Ep.15 Reticulation a.k.a. Irrigation - Darren Senior (Garden Solutions)

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You're on the plants grow here podcast. I'm Daniel Fuller. Come along with me as we enter a hidden world of deep horticultural, ecological and landscape gardening knowledge with featured experts, industry professionals, and enthusiasts. reticulation is a term that you'll hear thrown around now. And then it means the irrigation of plants using a net like structure of pipes. And in this episode, we have a seasoned retake pro Darren senior on to tell us all about it. He's the business owner of garden solutions has written for the West Australian newspaper, and has also presented at the Perth Garden Festival many times he's even been on the garden gurus. Welcome to the show, Darren,
thanks for having me, I really appreciate it.
So tell us a bit about your experience with plants and irrigation.
My experience of plants goes back nearly 30 years now when I first went to hospital, started working in a retail and wholesale nursery. So we keep selling to the direct public also selling wholesale to garden centers and landscape is in the lock. And those plants obviously were articulated in the wholesale situation. So I spent a fair bit of my early years in that nursery, getting up and repairing pots and sprinklers and working with valves and re wiring controls. All that sort of things are allowed her a lot of my early grounding was just hands on having to work things out and get things working again, because it's a bit of an imperative in inertia to have water operating in a reliable way. Oh, absolutely.
So what are some of the signs for when you're looking at a plant that is a little bit dry,
plants will talk to you, they will tell you when they're dry. And I'm often amazed that people don't spot them because the plants will change, the color of the leaves can change, the leaves will start to wilt toughsat dropping leaves and they just look and well compared to what they might have looked like without getting the sufficient irrigation. So if you're being observed in your garden, you will spot plants that are drying out pretty easily. And if you get in early enough, you can solve the problem pick irrigation system and get plants and keep them healthy without too much trouble. Absolutely, yeah.
So how important is it to get the right plant water and soil combination,
it's very important so your plants and soils obviously have to be compatible. It really is making a rod for your back if you're growing plants in the wrong type of soil. So you're going to be struggling to keep them looking healthy growing. If they're edible plants are juicing, something you can eat from them. So getting that that bright combination of right plants in the right soil is really important. And equally with irrigation. Depending on what you're growing, the amount of water they require, the regularity of the water, how deeply that was applied. All those sorts of things are really, really important. And probably a classic example is citrus. The citrus are quite shallow rooted, the roots that take up nutrients and moisture can be quite close to the surface of the soil. So you need to be making sure you're giving the tree water right out passes through Klein and like soaking a top 300 newer soil where those feeder roots are keep trees really, really healthy.
Right and what sort of a role does soil type play in
soil types absolutely essential because plants evolved to do best in certain types of soil. So some plants will grow really well in alkaline soils. A lot of Western Australian nose and Kiko that have evolved on our coastal areas will do that. But a lot of other plants kick a lot of the exotics we like to grow require acidic or at the very least neutral soil. And if your pH you saw, for instance, isn't correct for the type of plants you're growing, no matter what fertilizers you put on the water you put on the care you lavish on those plants, the nutrients are required just aren't available to them, they're locked up in the soil, and they just can't take those nutrients up through their root system and provide a healthy nutrient basis for the plants to grow. So that's like very, very important. But also some plants don't mind heavy soils, clay soils, and things like silverbirch have come from areas where they pretty much have wet feet 12 months a year. So they're happy and heavy soils, but you put them in a dry sandy soil that we have a lot over here in Perth, they don't do very well at all. So matching up the rights all types to plants is just super important. And it's a lot easier to know what you saw talkies and get plants to Sousa rather than the other way around like saying I definitely want to grow this plant. And now I'm going to gain muscle to make it possible when it's might be possible. It can be very, very difficult.
