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In some parts of the United States it would be difficult to grow any ornamental plants without irrigation. In fact, due to a shortage of water, some desert regions practice Xeriscaping, which is the use of plants with extremely low water requirements. 

In western Pennsylvania, we're fortunate to have steady rainfall during most years. Pittsburgh is doubly fortunate to receive regular rainfall plus enjoy a steady supply of water from the three rivers. On the other hand, Philadelphia and the southeastern part of the state have suffered some severe summer droughts over the past couple decades.

Clean water is a valuable commodity and prices around the country are reflecting that fact more each year. To be good stewards of this resource, we must not waste, pollute or neglect our future water supply. With irrigation systems, our main concern has to be not wasting water. By adjusting how often we water, and what time of day, we can help the overall situation instead of making it worse.



  • Water early in the day 
    By setting irrigation systems to run early in the morning (4:00am to 6:00am) we can maximize water usage by preventing the evaporation that's common in the heat of the day. Early morning watering is also recommended by plant pathologists, since evening irrigation can encourage lawn disease development. 

  • Water infrequently
    Most Pennsylvania lawns and ornamental plants require approximately one inch of water per week during the growing season. During periods when rainfall is less than this amount, it may be necessary to provide an equivalent amount to keep lawns and plants looking their best. 

  • Water thoroughly
    One thorough watering per week is more beneficial to lawns and plants than several light waterings. Light waterings can promote shallow roots, making plants more vulnerable to drought stress. 
    To prevent water from running off the soil surface, consider setting your sprinkler system to run two or three times the same morning, allowing time in between cycles for water to soak into the soil. 

  • Override device
    Consider adding an override device that will deactivate your sprinkler system if there's been recent rainfall. Most devices are simply small cups that hold rainwater - once the rainwater evaporates the system is reactivated.



  • Sprinkler zones
    Generally speaking, the more sprinkler zones the better. Chances are you won't want to water shrub beds as often as you would a lawn area. Or you may wish to water annual flower beds more often than anything else, especially right after planting new flowers. Therefore it's best to have these areas set-up on different zones so you can water one type of area without watering another. 

  • The more heads the better
    The best irrigation coverage is accomplished by using more heads. Every section of your lawn should be irrigated by at least two heads -- this is what we call 'overlap.' In other words, the water spray from one head should reach another sprinkler head and visa versa. This sort of overlap helps prevent gaps in coverage. 
    Too few heads in a shrub bed can lead to missed areas as well, especially as shrubs grow taller and wider. 


  • Fall
    In Pennsylvania, it's important to deactivate your irrigation system for winter by shutting off the irrigation water supply, turning off the controller and blowing out the irrigation pipes with compressed air. Failure to do so will probably lead to burst pipes requiring expensive repairs. 

  • Spring
    In the spring of the year, the irrigation system needs to be reactivated by turning on the water supply, activating the controller and then ensuring the system is operating properly.


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