ULTRA Efficient Landscape Irrigation
This concept addresses how to grow and maintain water-efficient landscaping in and around buildings.

Solution

    We all recognize that the aesthetics and atmosphere of modern buildings benefit from the use of indoor and exterior landscaping. More practically, green, living plants also help improve indoor air quality and moderate the temperatures within our human surroundings through shade and by acting as wind barriers. And the stark reality has 1.3 billion woody plants being produced by U.S. nurseries each year for the purpose of landscaping. Of course, we need fresh water to keep them alive.

    This submission presents a new product that combines an effective weed barrier with ultra-low flow, low-pressure irrigation into one mat (see picture). The result it 89% less water being used to grow healthier landscape plants. Yes 89% less water than current irrigation technologies.  Note that this extraordinary savings has been repeatedly proven by field study research conducted at The Ohio State University and elsewhere around the country, and around the world.

   Furthermore, the presented mat saves up to 96% of the fertilizers required to keep plants looking good. This savings is realized by eliminating deep leaching of the fertilizer into the soil, where the roots can't reach it by delivering the water to fast. Come on, why dump expensive fertilizer on a plant and then just wash it into the nearby waterway by delivering too much water?

    The fact that these mats have already been designed, developed, and field tested implies a very nice fit into a 1 to 3 year rollout, with major impact in 5 to 10 years. By major, we are talking 100's of Billions of gallons of water saved per year, just in the USA.

   During installation, the mat is simply laid on the ground around landscape plants, hooked up to rainwater catchment or greywater systems by small PE spaghetti tubing, and covered by mulch. Due to the extremely low flow rates that can be achieved, the cost and complexity of a timer and controller can be eliminated. Maintenance labor and herbicide use is significantly reduced due to the elimination of unwanted weeds by the weed barrier. Furthermore, the wasteful problem of overspray from misters and misaligned water sprinklers spraying sidewalks or customers slipping on wet floors is totally eliminated. Most interestingly, when this system is used with greywater as the input, most local irrigation restrictions are bypassed as water is never sprayed through the air.  

Granted, using native plants and Xeriscaping will decrease water use in dry climates, however even these plants still need to be watered during dry spells... as rain is typically not reliable in these times of droughts. Of course, all indoor, green landscaping requires some form of irrigation. Thus, this mat has been proven to represent the best practice in landscape irrigation.

    What most folks do not fully understand is that plants (as well as animals, like ourselves) use fresh water as merely a transport media for distributing needed minerals and soluble gases throughout their structure. When we change the perspective from being afraid to use water because we might use too much, to a perspective of using water as nature had always intended, you open whole new paths to conservation.

    I think this idea is a prime example of what can be done when using this new perspective. These mats deliver water to plants in the exact way in which the plant can most ideally use it.  To prove the point, this modality results in trees growing faster, with better root and canopy systems than if the trees were relying on rain water and fighting against weeds for resources. It just makes sense!

Boring details:

The reasoning behind the mat design is simple and straightforward.

  1. As horticultural experts will tell you, weeds can soak up to 80% of the irrigation water away from landscape plants. And building managers will never argue the point that weeds create the need for maintenance labor or costly herbicides. Regretfully, those herbicides do damage the plants we are trying to grow. Thus, this mat incorporates an effective weed barrier (black nontoxic plastic) to eliminate these problems.

  2. The root systems of most plants, including the vast majority of landscape cultivars take up water very slowly from a wide area. Thus, this mat is designed to evenly distribute water at very slow rates. The fact that water is not sprayed means that the feed line can operate at very low pressures.... even gravity fed.  So, this mat can be hooked up to a ground level water catchment tank and function without a pump.
  3. By using the large area represented by the plastic weed barrier and some advanced hydraulic computer modeling, long and relatively large diameter water distribution channels were incorporated into the design for no additional cost. The result is broad tolerance to debris and any soluble minerals in the water. This results in ultra low flow rates without the tendency to plug, making it very compatible with rainwater catchment, fertigation, and greywater systems.
  4. In dry climates, up to 40% of the water delivered to a plant is lost due to evaporation when traveling through the air or from the surface of the growing medium. Therefore, the irrigation is accomplished by slow drips and the weed barrier covers the entire pot helping keep the surface cool and covered.
  5. Any watering device needs to be inexpensive to be accepted. This mat can be made on existing machines that produce bubble wrap packaging running at thousands of feet a minute. It is made out low cost polyethylene which is 100% recyclable when no longer needed. Total assembled cost is approximately $1.00 per plant.
  6. New irrigation equipment can be expensive and hard to justify.  We have proven payback as short as 3 months on a product that is designed to last 10 years in the field. 
Intellectual Property

    Note that the basic technology underlying this low cost concept is already patented around the world. However, the author/co-inventor (me) will make it available in the effort to support global water savings in the envisioned building landscaping applications.


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