Oh absolutely. I couldn't agree any more. Right plant right place. So we talked a little bit about soil types and we can also talk a lot potting mixes aren't necessarily always soil are they and they may have different properties you may not necessarily have a clay potting mix,
Oh absolutely. potting mixes are just that they're a growing media rather than a soil and it's a really important thing. I think what people don't quite understand that difference between soils and potting meteors and I do some really bad Jerry rookie mistakes that people make with potting mixes done at putting plants up they add a lot of stuff to the potting mix I might add you know, some cow manures or some sand or something like that and if you buy quality couple lines putting the excess being properly put together to provide the right ground media for the plants that won't collapse and you know, get too wet and not allowed into the potting mix. So use that top quality premium potting mix, you shouldn't really need to add anything to it. And having those two different spending a premium party needs a budget potting mix and making a really dodgy home base potting mix the difference you can have in growth in those potted plants and the health is phenomenal. And I say something with my whole plant background. We constantly trialing different potting mixes. So we'd get, say 40 plants, the exact same species cutting ground plants and put them out into three different potting mixes just to see the difference. We're getting help for growth rate and those sorts of things and also getting a strong root system. And the different sometimes we just blown away between politics is that we thought we're doing a really good job and we would try a different potting mix and we'd be blown away about how much better the plants grow.
Absolutely Can you give us a shout out about maybe a couple of your favorite brands of pudding mix?
Well over wi there's a family run company called Bally's that makes absolutely fantastic potting mix, I can't speak highly enough of them our firm is pretty much my go to for any my landscaping jobs if I've got a pot plants for the clients, we tend to use the Bailey's one. Also, there's another small company over here called good earth that make a premium potting mix as a great general purpose potting mix, which is that people do a little bit caught up with these specific potting mixes for specific plants. I find if you get a really good quality general purpose premium potting mix, you can grow through the patch anything kienet unless you're looking at really specialist lines. So it could make a fantastic potting mix. And it co made really good potting mixes pretty much any of those top of the range ones that you're paying $10 plus for a 20 to 30 liter bag. Most of them are really, really good when you're getting ponies at $3 a bag they're being made to a price point rather than to a quality point. So they can do not give you anywhere near as good as results as those brands that I've mentioned before.
Thanks for those. So we talked a little bit about the potting mixes and the soil types. This is going to play into what we're now going to talk about now with reticulation. So can you tell us a little bit about what that means. And what's some of your favorite systems
irrigation system for most homeowners and even when you're going to like more commercial setups, the idea is to apply enough water to the soil that will keep your plants really healthy without wasting any water. So it's about being effective and efficient, which are probably the two key words we try and push when we're we're dealing with irrigation. So the other key is also having a good understanding of application rates and having a quality plan designed up it's not a matter of just like dodging sprinklers around and throwing water everywhere that you want the water to do it's really important, particularly garden and lawn situations to ply water evenly to all parts of the lawns and gardens. So you're not having to run a irrigation system for longer to Yeah, to water areas that aren't quite getting enough water to and you have other areas of being over water. So a really good even precipitation race is critical. I'm a massive fan of hunter products pretty much over the years I've dabbled in different brands and most of them are pretty good but I now pretty much just use hunter for all my things I'll pop up sprinklers and valves and irrigation controllers, I just find it the quality to be absolutely go top top of the range. And when you talk about irrigation materials, getting really good quality products makes such a big difference to how well the system runs but also how much it's required to maintain the system. And kuqali products are always easier to maintain and have less trouble so you're not replacing seals and pop ups reagents for example, or, or nozzles and those sort of things that regularly so getting good quality products is a big difference.
Oh, absolutely. So we talked about good quality products and I guess a good quality product is probably going to also be effective in the way of water. Its water management. Can you tell me a little bit about water wise irrigation?
