An effective reticulation system is the difference between a garden just surviving summer and it thriving throughout the hottest months of the year. Contrary to popular belief, a correctly installed and maintained reticulation system will actually save water and not waste it at all. This is because the water is applied slowly and regularly to the root zones of plants at a rate that is most effectively absorbed and in a way that it doesn’t spill on to the paths or blow away in the wind. It’s time to give your reticulation system a service before the hot weather really sets in or you head off on holidays because a little work carried out now will prevent brown patches in lawns and dead plants.
Check the drippers for any blockages as ants make a habit of getting in to the tiny holes but can be easily removed and flushed out. Also ensure that sprinkler heads are rotating correctly and that the pop-up ones in the lawn actually do pop up! Sometimes, over winter, grass runners will grow over the top of them or dirt falls in so the holes just have to be cleaned out.
Dead patches in lawns are often blamed on lawn beetle at this time of the year when in most situations they are from the water not soaking into the soil and deep down into the root zone. This can be caused by inadequate water being applied through a patchy reticulation system or it might be from the soil becoming water repellent.
A ‘standard drink’ for a lawn is 10mm and this can be easily measured by placing equal sized straight-sided containers over the lawn at different locations. These catch cups will capture the amount of water that’s applied to the lawn. If 10mm has been identified as the amount of water needed for a lawn to look good through summer but only 5mm has been captured, increase the run time of the reticulation controller. Conversely, if 15mm has been captured the run time can be reduced. The catch cups will also show if the water is being applied unevenly and if this is the case, check that all sprinklers are working correctly and that their layout suits the garden space and that there is a generous overlap between the water applied by each sprinkler.
It’s crucial to apply a wetting agent to the whole garden before the weather heats up. It will ensure that the water goes right down to the plants’ roots where it is needed most and will help stop it from running off down the street. In WA, this is a common problem in many gardens because the soil is compacted and hydrophobic, meaning that it repels water. In particularly bad areas of the garden, aerate the lawn with a pitchfork before applying wetting agents.
Written by Sue McDougall, a qualified horticulturalist and experienced garden centre owner who grew up in the WA wheatbelt and has had experience in gardening throughout the entire state. You may know Sue as the garden expert on 6PR radio and by her many TV appearances.