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Landscape Irrigation Design Basics for Sprinkler Systems

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a sprinkler head in a flower garden

If you install a sprinkler system for your garden or lawn, you’ll no longer have to lug around hoses, watering cans, and other implements to keep your landscape watered and green. You’ll be able to sleep soundly knowing that your sprinkler system will take care of watering for you, even when you’re out of town or bushed from your daily routine.

Sprinkler systems also help you cut down on your water usage as well as waste. For many homeowners, this is reason enough to consider investing in one.

Here are seven guidelines to make the installation of basic irrigation design easy.

1. Make the necessary measurements and preparations.

When measuring irrigation systems for your garden, you must consider several factors to ensure that you choose the right one for your needs.  

The first thing you will need to do is make the appropriate measurements of your garden area or landscape. Using a tape measure, pencils, and some graphing paper, start by making length and width measurements, and drawing them to scale (for instance, one inch in the drawing = 5 feet). Make sure that you cover everything in your property, including any potential barriers such as outhouses, driveways, and living spaces, so that your measurements are exact to the tee.

Additionally, there are various types of irrigation systems suitable for different garden sizes. Drip irrigation delivers water to the plant roots using a network of emitters and tubes. It’s highly efficient and conserves water, making it ideal for individual plants or closely spaced beds. 

Sprinkler systems spray water into the air, which then falls onto the garden in droplets. Various sprinklers are designed for different coverage areas (e.g., rotary, oscillating, and impact). On the other hand, soaker hoses are designed to ooze water along their length, providing slow and steady irrigation directly to the soil. They work well for longer rows of plants

Furthermore, different irrigation systems come at different costs. Consider your budget and the long-term savings in water and maintenance costs that a well-designed irrigation system can provide. Furthermore, consider how comfortable you are with maintenance tasks or if you’d prefer a system that requires less upkeep. 

You might want to install the irrigation system yourself or hire a professional. Leave room for future expansion or adjustments in your garden. Also, you might want to add more plants or change the layout, so having an adaptable system is beneficial.

2. Know how much water pressure and flow you have

Water pressure is the name of the game for landscape irrigation design. Test your property’s water pressure in various locations around your house to see which spots are prone to weak pressure, and which spots are bursting with pressure. It’s easier than you think, all you need to do is measure it using a water gauge.
Water flow is a measure of how much water you use in the form of gallons per minute (GPM), and it’s fairly easy to measure. GPM is measured by placing a 1-gallon bucket under your outdoor spigot and turning it all the way open so water is flowing as fast as possible. With a stopwatch, measure the time in seconds that the spigot took to fill up that bucket, then divide it by 60. Voila. There is your flow rate in GPM.

3. Divide your landscape area into hydrozones

Every plant on your property has its own watering requirements. It is for this reason that hydrozoning your plants according to their water needs is of paramount importance for landscape irrigation design. Hydrozones are simple to understand; they’re simply the practice of grouping plants with similar water requirements to conserve water.
Here are the four aspects of hydrozoning that you need to take into account:

  • Landscape area shape and size. Hydrozones take into consideration the landscape area’s topography and current state, including the small strips of land you can plant in the nooks and crannies of your property.
  • Water and sunlight. Areas in your property that are shaded throughout the day do not require as much watering as areas that are constantly exposed to the sun. The same is true for their exposure to water.
  • Plant type. Clustering plants that require plenty of water, as well as those that do not require as much, will help you make the right decision as to where to install your sprinkler system. Group them as needed.
  • Type of soil. Your soil type will vary. This includes sandy soil, loam, or clay. Sandy soil cannot retain water. Loam is the ideal soil because it comes apart when it is saturated with water. Clay, on the other hand, retains its shape when it is hydrated. Soil type determines what sprinkler rotors and heads are needed for you to ensure that your plants are adequately hydrated.

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4. Choose the right heads for your sprinkler

One of the best practices we can share for choosing the right heads for your sprinkler system is to use a uniform brand. Mixing and matching varying brands is not a good idea, as you may find that certain brands do not work well with your sprinkler system.
Furthermore, sprinkler heads vary depending on your hydrozoning requirements:

  • Fixed sprays. Fixed sprays, as the name implies, spray water at a targeted, fixed area. These sprinkler heads can cover a radius of 6 to 18 feet. They are typically placed where one fixed spray’s coverage ends in order to deliver water in a uniform manner throughout the area.
  • Rotors. Rotors are selected depending on the radius and coverage required for your landscape area. Generally, it isn’t recommended to use various rotors and sprays for every hydrozone. Ideally, you’ll want to use the same sizes and sprays.
  • Bubblers and specialty patterns. Bubblers and specialty patterns are sprinklers that are developed to address hard-to-reach areas or specific landscape issues, such as watering trees and shrubs.
  • Spray heads with rotary nozzles. These devices spray a constant stream of water from a radius of 13 to up to 30 feet.
  • Micro-irrigation/drip irrigation. Landscape beds, ground covers, and planted areas are most appropriate for this type of sprinkler, which delivers water directly to the roots.

5. Prepare a layout for your sprinkler system

Plot the locations of your sprinkler heads as well as the directions they spray in on your diagram. Check for areas that haven’t yet been adequately covered, and note the areas where the sprinklers start and end on your landscape area.

6. Prepare piping layout

At this point, you can start to organize the rest of the fittings, pipes, heads, and valves so that they work in unison as intended on your layout. It’s helpful to lay out your irrigation system on paper, clearly noting the distances between the parts of the sprinkler system.

If your landscape area is large, it would also be wise to group valves together, which you can subsequently append to an irrigation controller. By connecting the valves to a sprinkler controller, it will do all the thinking for you when it comes to watering.

Automated irrigation controllers are now much easier to use than the mechanical timers you may be familiar with. They also save a ton of water, meaning that one will pay for itself in a few years. In some cases, it can cut your garden’s water usage by up to 50%, and you won’t have to replace plants that have died of thirst. All The Stuff

7. List all parts and pertinent details

It’s always a bummer to lose parts years later for your sprinkler system and not know the details on that part. The same is true for not knowing how you put it together. Make it a point to have a list of which parts go where, as well as any other pertinent details, so it’s easier to troubleshoot things if and when things go wrong.

Putting together a sprinkler system to irrigate your landscape shouldn’t be rocket science if you follow these seven guidelines.

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