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Take some lessons on watering effectively

KENNEWICK -- I'm not sure many of us could get to the million-dollar level in the Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader? game show, but we definitely could go back to "school" to become smart water managers.

Here are some short lessons on how to water your yard and gardens more intelligently.

1. Don't set it and forget it: If your irrigation system runs on a timer, don't set your controller in the spring and then forget it. During different parts of the growing season, plants have different water needs. They need less water in the cooler parts of the season, and more when it's hot... like now! Adjust your timer for the time of year and your plants' needs.

2. Observe and adjust: Adjust and fix sprinkler heads so you aren't watering sidewalks, driveways and building walls. If you have dry spots in your lawn, check to see that those areas are receiving adequate water. You can do this by placing straight sided containers (such as soup cans) in the dry spots and areas that aren't dry within a zone. Run that zone for a set amount of time and then compare the amount of water in each of the cans. If the depth is significantly different, you need to troubleshoot and fix the cause.

3. Avoid runoff: Water running off down the street isn't helping your yard and garden. If you get run-off soon after your sprinklers go on, find out why. Perhaps your system applies water faster than the soil can absorb it. This often is a problem on slopes. This can be avoided by "cycling" which involves splitting the irrigation time into two or three shorter application times. Water should be turned on until run off-starts, then stopped. Allow time for the water to soak in, then turn the water on again for the same amount of time. Keep repeating until the soil is moistened to a depth of at least eight inches.

4. Water deeply, less frequently: Deep watering consists of moistening the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches for lawns and 18 to 24 inches for perennials flowers, shrubs, and trees. If you only apply a little water to your lawn or garden every day, the plants will not develop deep roots. As a result, the roots will stay near the top of the soil where they can get water. Watering deeply, encourages deeper, more extensive root systems that can take advantage of water and nutrients deeper in the soil.

(Take note: Do not abruptly change your watering practices from shallow to deep watering in the hot part of the summer. Gradually change to deeper, less frequent irrigation.)

If you want to learn more about smart irrigation, don't miss the "Smart Water Management Workshop" July 25 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Highlands Grange Hall on South Union in Kennewick.

Troy Peters, WSU Extension irrigation specialist will explain how to water more efficiently. There will also be a discussion of "Smart Controllers" and their use in watering yards and gardens. I'll be closing out the program with a discussion of good lawn management.

There is a $10 class fee. Participants are asked to pre-register by calling WSU Extension of Benton County at 509-735-3551.

(Registration forms available at: http://benton-franklin.wsu.edu/garden/events.htm) Even if you're not smarter than a fifth grader, you can learn to be a smart water manager!

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.

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