Lights Out?

Lights out due to power outage?

When the lights go out in the house, lifestyles are disrupted on many levels. Checklists abound of things to do to prepare for power outages as well as what to do after. But where is the list on power outage affecting our garden?

Surely there must be a mistake even thinking about the garden when freezers filled with goodies defrost or losing the inability to fix that morning brew to start the day without the jolt of caffeine most of us need. Other pressing concerns fill our thoughts and dealings with inconveniences . The loss of energy seems to temporarily turn our lives upside down until the flip of a switch satisfies our level of comfort and attains the results we seek.

I concede, during those outages, gardening isn’t at the top of our radar and would venture a guess that thought does not begin to register when we are in the dark! Yet, there are a few things that can and will affect our landscaping when we lose electricity. One of the most important losses occurs within our automatic controllers. The controller programming will revert back to a default if the outage is sustained for a period of time. Yes, there are battery back ups found inside the controller that will hold the programming for a very short duration if the battery is freshly installed. And, let’s face it, how many have replaced the nine volt battery within the past six months? The nine volt battery will not start the irrigation system but merely hold onto the programmed information

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Behind controller face for battery compartment

The irrigation system needs 24 volts to activate the irrigation system and maintain the memory programmed in the controller. Lithium batteries can help support this without the need of reprogramming the controller, but how many have this type of back up? If the program is lost on the controller, the default is set to run every station every day for ten minutes. This would either underwater any plants covered by a drip system or potentially over water an area covered by a spray system.

To further complicate this issue, some automatic controllers may not sport the back up battery feature. Some smart controllers might subscribe to run times sent via the internet, but the actual irrigation valves are still wired for electrical needs. Which controller you have will require due diligence on the part of each homeowner to know how it operates and specific needs to see its requirements for restoration after the power is reestablished.

NOTE: Be aware if you are using a generator that feeds electricity to the controller, the start up of the generator may first increase the volts superseding the required volts for the controller and potentially do damage.

The time of year we lose power can also have an effect on plants dependent on the irrigation controller. For example, if the temperatures are high and the evap-transpiration rate peaks as it does in June and July, plants will require more irrigation. This may require manually turning on each electric valve (bleeding each valve) or hand watering the plants. With the onset of autumn, our evapo-transpiration rate is much lower meaning the plants can withstand the lack of water as plants prepare for winter dormancy.

There is a lot to consider when the lights go out. While the garden is forgiving, do add this line item to your checklist once the power is restored. Your water conservation efforts will not be lost as well as your plants!

Have a great day!

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