Sedona Landscaping Archives

Top 10 Drip Irrigation System Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Here is my top 10 drip irrigation system mistakes based on people not adhering to common practices that good landscape professionals follow. Mistakes are made when a system does not adhere to these practices. Does your drip irrigation system lack any of these guidelines?

drip irrigation system mistakes

A properly installed set of drip valves

Nobody wants to knowingly waste water, but since over half of a typical household water use is outdoors, a poorly designed drip irrigation system is usually the cause.  Wasting water is only one of the top 10 drip irrigation mistakes, but it also stems from planting plants in the wrong locations. Most people don’t really monitor the operation of their drip irrigation system. Most of the time, they base its operation on whether their plants are doing well or not.

Reading through these may reveal some deficiencies with your own existing system. Not following these points can result in more costly repairs, inefficient irrigation, over watering and higher maintenance. Thus, the top 10 drip irrigation system mistakes.

  1. All irrigation systems must be equipped with a vacuum breaker as required by the Uniform Plumbing Code. These could be above ground atmospheric vacuum breakers that are built into the above ground valves, or it could be a pressure vacuum breaker which is installed before the valves which would then be underground located in a valve box. Above ground valves should not be used in climates where freezing is a concern and exposed PVC pipe is not a good idea either.
  2. A shut off valve should be located along your mainline before the vacuum breaker so you can turn off the irrigation line for repairs while maintaining water for the main house.
  3. Drip systems operate under low pressure, usually 20-30 psi. A pressure reducer is installed after the valve so the pressure going through the drip line and out the emitters is low enough so the fittings don’t blow off. Since there is no glue used as in PVC piping, drip fittings are designed for low pressure water delivery.
  4. Lateral driplines should be placed in pipe sleeves when running under driveways, patios or other surfaces to access planting areas separated by hard surfaces or other hardscape like walls, planters, etc. This allows the piping to be installed in the first place without possibility of getting damaged or kinked and allows the piping to be pulled out and replaced later if necessary.
  5. Emitters for each plant should have a separate ¼” tubing connected to the lateral. Do not split off the ¼” tubing to feed more than one shrub since you will be diluting the amount of water than can reach the plant.
  6. Keep the ¼” lines no more than 10 feet long measured from the lateral line. This may require the laterals to be looped or tees inserted to provide relatively close distance to all the shrubs in any particular zone.
  7. Adequately bury the lateral and ¼” tubing. The lateral line should be buried about 6-8”. If it is accidently cut with a pick or shovel later on, it is easy to repair. Further, since the lateral is after the valve, they are not under pressure except for when the valve is running. ¼” tubing is often not buried deep enough often placed just underneath the gravel cover. ¼” tubing should be buried several inches in the soil so the lines will remain in place and not easily get pulled up from a rake and be exposed.
  8. Avoid relying on hose bibs to locate your irrigation valves. Hose bib connections to a drip line may be manually controlled or you can install a battery operated single station valve. This is not a professional installation especially if the planting design requires multiple zones. For isolated areas cut off from connection to the main system, they can be used provided there is a nearby faucet.
  9. Separate tree zones from shrub zones. This is a very common mistake. Trees ideally need water for a deeper watering (longer duration of watering time) and less frequently compared to shrubs which have more shallow roots.
  10.  Make a sketch of the irrigation layout. It is very common to forget where the lateral lines are buried since they are often curved and looped and not always straight. One trick to locate the lateral if say you want to install a new shrub later on is to pull up the ¼” tubing closest to where you want to plant and keeping pulling until it takes you back to the point of connection to the lateral.

You may need to go beyond reading through these common mistakes. You can find out how to set up a garden drip irrigation system on another one of my posts on this topic.

 

Garden drip irrigation systems must be installed properly

typical garden drip irrigation system layoutIrrigation systems for landscaping are often installed improperly or don’t even exist. This observation is from my many years remodeling the landscapes of homeowner’s properties. Fixing an improperly installed drip irrigation system is a very common need for most landscape remodeling projects. Here is how to set up a proper garden drip irrigation system.

Proper Planting Design

An irrigation system is designed based on the layout of the plants. Proper irrigation design is best when the planting design is done with the irrigation system in mind. Plantings are not only selected for their form, shape and structure, but for their sun/shade requirements. The concept of planting zones will dictate the way the irrigation system is set up.

