Thursday, March 21, 2013

HOMEWORKS: Dandelions, crabgrass and the benefits of an automatic sprinkler system

Every spring - and it is coming - I ponder the idea of rolling back our country grass so we can install an automatic sprinkler system. Everyone in our neighborhood seems to have one, so naturally our grass always looks sad in comparison. My definition of country grass is a yard free of herbicides but loaded with au naturel dandelions and crabgrass.

A friend of mine who has a historic home in a waterfront community along Lake Erie, who is also not bothered by flowering weeds, likens her shaggy yellow lawn to a suburban meadow. Still, it would be nice to be green and not have to worry about watering the lawn, especially during the summer months.

An automatic irrigation system not only takes on the task of watering but can also be fitted to deliver weed-prevention products.

So what are my advantages?

It saves time. That's probably the biggest reason people have them installed,  and they are convenient. If homeowners are out-of-town, they can set a timer to water the lawn at a specific time or day while they're away. 

Another advantage is that certain irrigation systems, such as the drip type, enable homeowners to position the water to accommodate problem areas such as dry spots (where more water is need) or low-lying areas that tend to flood during heavy rainfalls (and less water is needed). Adjustments to system nozzles can also be made to direct water to the roots instead of spraying over sidewalks and driveways.

Then there's the stealth advantage.  When it's time to water the lawn, a sprinkler head pops up out of the grass. Once the job is done, the sprinkler head disappears. This also eliminates the presence of a dorky sprinkler and kinked hose stretched across the lawn. In my case this would be a disadvantage since I love the work-of-art sprinkler I purchased at an art show a couple of years ago. Still, we could always install sprinklers in the front yard while keeping the old style for use in the back. Either way, the idea of a green no-trip lawn is appealing.

The biggest disadvantage is the cost. We have a big lot so a full irrigation system is likely to cost more than a yard in the city. There's also the pipework that needs to be installed and attached to the plumbing system of the home. I imagine this can be especially tricky for homeowners who have underground septic systems.

Installation can also take time - from days to weeks depending on the company. 

When it's done, there's the cost of redoing the landscape. I mentioned something about rolling back the lawn, but the process is a lot more involved than that. Besides, if we were to install a new system, it's not likely that we would want the company to cover it with our country grass, so there's the expense of new sod. 

And let's not forget the critters that live beneath the surface. I'm sure most systems today are built to withstand the movement of earthworms and garter snakes, but that's not to say another bigger pest won't damage the underground water-delivery system. 
It's probably a good idea to ask a neighbor who has a system what he or she thinks of it. If they had the chance to do it again - would they? What company do they recommend? Is the company certified by say - the Irrigation Association or licensed and insured? 
Bottom line: It is a major home improvement project to be pondered seriously before purchasing.
Gina Joseph is a reporter and columnist for The Macomb Daily. Send comments to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com, follow her on twitter @ginaljoseph and visit her beat blog at macomblife.blogspot.com.

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