Using on-site data to manage landscape irrigation

December 6, 2021 -  By
Modern irrigation controllers can use weather station data to manage water flow. (Photo: Hunter Industries)

Modern irrigation controllers can use weather station data to manage water flow. (Photo: Hunter Industries)

Managing light switches and kitchen faucets with Amazon’s Alexa and activating a home security system with smartphone apps, the connected world has arrived.

Adam Jones, vice president and director of quality assurance for Florida-based home services contractor Massey Services, sat down with Landscape Management to discuss how best to use connected technology to manage residential green spaces.

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

Landscape Management: What sensor technology is best suited to residential irrigation?

Adam Jones: We recommend sensors that aid in understanding conditions that are driving moisture levels within the landscape. You may have in your mind sensors buried in the ground that measure soil moisture, but we have not recommended that technology in the residential marketplace. It’s limited in its ability to manage microclimates in a landscape. In a residential home, you don’t have an open field. You have a lot of different soil types amalgamated into that landscape.

LM: What do you recommend?

AJ: We prefer an on-site weather station that collects the data that drives evapotranspiration in the landscape. It’s the equation that determines water loss in soil profiles. We recommend smart controllers that can receive data and adjust run times, based on weather patterns and conditions on or near that site.
In an urban landscape, when they plant a house on the left or right of you, or when a tree develops a canopy, soil conditions change over time. Soil moisture sensors could be reading the wrong information as conditions change. The way to get around that would be to install multiple sensors in different locations of the landscape. The expense and maintenance of that become greater, and the potential for technical failure goes up exponentially.

LM: What sorts of data should weather stations collect?

AJ: Most of those stations will measure solar radiation, temperature and humidity. You can add to them a wind gauge, and wind is one of those factors that influence evapotranspiration. The final piece would be adding actual rainfall data, so a tipping rain gauge. The more of those variables (for which) you can collect on-site data, the more accurate your calculation is going to be. Without that (data), those are going to take theoretical and historical data to calculate that loss of moisture in the soil. Anything that you can do that’s real time is going to improve your accuracy and maximize your potential conservation and your growing conditions.

LM: What’s the business model for that type of service for irrigation contractors?

AJ: We maintain the sensor package, and that’s particularly important in areas where we have absentee landowners. In Florida, we get a lot of snowbirds. During the summer, when they’re not there and the property is vacant, this allows us to better manage the landscape.
It’s less about the add-on revenue and more about efficiently and effectively managing the health of that landscape.

LM: How do you talk to the customers about the value of sensor-based irrigation?

AJ: A lot of people are interested in this initially because they think they’re going to save money on the cost of irrigation. From our perspective, it’s really about managing the real-time conditions and what we can do to reduce overall inputs into the landscape. Fungicides might be one of those things. The other side may be the cost of additional fertilizer because we have an area that thins out because of drought stress. We focus on the quality of the landscape, not just how much irrigation you’re going to save.

Robert Schoenberger

About the Author:

Robert Schoenberger is Landscape Management's former senior editor. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Houston. He has worked in magazines and newspapers since the late 1990s.

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