Create Irrigation Zones Based on the Plantings

Zones allow for the garden drip irrigation system to deliver water at different durations and frequency. Thus an irrigation station or individual valve is dedicated to a particular zone.  Examples of zones would be front lawn, rear lawn, trees, front shrubs, north shrubs, Xeriscape area, food garden, containers, etc. Note that each of these zones requires different amounts of water. Some require daily watering, others only once per week.

Determine Valve Control Box Location

Once you have a layout of which zones are to be irrigated, you then figure out where the valves should be located. The control valves will need a source of water, so where that point of connection is will affect the location of the control box.

On newer homes, the mainline feeding the house may have a pressure reducer and a line going into the house exposed on the outside of the house. Sometimes, they will install a stub out tee fitting for connection to the garden drip irrigation system, if not, you will have to tie into that mainline and run a line to your valves.

Locate the Irrigation Controller

The valves should be automated and controlled by an irrigation controller. The controller should have as many available stations as you have valves. The controller may be located indoors or outdoors and in either case, connected to a source of electricity. Control wire will run from the controller location to each of the valves so it’s not critical to locate the valves close to the controller.

Install the Lateral Lines and Emitters

Once you set up the mainline connection, your valves and controller, you can run your “lateral” lines that feed each of the zones. For a typical drip system, the lateral will be a ½” tube with separate ¼” tubing for each individual plant. The emitters can be anywhere from ½ GPH (gallons per hour) to 5 GPH.

Keep in mind that if you have one plant with a 1 GPH emitter and another with a 5 GPH on the same zone, one plant will be getting five times more water. Perhaps these plants were not properly chosen nor the irrigation system designed in conjunction with the planting design or installation.

The emitter output should be consistent among all emitters on each zone. This is determined at the time the plants are selected and designed. Since you can’t be perfect with this, some plants that are otherwise considered to have the same watering needs may require different amounts due to variations in soil moisture and sun exposure.

Does Your Planting Design Match the Irrigation System Design?

A proper garden drip irrigation system starts with the design of the planting plan. Unfortunately, too many landscapes are installed in a hodgepodge manner with no plan and consequently, the irrigation system is installed inefficiently resulting in higher maintenance and over watering. Unless you follow these guidelines, consult a professional for your next project to fix your existing system. Your plants will thrive being given the right amount of water.

For another post on drip irrigation systems, see my post called the top 10 drip irrigation mistakes and how to avoid them.

 

Sedona Second Home Landscaping Tips for Prospective Owners

You’re shopping for a second home in Sedona and will use it part of the year or perhaps move into it full time when you retire. Since you will not be there full time, how much effort should you put into your Sedona second home landscaping? The answer depends on the current state of the landscaping and whether you intend to live in it part time or rent it out.

second home landscaping tips

Landscaping is included when shopping for a second home

For instance, the home may be a foreclosure or bank owned with neglected landscaping. Or it may be fully landscaped in good shape and you will need to continue the maintenance. It may have been a rental with minimal landscape improvements.

Regardless of the type of property it was, you need to assess the current state of the landscaping. It could be anywhere from a landscape that was disregarded (yes, even in Sedona), to a high end outdoor living environment where the owners valued professional landscaping and invested in a custom design and installation.

The current state of second home landscaping falls into three general categories:

1) The Clean Slate (needs a complete landscape)

These types of properties are homes that may have never been landscaped except for a few trees and shrubs and gravel cover. They are homes where the owners did not value upgrading the landscaping by installing improvements such as a patio, nice fencing, or other elements. There may be a lot of native vegetation left in its natural state.

To some degree, these properties are like a clean slate because there isn’t much that you need to rip out and redo the way you want it or to correct mistakes in terms of taste or poor quality work. These properties include foreclosures, rentals and older properties.

2) The Remodel (needs repairs and a makeover)

Your new home may be equipped with a concrete driveway, block walls, brick patios, a barbeque island and would appear that it was installed as a complete landscape project at one point. It may have been installed by professional landscapers, or some of the improvements could have been homeowner built.

When a landscape needs a makeover or renovation, it’s often because it doesn’t work for the new owner. It may need repairs, it may lack certain elements, it may not have enough patio space, the front may lack any curb appeal, the barbeque island was placed in an unacceptable location and so forth.