Yeah Absolutely, so probably the big thing with the water was irrigation is that even watering, which I spoke about before, that's absolutely critical because you can do what if you're not getting even water, you've wasted a lot of water by over watering other parts of the garden. But also the areas that younger watering plants or your lawns are thriving, they're not crying well, so that was pretty much wasted as well. So a good quality irrigation controller makes a big difference over the last two years, I've gone totally over to smart controller. So Wi Fi enabled controllers, once that will connect to the Wi Fi system. And then from there, access all the information on the local weather stations, for your site that the controller set up so that then the controllers will just adjust runtimes to suit the weather. So generally, what people do is they put in maximum runtime required for that state for a particular session. Just say for example, it's a turf area, it's got standard pop ups that needs 15 minutes a runtime to apply a $10 water, which is what we consider a standard drink. And don't put that runtime in, they put that in in, you know, early spring when I set a controller up. And I just run that from the whole time to we have a what I call the winter shutdown in first of June is Alaska turn irrigation systems after the first spring. So just run that 15 minutes on that station there one or two, two or three water days a week, depending on whether that's scalable for every week of the year that they're allowed to irrigate. And what these smart controllers do will access the weather information from our local weather stations and cut back the runtime automatically for you. So if the the weather's cooler, there's, you know, say the wind breaks down evaporation rates down, it might cut the runtime instead of being 15 minutes or cut it back to eight or something like that. And I've got systems that were set up for the clients who saved anything north of 50% of their water, water use with a gun still looking exactly the same, and not having to lift a finger to do it. So the irrigation controller does everything for them. So they've been a great water saving innovation that's taken pretty much existing technology, and just use it in a really smart way.
Yeah, that's awesome. Cuz Yeah, like you say, it's easy. And you're also getting a more waterwise effect there.
Yeah, and the other thing I can do, and there's a whole range of these Wi Fi enabled controllers, that that I get feedback from the systems that I have been able to monitor the amount of current flowing to valve. So if you've got a valve, but the coils just had it drawn in it, coil guys, it will get a signal from that basically called feedback from that call Teller, it's no longer working, and it will send you a message inside the coils on this stage, we have a short short on station three, and you know, you need to check the wiring and maybe replace the coil. And the other thing, they can be connected to flow meters. So they can the controller will be constantly monitoring how much water is traveling through the pipes to each station it just basically liters per minute. And that way, if you get a broken sprinkler, the first thing that happens is you get a spike of water use on that station. And most of these wireline Abul controls will shut that station down, and then send you a message and say you've got a spike of water use on the station. And generally it means you've got to go out to that irrigation system and do do a repair. And so you can imagine for people who don't want it to their systems visually very well. And they have a broken sprinkler that's coming on two or three times a week and just pouring water down the road. And they don't really realize until other parts of the lawn or garden start to die. So great water saving innovations.
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, as a maintenance gardener, I can tell you, sometimes you do accidentally hit a pipe. And if you've got a dodgy gardener who doesn't want to tell you about that, for that to be able to come up in the system is very advantageous.
Absolutely. And also just ready to talk maggots irrigation systems need maintenance, like any anything with moving parts and having to be to be able to use the the apps for these controls on your phone, basically, as remote control makes maintenance a lot easier as well. So you can cut down your maintenance hours and have much better results just by the simplicity of having that remote control unit built into your phone.
Yeah, having a built into the phone is awesome.
Yeah, I think probably 20 clients that have that we've installed Wi Fi controllers for that I had another contractor account, and I can just monitor their rating systems for it for them remotely if they want the irrigation turned off for a couple of days. And they might say we don't the lawns coming on tomorrow morning because we've got dry lawns now they might be having a Christmas Day or something like that. They just send me a text and say can we have the written off on the weekend for two days or something like that sort of thing. And I can do it for a remote. You don't have to go to the controller. Most of my clients, we block off controls. We've never even opened the case on
that right.
Yeah, since we sold them they might have gone ahead look when the first time and install them and then close them. Welcome up, they never never need to open them again.
So what are your favorite brands for the these smart irrigation systems,
the one we use almost exclusively is the hunter pro hc. So they're in Australian and actually Western Australian based innovation, where guy who is basically a computer guy, computer nerd, developed the software for the for this controller, the original software, he had some hardware built around it, like the software was always really good, the hardware wasn't great. And then a few years of him doing the and battling on his own, like he was getting some market share, but not really great penetration. And then Hunter, the very big, very COMMBUYS done, every guy should count me pulling out, he now works for them. He developed a software hunter who's got a, you know, decades of irrigation experience behind and built the hardware. So the hardware is fantastic. And with a great software and the good thing about these controllers because they're connected to the internet, the software constantly gets upgraded. Yeah, updated. So you're getting firmware updates quite regularly. So become a bit smarter, be clever all the time. And, yeah, it's just a fantastic Australian based innovation that we love using our clients really, really love.
