy. If a system has too few sprinkler heads--not enough to cover watering needs in about 10 minutes--it might be best to just start over, according to Bobby R. Simpson of Simpson Irrigation in Garden Grove.

Carol and Charles Manger of Laguna Niguel decided on a whole new sprinkler system when they were renovating the one-third-of-an-acre yard of their 5-year-old home. They were adding a tropical look with philodendrons and lots of palm trees, including fish tail, queen and sago varieties. The front yard has some small lawn areas and beds and planters with the palms and lots of azaleas and impatiens. The back lawn is about 1,500 square feet.

"We had a lot of sprinkler heads that were spraying toward our house and toward our foundation and we have a lot of wood windows and they were getting a lot of moisture all year long," says Charles Manger, a Laguna Hills ophthalmologist.

He realized there was a problem when the wood window frames had to be painted frequently. He was afraid the moisture would eventually damage the stucco and rot out the windows.

Manger was also having a problem with broken sprinkler heads in lawn areas. His two young children and their friends romped on the lawn and frequently stepped on sprinkler heads and broke them. And he wanted a control valve system that was easier to operate and understand than his existing one, when it was necessary to override the timer. The only portion of his old system that he wanted to retain was the computerized control system, which he found easy to operate and dependable.

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