3) The Acceptable Landscape (fully landscaped)

The home may have been fully landscaped with an irrigation system, drain lines, a lawn, a fountain, decking, nice trees and shrubs and was maintained either by the owner or a maintenance service. This type of landscape requires minimal improvements except for areas where you would like to customize or add something it lacks. While being an absentee owner, you will need to make sure it is maintained.

Now ask yourself these questions:

Will it be vacant while you are not using it?

If it is an Acceptable Landscape, you may not need to do much at all except engage the services of a maintenance service so it looks good when you do visit.

If it’s a Remodel, you may be compelled to make a lot of improvements so that when you are visiting, it will accommodate your needs and wants and allow you to enjoy the outside without being reminded of all the fixing and replacing it needs.

If it’s a Clean Slate, how enjoyable will your second home be if there is not much to the landscaping? You will certainly want to make some improvements and here is where you can start from scratch and design the whole yard the way you want.

Will you rent it out so its not a financial burden?

If you will not be visiting your Sedona second home on a regular basis as in the case of the vacant property, you will most likely view it as an investment property with the intention of either changing it from being a rental to an actual second home or moving in when you can retire and relocate to Sedona.

The decision regarding how much you should landscape the property will often be made soon after you purchase the property and the current state of the landscape will affect your ability to market the rental for the going market rent for the price range of the home. For instance, a high end Sedona property that rents for at least $2000/month will need to have decent and well maintained landscaping. A property that is either a Clean Slate or a Remodel will need its landscaping to be acceptable and comparable to the rental amount.

Being a rental, most landlords are not inclined to make improvements that do not make a return on the investment, so they tend to keep everything as is. They will wait until they move in themselves to make significant changes to the landscape.

If you are currently looking for property for a second home or investment, consider hiring a landscape professional who can give you a Sedona second home landscaping assessment of the improvements required to bring the landscaping up to the standards you require depending on how you are going to use the home.

Lack of curb appeal is a problem for many homes. But the attractiveness of how a property appears from the street is not enough. The functionality of the home in terms of the flow of circulation both pedestrian and vehicular is important as well.  Here we have a case study I will call Sedona curb appeal problem solved, of course located in Sedona Arizona where the clients approached me to consult with them about how to fix an issue they realized they had after purchasing the home some six months earlier.

The house was designed on a sloping lot where the garage is situated towards the rear of the lot and accessed by a long driveway off to one side of the property. The front door is on the upper main floor and does not face the street although there is a sidewalk that leads to the entry.

The “before” picture below shows how the house looks from street view.  As you can see, there is not much curb appeal. But the aesthetics are just part of the problem.

Here we see an aerial photo showing the issues with this property in terms of front entry, curb appeal and circulation.  The problem is when new visitors come to the property, they pull into the driveway and are taken down to the lower level garage where the front door is not visible. People are lost not knowing where the front door is and end up knocking on the garage door.

 

Although the sidewalk at the upper street level leads to the front door, it cannot be seen and there is no shoulder to park on along the street. It can be confused for the side of the house given the driveway is the alternate entry point. People would believe that driving into the driveway, the entry will be revealed, but unfortunately, they just get confused.

The problem with the front entry curb appeal is that the concrete sidewalk alone is not enough to tell people that it leads to the front door. The plantings are so boring that the eye keeps looking for signs of “welcome, you are at the right place” or other signals.

One idea the homeowners thought of was a very straightforward solution to build stairs from the lower level accessing the second floor and front door. A small sign would be added to further guide people up the stairs to the entry.

I agreed that was indeed a solution, but when I approached the property for the first time as a visitor knowing their issue, I immediately noticed that they had no curb appeal and that the entry must be embellished to call attention to it so that it was obvious where to go whether you were walking along the street or approaching in a car.  The front yard was virtually unlandscaped with a large gravel expanse which was conducive for a semicircular driveway.

With the inclusion of the mailbox in the middle of the driveway island, the property address clearly visible on the corner of the house near the front door and additional plantings to draw the eye towards the entry, the front yard now successfully invites people to drive up and enter through the front door and not get lost in the lower garage level.

We did include a paver sidewalk from the new circular drive that leads to a set of steps connecting the lower and upper areas. Plantings were used on both levels to unify both spaces. The stairs were added not only to unify the separate levels, but to act as a back up in case some people try entering through the old driveway and not the new paver driveway.

