Do I Need an Irrigation System in Atlanta?

green front lawn
Do I really need irrigation? That is a common question that both David and I hear when we present a budget. Our answer is always categorical. “Need” is a strong word, but there are many benefits for an irrigation system in Atlanta and there are some scenarios that we may say that you do not “need” it. Homeowners are skeptical of the necessity of an irrigation system because it rains a lot in Atlanta, indeed we are in a rainforest. Yep, you live in a rainforest, and you did not know it. A temperate rain forest (source) but still a rain forest, nevertheless. So why would you install irrigation if it rains that much? Well, it depends on the size of the yard, timing of planting, lifestyle and occasional droughts. Irrigation systems are very efficient if you have a medium or big backyard. But they are harder to justify for small flat backyards, for those you can easily set up one sprinkler that would keep everything wet at the click of a button – or should I say that the twist of a faucet – so in a small garden you could keep your sod and plants alive in case of a drought with minimum work. Large properties on the other hand would require a lot of effort to keep plants wet. We are talking about having multiple hoses, hose splitters and some leg work moving these things around and occasionally hand watering those difficult to reach corners. Relying on spigots only could consume a lot of your time depending on the size of your yard.  Thus, convenience is a major point justifying the need for a state-of-the-art irrigation system. On the other hand, I have dissuaded some clients with small yards from installing irrigation and simply turning on the spigot while they are having their breakfast. Obviously, that is not a possibility if you travel a lot, hence your lifestyle may dictate the need tor an irrigation system.   The timing of planting also helps me determine if one indeed needs irrigation. The best time of the year to plant in the Atlanta region is Fall. When temperatures drop some and plant struggle less. I installed my neighbor’s front yard in the fall and told him that he did not have an irrigation system, 6 years later his yard still looks good.
lavender salvias

Figure legend – Water loving Ajuga, thriving in a non-irrigated garden in Atlanta. 

It does help that I can see his yard from my bedroom window and watch his plants like a hawk. He is now used to my text messages “Hey Joe, we are in a drought, water everything”. So, if you opt to not acquire an irrigation system you will need to be cognizant of weather patterns and be willing to wait until fall or winter to do your plantings. Ironically October is the driest month in Atlanta and I have had clients with established yards loose several plants during occasional droughts in that period, in one case that meant a few thousand dollars because the plants were somewhat mature.  

But not everyone is constantly watching the weather channel, and if that is you then the convenience of an automated irrigation systems is the perfect solution. However, you still need to be smart about your choices. A well-planned irrigation system should give you 100% coverage for all the new plantings and sod but does not mean that you must overwater it and be wasteful. When I design my irrigation systems, I make sure to include a few water saving items. I like to use rain sensors because they detect precipitation and override your watering schedule and that represents huge savings in water. I also like to use MP rotators instead of sprayers.  

Mp Rotator

Spray head

Spray heads put a single widespread jet that and mp rotators use several narrows jets that  use less water per minute, water more slowly. Thus, MPs rotators mitigate runoff tremendously giving ample opportunity to the water to soak into the soil instead of being washed of like sprayers do (check this out for a full explanation (video link).  

Finally, most people in the Atlanta area water their gardens and lawns 3 times a week. That is absurd and unnecessary.  I can understand such a schedule for vegetables and annuals that appreciate more frequent watering, or during the first year of a recently planted yards – Plants and sod need more water to get established but after that you can reduce watering drastically –  In my own home I keep my plants on a 14-day watering cycle. If the rain sensor does not detect any rain for 2 weeks, then the irrigation will kick in and water plants profusely. If there is not rain on the radar, I make it rain! I run the system for a long time (35 minutes for MP rotators and 20 for sprayers).  In horticultural lingo I water it deep instead of frequently. My irrigation may have run 5 times as of August 2023, and plants seem happy nevertheless. 

So, do you need an irrigation system? The answer depends on your level of convenience, but if you do get one get smart about it or give us a call.