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Your Smart Watering Guide

Posted By TRWA Communications , Monday, January 28, 2019

With today’s common watering practices, up to 50 percent of the water applied to lawns and gardens is not absorbed by the plants. It is lost through evaporation, runoff, or being pushed beyond the root zone because it is applied too quickly or in excess of the plants’ needs. The goal of efficient irrigation is to reduce these losses by applying only as much water as is needed to keep your plants healthy, whether you have a water-smart or a conventional landscape.


To promote the strong root growth that supports a plant during drought, water deeply and water only when the plant needs it. For clay soils, it is recommended to water less deeply, and in multiple cycles. Irrigating with consideration to soil type, the condition of your plants, the season, and weather conditions— rather than on a fixed schedule—significantly improves your watering efficiency and results in healthier plants. Grouping plants according to similar water needs also makes watering easier and more efficient.


Lawns, gardens, and landscapes can be irrigated manually or with an automatic irrigation system. Manual watering with a handheld hose tends to be the most water efficient method. According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Research Foundation’s Residential End Uses of Water study, households that manually water with a hose typically use 33 percent less water outdoors than the average household. The study also showed that households with in-ground sprinkler systems used 35 percent more water; those with automatic timers used 47 percent more water; and those with drip irrigation systems used 16 percent more water than households without these types of systems. These results show that in-ground sprinkler and drip irrigation systems must be operated properly to be water-efficient.


Watering Mistakes

Much of the water applied to lawns and gardens never gets absorbed by the plants. Common ways that water is wasted include:

  • Runoff: Applying water too rapidly causes runoff, because grass and plants can only absorb so much water at a time. When runoff occurs, soil, fertilizers, and pesticides can be carried to nearby streams.
  • Evaporation: Watering in the middle of the day or using a sprinkler that sprays a fine mist causes much of the water you apply to be lost through evaporation. Plants don’t have enough time to absorb the water before it is evaporated by the sun.
  • Underwatering: Watering too little is wasteful because it does little to alleviate any drought stress that the plants may have.
  • Overwatering: Applying too much or too often causes the greatest waste of water. In addition to overwatering the plant, excessive irrigation can leach nutrients deep into the soil away from plant roots, which increases the chances of runoff pollution.

Good Watering Techniques

The key to watering lawns is to apply water infrequently, yet thoroughly. This creates a deep, well-rooted lawn that efficiently uses the water that is stored in the soil. To know when to water your lawn, simply observe the grass. Wilting and discoloration are signs of water stress. At the first sign of wilting, you have 24 to 48 hours before damage occurs.


To water properly, apply 1 inch of water to the lawn as rapidly as possible without runoff. An easy way to measure your application of water is to place a 6-ounce tuna can on your lawn. When the can is full, you have applied enough water. If you start to notice runoff before the can is full, turn off the water. Then, wait for approximately one hour to allow the grass to absorb the water, turn the water on again, and wait for the tuna can to fill.


Water early in the morning, before 10 a.m. Avoid watering from mid-morning to late afternoon, when you can lose one-third of your water to evaporation. Also avoid watering in the evening, because lawns and plants that are left wet overnight are more prone to disease.


Different areas of your yard may have different watering requirements. Some plants and trees may require less water than grass does. You can reduce the sprinkler run time for these areas. A licensed irrigator can advise you on irrigation application rates for your geographic area, topography, soil conditions, and other factors.


For “hose-end” sprinklers, make sure the sprinkler heads are adjusted to avoid watering sidewalks and driveways or other hard surfaces. A hose-end sprinkler head should spray large droplets of water instead of a fog of fine mist, which may be affected by wind drift. Set a timer, so that you remember to turn off the hose-end sprinkler.

All this in mind, please remember to always comply with your water system’s water use restrictions.



When it comes to a home's irrigation system, a little maintenance goes a long way. Permanent sprinkler systems require regular maintenance and adjustments. This can be done by you, a licensed irrigator, or licensed master plumber.

  • Check your settings at least quarterly to make sure that water is being applied properly and make adjustments as needed. It is important to ensure you are providing adequate water but are not overwatering. Depending on where you live, you may need to winterize your system in the late fall to prevent freezing of system components.
  • Check your sprinkler heads regularly. Remove any dirt or debris that may be clogging the nozzle and make sure that water is flowing at the proper pressure.
  • Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes or hoses. If water pools in your landscape or you have large wet areas, you could have a leak in your system. A leak about as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (or 1/32nd of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month, so if you find a leak, repair it promptly! 

Smart Watering Technology

With automatic systems, overwatering is most common during the fall when summer irrigation schedules have not been adjusted to the cooler temperatures. Irrigation system schedules should always be adjusted down in the fall to prevent overwatering in the colder months.

Using water-efficient technologies can make a big difference in keeping your residential or light commercial irrigation system running efficiently without a lot of effort on your part. 

  •  WaterSense Labeled Irrigation Controllers – To make automatic irrigation systems more efficient, consider upgrading your standard clock timer to a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller. These irrigation controllers are a type of "smart" irrigation control technology that uses local weather data to determine when and how much to water. With proper installation, programming, and adjustments, these smart controllers can help consumers save water, time, and money when compared to use of a conventional controller.
  • WaterSense Labeled Spray Sprinkler Bodies – WaterSense labeled spray sprinkler bodies, which feature integral pressure regulation, can help decrease the outdoor water waste associated with irrigation systems that receive water under higher pressure.
  • Microirrigation – Microirrigation can reduce the likelihood of overwatering a landscape by delivering water directly to where it is needed most, the root zone of plants, preventing runoff and reducing evaporation.
  • Soil Moisture Sensors – Soil moisture-based control technologies water plants based on their needs by measuring the amount of moisture in the soil and tailoring the irrigation schedule accordingly. This will prevent waste by ensuring that the sprinkler does not turn on during and immediately after rainfall or when soil moisture levels are above pre-programmed levels.
  • Rainfall Shutoff Devices – Rainfall shutoff devices turn off your system in rainy weather and help compensate for natural rainfall. This inexpensive device can be retrofitted to almost any system.
  • Rain Sensors – Rain sensors can help decrease water wasted in the landscape by turning off the irrigation system when it is raining.


EPA WaterSense, Landscaping Tips:

EPA WaterSense, Watering Tips:

Landscape Irrigation, A “Take Care of Texas” Guide. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Take Care of Texas:

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