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James Dulley, Published August 14 2009

Landscape irrigation can be time-consuming

Dear Jim: I have a lot of landscaping and gardens. My water bills are high and I hate to waste time watering. I probably don’t water right anyway. Are automatic watering kits effective, and do they save water? – Danielle F.

Dear Danielle: It can take a lot of time to water landscaping and many people do not water properly. With many different types of plants in most yards and varying soil conditions across the yard, there really is no way to properly water it manually unless you plan to spend hours out there.

When you water manually, as much as 70 percent of the water can be wasted and you may actually be damaging some of the plants. For example, this summer, late blight is killing tomato and potato plants in private gardens. A wet spring and overwatering can contribute to the spread of the fungus.

For most landscaping, other than just large lawns, a drip watering system with an automatic controller is the best option for healthy plants and lowest water bills. Many kits are available to allow you to install the system yourself and adjust the water flow rates differently for various plants.

You do not have to start out with a large expensive drip watering system. Most of the companies offer starter kits that include the controller and a minimum of components. Additional components designed for specific types of plants and watering requirements can be added at a low cost. If you prefer to build your watering system from scratch, other companies sell all the components separately.

Setting up your own drip watering systems is not difficult. The water tubing is usually placed just underground but it can be laid on top of the soil. There usually are secondary feeder lines going to each general area of your landscaping.

Individual emitters are connected to the main and secondary lines in areas near plants which you want to water. The emitters are rated by the amount of water they flow. By varying the type and quantity of emitters at each plant and the length of time the automatic control has the water running, you can precisely control how much water the roots of each plant gets. Special emitters are also available for potted plants.

If you prefer a more precise (and expensive) watering control unit, some can measure the moisture in the soil to determine how long to water. Most home gardeners select simple timer controls though.

Aboveground sprinklers are another simple-to-use option. They can be connected to timers, but the spray pattern is broad and the watering is not plant specific. Also, during hot dry weather when you have to water the most, more than half of the water can evaporate into the air as the water droplets fall to the ground. Watering the foliage instead of drip watering just the roots can lead to more fungus problems.

The following companies offer drip irrigation components and kits:

Dear Jim: I would like to install attic ventilation to keep my house cooler, but I have a hip roof with a short ridge. Will this provide adequate ventilation area if I install a ridge vent? – John M.

Dear John: In many cases, there will be enough vent area at the peak of a hip roof to install a ridge vent. The minimum recommended amount of ridge vent area is about one square foot of net free area for each 150 square feet of attic floor area.

The amount of net free vent area will be listed on the ridge vent packaging. This is different than just measuring the open area. The net free area takes obstructions – which reduce air flow – into account.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com.