Below is the front yard at the completion of the new paver driveway. The plantings will take some time to mature, and will only add to the overall curb appeal.

The homeowners are most pleased with the solution. Another Sedona curb appeal problem solved.

Now is a good time to prepare and design your vegetable garden for planting. But before you get too eager and start sowing seeds, do some preparation of the soil first. Here are some Sedona landscape design tips and guidelines any good designer would tell their clients:

 Sedona landcape design tip #1
Check the condition of the soil.

Did the plants perform as expected? Was the soil amended properly last year? Does it have good drainage? Is it still too clayey? You may want to take a soil sample and have it tested by the local County Extension office.

You can have the Ph of your soil tested for free by the local extension office in either Prescott or Camp Verde.

Turn over the soil after folding in some organic matter, mulch or compost. If you do get a soil analysis, add the proper nutrients and other amendments necessary before you turn over the soil or use a roto-tiller. This will help compost any mulch or leaves you added and improve the tilth of the soil.

Sedona landcape design tip #2
Check your irrigation system

If you have your garden set up with an automatic irrigation system, Depending on the type of irrigation system you are using, make any changes you need such as fixing leaks, adding a spray head, etc. If you have underground pipes, know where they are before you dig. You may want to make a diagram of the piping so you don’t forget from year to year.

If you use above the ground drip tubing or soaker hoses, pull that all away so you can properly amend the soil. Were all the planting beds getting adequate water from your system? You will need to make adjustments as you put the irrigation back in place.

I use an overhead spray system after starting out with soaker hose tubing. I found the soaker hoses were not releasing the same amounts of water from the beginning of the hose to the end resulting in patches of the garden getting over saturated. The overhead sprays provide complete coverage of the soil. Although this is not considered the best method for water conservation, it suits my needs for vegetable garden irrigation.

Sedona landcape design tip #3
Plan your garden

Sedona is at the 4500 foot elevation level more or less, so we are right between the two ranges that differentiate lower Arizona from the upper elevations of northern Arizona.

Cool-season vegetables include beet, lettuce, broccoli, spinach cabbage, carrot, onion, pea, potato, radish, and turnip. Cool season plants are frost tolerant and germinate in cold soil so they can be planted in winter or early spring depending on location. These crops need to mature during cooler periods rather than in the heat of the summer, so getting them out early in the garden or starting them in a mini greenhouse indoors is important.

Warm-season vegetables include sweet corn, sweet potato beans, cucumber, melons, pepper, pumpkin, eggplant, squash, and tomato. These are not frost tolerant and need warm temperatures to set their fruit. Temperatures too high will reduce quality such as sunburn, discoloration and less than ideal size.

Compensate for the mistakes and lessons learned from last year’s crop. Did you plant too many seeds of one type all at once and ended up with too much at one time? Be patient and stagger your seed plantings. Plan out a schedule of when to plant what and mark it on a calendar. It only takes a few minutes to sow some seeds.

Planting from seed is a lot cheaper than buying little 4” pots already leafed out. Consider planting early even before it may freeze again. Who knows when the last frost will occur and if you get lucky, you will have a head start, if not, you will not have lost much in your investment. But do wait till after the last frost or say mid April before you invest a lot in those 4” pots and risk losing them to a late frost.

Here is the last Sedona landscape design tip:

Sedona landcape design tip #4
Container plantings

In the practice of landscape design, the use of pots and containers adds an accessory element to the overall design. Pots are useful to feature individual plants and to decorate a patio area. Pots are suitable for many types of vegetable crops, especially vines types. I like to group pots and place a trellis behind them. If you have a lot of empty pots that you don’t otherwise need for perennial or annuals plants, you may want to use them for vegetables.

Be sure that the pot is big enough to handle the growth of the root system regardless of what type of plants you choose. Too many homeowners have collections of small pots and never invest in buying larger sizes to transplant their plants. Use these smaller pots as transitional containers as the plants grow just like nurseries do with 1 gallon, 2 gallon and 5 gallon containers.

Every Sedona landscape design should have a garden of vegetables, perhaps sprinkled with some ornamental flowers and herbs. Adding colorful pots in strategic spots will make your garden look like you put some thought into the design and aesthetics.

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