There is only one reason for the application of water on turf and other planted areas – to aid in the continual vigor of the turf and plants which result in a pleasing visual scene.

But the application of water on landscaped areas is not always as easy as it may initially seem. The ultimate condition of soil in which the turf and plants grow must have the proper balance of air, water, and soil particles. When this balance is not achieved or maintained, burning or smothering may result, causing damage to the turf and plants. That is why it is important to understand a few basic principles of how your irrigation system and landscape work together.


When the installation of your irrigation system was completed, the controller of your system was programmed to deliver the amount of water a new landscape needs to properly establish itself. Two or three weeks after installation, you can begin to adjust the controller to deliver only the amount of water your landscape needs to maintain itself. Too much water is just as harmful to your landscape as too little water.

To get the most out of irrigation water, you need to constantly assess just how much water is needed and run the system to deliver proper amounts. For instance, within a given week, if Mother Nature is so kind to deliver the amount of free water to your landscape that you would normally apply through your irrigation system, do not allow your system to operate. Simply by-pass the operating times on your controller to prevent overwatering.

There are several ways, from simple to quite complex, that watering frequencies and amounts can be established. The appearance of grass can be used as a guide to when to water. Footprints that remain visible on the grass for several minutes after walking on it, loss of leaf luster, wilting appearance of shrubs and small trees, and a blue-grey appearance of the turf indicate a need for water. Irrigating shortly after these conditions are noticed will lead to rapid improvement to turf quality. If the water stress proceeds to the point where the leaves turn brown, it can take days or even weeks of irrigation to return the turf to the quality it had before it became stressed.

Soils act as a reservoir for storing and supplying water for turf use. A high percentage of turf roots are in upper 2 to 3 inches of soil; however, effective rooting and corresponding water extraction also occur at deeper soil depths. Because of better aeration, grass normally roots much deeper in sands and loams than in clay soils. Consequently, turf grown on a good, sandy loam soil does not require irrigation as frequently as that grown on a heavy clay soil. With heavy clay soils, the tendency is to overwater continuously, causing a shallow-rooted turf that is difficult to manage.

Estimating critical soil moisture amounts to use as a guide on when to irrigate can be done by probing the soil with a screwdriver, heavy wire, or similar simple probe. Usually, when a probe easily penetrates the soil to 3 to 4 inches, enough water is available to carry the grass for about a day, depending, of course, on the rate the water dissipates from the soil.

Irrigation scheduling needs to take into account whether an area is composed of heavy clay, is compacted, or is steeply sloped. Cyclic irrigation, or repeated, short applications of water throughout the day is effective to minimize runoff on slopes and heavy soils. Cyclic watering, especially with an automatic irrigation system, can be quite helpful in reducing runoff and preventing ponding. Other ways to prevent water loss is by aerating and dethatching. Aeration holes catch and hold water until it can infiltrate the soil. Breaking the thatch barrier by the use of a dethatching rake or dethatching machine will speed water movement into the soil.

If your soil is sandy, you can probably expect to water every 3 days. On clay soil, watering every other day seems to be the norm.


Look for part 2 in a few days

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A tree’s appearance and health is directly related to pruning. Fast growing trees such as maples and crape myrtles require a great deal of pruning. Other trees or shrubs may require none whatsoever. There are two basic types of pruning; thinning out and heading back.

Thinning out means to cut off specific branches all the way back to the point of its origin. This technique is used when you want to inspire growth to increase height, or to open out a shrub or tree which is too dense. This type of pruning allows more energy to be used by the remaining branches.

Heading back means cutting back the smaller branches or individual buds. This technique serves many purposes. Increased flowering, denser leaf cover, size and shape control are just a few results of this method.

When To Prune: If you are pruning for safety reasons or to control disease, you can prune anytime. The seriousness of the problem should dictate the timing. Most pruning, however, should be in the late winter or early spring before the buds break. Specific plants require different timing, and we will cover some of those later. Early to mid summer is also a good time for trees, but don’t wait too long or you will interfere with the trees food storage for the coming year.

How to Thin Out:

  1. Find the correct tool for the job. You want to use something that will provide a clean cut. The cleaner a cut is, the reduced chance of infection. It is also much easier to cut if you use something reflective of the size of the job.
  2. Cut all the way back to the origin of the branch, whether it be another branch, or the trunk itself.
  3. Always cut at an angle.

How to Head Back:

  1. Find the correct tool for making a clean cut
  2. Trim just below the buds after the plant flowers.
  3. If trimming into a hedge, be sure that sunlight can reach the lower branches or the hedge will be see-through.

Special Tips and Things to Remember:

  1. Cutting a branch or bud results in more growth 2-4″ below your cut.
  2. When cutting off large limbs, be sure to trim off some of the bark of the branch so when it falls it does not rip bark off the trunk.
  3. Overgrown and dense shrubs will bloom less than one that is more open.
  4. Try to prune trees to have one tall leader, this provides for a stronger trunk and a faster grower.
  5. Prune off all shoots at the base of a trunk as well as any diseased branches.
  6. Prune azaleas lightly right after they bloom and it will flower more the next season.
  7. Your local extension office has many specific brochures if you run into special problems.
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