Irrigation Inconsistencies

Clients and others may envision a grassy meadow or prairie, from a magic combination of will, soil amendments, and some method. Some even claim that will require no irrigation when established.

As the landscape architect I get to bring them back to earth – our 4000′ elevation, 8 inches of rain per year, earth.


Bringing balance by listening, educating, and crafting a design, I try to satisfy owner desires with my knowledge and compliance with often-shifting code interpretations of the governing municipality, before the contractor can make it happen.

But when one isn’t able to use water harvesting off roadways, drip irrigation is not just needed to establish; it is needed in all but the wetter periods to grow more than just isolated shrub desert.

What happens when something with the drip system fails?

Contrast the adjacent grama grass clumps below to above.


Is the issue the irrigation? Are there clogs in the emitters and poly line, or a break in the PVC pipe feeding the above? What is the schedule? Are there any pressure issues in one area but not other areas or zones?

Is it partly due to soil types? There is a great deal of caliche in the soil layer at this project site, and Bouteloua gracilis might be sensitive to that.

We know the issue is not the Bouteloua gracilis, native to the general area of the site. Only slight irrigation is required to keep grama grass green in our growing season.

We also know that one successful stand adjacent to one that isn’t, or scattered trees doing poorly vs. trees doing well may contradict bad soils that localized. The site is mass-graded, meaning uniformly disturbed; it’s not a fallow country acre.


7/10/17 weather: 98 / 69 / T


What Makes It Work?

Note the whitish layer in the soil (called caliche), overlain with gravels (called desert pavement), and the widely-spaced olive-green creosote bushes on top. As the wind blows the clouds about, which of course don’t rain.

this, catching my breath on a Sunday mountain bike ride

No coincidence or randomness in that.

Geology, biology, and meteorology conspire to grow things where there is no drip irrigation, nobody wearing black and glasses, or a municipal client with an open pocketbook – for those who stay in line.

During a conversation about our pasts, a landscape architect years ago asked me how my original college major of meteorology even related to my final degree in landscape architecture and becoming an LA.

Yes – I’m also confused!

Potential replies to that and a few times since have gone off in my head, “how does graphic design relate to the 4-D canvas of land and horticulture?”, “how does overplanting by 3 times help your client?”, or “how does it work using plants observably hardy only in the life zone warmer than you up in the mountains, only to copy Des Moines down in the desert?” All common themes in that group.

She asked in all sincerity, not out of shooting me down. Instead of getting uppity with her, I mentioned some things about working with one’s native vegetation and climate goes further when one gets their interrelatedness.

Of course, it all relates. Even other design fields, graphics to fashion.

But most certainly soils, life forms, and weather – caliche, creosote, and climate.