Using on-site data to manage landscape irrigation

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

Managing kitchen switches and faucets with Amazon 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 a Florida-based home service contractor Massey Services, spoke with Landscape Management to discuss how best to use connected technology to manage residential green spaces.

Adam jones

Adam jones

Landscape management: Which sensor technology is best suited for residential irrigation?

Adam Jones: We recommend sensors that help understand the conditions that determine humidity levels in the landscape. You may have in mind sensors buried in the ground that measure soil moisture, but we have not recommended this technology to the residential market. It is limited in its ability to manage microclimates in a landscape. In a dwelling house, you do not have an open field. You have a lot of different soil types lumped together in this landscape.

LM: What do you recommend?

A J: We prefer an on-site weather station that collects the data that determines evapotranspiration in the landscape. This is the equation that determines the water loss in the soil profiles. We recommend smart controllers that can receive data and adjust run times, depending on models and weather conditions on or near this site.
In an urban landscape, when they plant a house to the left or right of you, or when a tree develops a canopy, soil conditions change over time. Soil moisture sensors can read erroneous information when conditions change. The way around this would be to install multiple sensors in different places in the landscape. The expense and maintenance of it becomes more important, and the potential for technical failure increases exponentially.

LM: What types of data should weather stations collect?

A J: Most of these stations will measure solar radiation, temperature and humidity. You can add an anemometer to it, and wind is one of those factors that influences evapotranspiration. The final piece would be to add actual rainfall data, so a toggle rain gauge. The more data you can collect on the spot among these variables (for which) the calculation will be precise. Without it (data), these will take theoretical and historical data to calculate this moisture loss in the soil. Anything you can do in real time will improve your accuracy and maximize your storage potential and growing conditions.

LM: What is the business model of this type of service for irrigation contractors?

A J: We maintain the sensor set, and this is especially important in areas where we have absent landowners. In Florida we have a lot of snowbirds. During the summer, when they are not there and the property is vacant, it allows us to better manage the landscape.
It is less a question of additional income than of the effective and efficient management of the health of this landscape.

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

A J: Many people are initially interested in it because they think they will save money on the cost of irrigation. From our perspective, it’s really about managing conditions in real time and what we can do to reduce the overall entries into the landscape. Fungicides could be one of those things. The other side can be the cost of additional fertilizers because we have an area that is thinning out from drought stress. We focus on the quality of the landscape, not just how much irrigation you will save.