Like many homeowners in the Washington area, Don and Cathy Ewan watched their lawns change from lush green in the spring to mottled brown in the summer each year.
As temperatures climbed above 90, they spent hours watering almost every day with hoses and a multitude of sprinklers that they kept moving to cover the 4 acre property that surrounded their two-level colonial property in Vienna.
By August they would tire of the routine and largely give up their fight against Mother Nature.
Two years ago – after planting numerous flowers as well as crepe myrtle, dogwood, birch and maple trees in their backyard – they decided to invest in an automatic sprinkler system. It took way too long to hand water everything. And while they were doing the back yard, they decided to extend the system to the front lawn.
In August the lawn was “green. You could walk on it and it felt good and it looked good too, ”said Don Ewan. “The lawn looked better than it has ever looked.”
With the flowers and trees he said, “It’s like our own little resort. It’s just beautiful. “
Automatic lawn sprinklers are common in the southwest, where temperatures fluctuate for days in the 100s and homeowners can use them for most of the year – but not so much in this region.
Many Washington area homeowners consider it a fact that their lawns turn brown in summer. To them, an automatic sprinkler system, which can cost $ 3,000 and more, can seem like an unnecessary luxury.
Sprinklers aren’t just for homeowners who care about the look of their lawns, however. The systems are becoming increasingly popular with busy homeowners who don’t have time to hose their lawns and conservationists interested in new technologies that can use water more efficiently.
Additionally, some real estate agents say that a sprinkler system might be a good idea for a homeowner listing a property in the summer and trying to make a great first impression with potential buyers.
“The attractiveness of the curb adds to the beauty [of the home] trying to get top bucks, ”said Cynthia T. Davis, a Long and Foster real estate agent who sells homes in the district and Maryland.
“A well-tended lawn can indicate this [to buyers] that the inside is also preserved, ”said Davis. “It makes you want to go in.”
Homes with lush lawns and sprinkler systems usually get a little more when resold, agents say. “It adds value,” said Lawrence M. Calvert, a representative for TTR Sotheby’s International, which sells homes in the district and northern Virginia.
“If you have two identical houses and one has sprinklers and a green lawn and the other doesn’t, this is it [owner] with the lush lawn will . . . get out a few thousand dollars. ”
The two most common types of lawn in the area are tall fescue and Kentucky blue grass. The great fescue generally has a deeper root system and tends to be better in the summer months, according to Mark J. Carroll, associate professor of turf grass research and management at the University of Maryland.
But big fescue stops when the humidity is high, the amount of precipitation is low and the temperature rises above 85 degrees. Without aggressive irrigation, many lawns will experience drought stress in July. The dry areas spread out and the lawn often only recovers in autumn or the following spring.
“It doesn’t die. It’s just slumbering, ”said Carroll. “When it rests, it creates open areas that weeds can enter when it gets really dry.”
It can be difficult to find the right balance to maintain a healthy summer lawn. If you water the lawn too little, it will cause drought stress. Water it too much and you can end up with fungus and diseases that can weaken it.
The task is made even more difficult by the region’s characteristic mixture of sandy and rocky soil and marine clay. This combination makes it difficult to bring a healthy balance between water and oxygen to the root level.
Most people water their lawn often and at short intervals. Experts say that the opposite is required: lawns should be watered less often and deeper.
Automatic sprinklers are designed to take the guesswork out of watering, say lawn maintenance experts.
The systems are installed in stations that maximize water flow to desired areas of a property and minimize water waste on driveways and roads, a problem with poorly positioned sprinklers. Sprinkler heads that target shrubs and flowers rise higher than those designed for watering lawns, which generally shoot longer streams to travel greater distances.
“The most important thing a homeowner has to watch out for is that you don’t want to run [the sprinkler system] three times a week blind with the same amount of water, ”said Ken Duffy, President of Geoscape, a landscaping and construction company in Oakton.
“If a homeowner can watch the yard to determine water needs, they can save water and money,” he said.
Every lawn has a “microclimate,” said Duffy. For example, a large lawn that has sun all day would require a lot of water. A slope may require more water than a flat surface due to runoff. Deep shaded areas may not require a lot of water.
The latest technology enables a homeowner to program the watering of specific areas based on the microclimate. Sensors built into the system turn it off or prevent it from working when it rains.
The system “also measures sunlight and temperature,” said Duffy. The wireless controller, he said, “allows the system to adjust itself based on the conditions it sensed.”
Automatic sprinklers generally cost between $ 3,000 and $ 20,000, which can be a disadvantage for some potential buyers.
In addition, the installation requires digging trenches in the lawn. The system is prone to underground leaks and can be damaged by lawn mowers hitting the sprinkler heads. And it requires continuous maintenance, e.g. B. blowing out the water in the pipes in autumn to prevent the pipes from freezing and cracking in winter.
But for some people a sprinkler system is worth it.
Christian Muller, a doctor, said he bought a distressed house on an 11 two years ago /. 2 hectare property in Oakton, partly based on an automatic sprinkler.
“We lived at Falls Church before and it was a royal pain . . . so that the lawn looks good, especially in summer. The fact that [the house had the sprinkler system] was certainly a selling point for me, ”said Müller.
“The lawn is important to me,” said Mueller, who also spent $ 3,000 on upgrading the sprinkler system. “I can come home and say, ‘The lawn looks watered and nice,’ and I can spend time with my kids and not have to run outside” to move the hose. “It is a great comfort to know that this is the case.”