Thanks so much for them, because I think a lot of people out there. Yeah, they just want to know from a pro what the best recommendations are,
I have looked at other Wi Fi controllers, and they're all they're all pretty good. And they all have their positives, but I just find the counterpart so he's one we've been sticking with money because it's incredibly user friendly. And they're incredibly smart controls. I think the best software side of things is a long way ahead of the competition at the moment. So it's good in some ways because as they are dragging the other irrigation companies along with them which of course were forces that then also to keep innovating to stay ahead of the pack. So from the first one of these soft control lines talk about say that six or seven years ago to the ones I'm using now is just incredible. It's like the difference trainer now the first model offline to the current one now it's sort of a jump jumping qualities. It's fantastic.
Yeah, so if any of our listeners out there have tried them in the past and they didn't work for maybe now might be a good time to give them a go
get it? Well, there have been a few sort of knockoff type ones that been floating around the internet that people have bought, I've had customers had ones that sold themselves and they're just horrible to use, you know, the the actual intricacies of using a terrible the software and the apps that go with them are nowhere near as good. And then if that hadn't been the 100 tp one has been developed to for professionals. So it's called fresh irrigation paper very demanding about how these things work. So they invented after much higher standards, and a lot of the ones that have floated around and gone in and out of availability over the last five, six years.
We talking about knockoffs that have same brand or do you just mean just like
yeah, cheap, cheap electronic companies that have popped out like just just cheap, cheaper versions of Wi Fi controllers, and there's a there's a few of them around and I've had a pretty average of this.
Okay, well, it's good to know the good one. Yeah, thank you. So what I want to know is how can a DIY person learn enough to maintain their own system they can learn
enough by when they got irrigation rather going to replace yourselves everything and also has a couple of files for routine go to a an irrigation specialist store in Perth, we've got a couple of changes, irrigation companies around this title Aiden and race's watershed and few others like that. And they are a really good place to go to buy irrigation equipment and get really really good advice. who also really lucky this fantastic independent ones, but a lot of them are run by people who started as irrigation contractors. So if you go to see these people who are really experts in the field, rather than going to a hardware store or buying stuff cheap online, you get much better value products and you'll get really good advice and most of the irrigation stores will produce a plan for you. If you buy the materials often they give you the planet no no charge so you can get an idea much better idea of how to lay the sprinklers out because of the sprinkler layout is really really important to do an efficient system. And so going and seeing these half of people is aren't in the best way you can learn enough about the best way to go and people to to avoid when setting up a dry irrigation system. Because it is for every whether it's a little bit too much like Lego. It's the one thing the typically the dads want to have a shot at is putting arrogation in themselves and generally it's not the prettiest results. And because I go to hardware store, pick things off the shelf that I like the look of put them in the act and hook them up to a cat. And then it doesn't really work very long. So going to see an expert kenson some really good advice. Yeah, there's always stuff on YouTube and the internet that you can read off and get better information from. But I think if you go to your local irrigation store, talk to the people who worked at the know, the irrigation components know the best way to set up systems. They're always really generous with their information expertise. And that's where I go.
And at what point do you recommend that a DIY person should call in a pro?
Generally, it depends what sort of difficulty they're having with their system. So sometimes seems like yeah, dealing with the electronics on the controller, if they've got issues with the with the wiring, if they've got flowers that are firing up, they might need to do that. But I think for most things, if it's not something as straightforward as a broken sprinkler, or just a pole, and apart from that, if they get a problem straight away, and get it fixed generated by guys that do irrigation repair work that I don't mind you watching them happy to see how to do some of these things, because most of those guys, typically during this time of the year more work that they can keep up with anyhow. But you had a problem to get fixed right away, take note of what they said the problem was, so you can maybe either avoid that problem coming up again, or be able to fix it yourself, if it crops up in the future, but get it and get fixed earlier because I have come across a lot of people over the years who had problems, they've spent countless weekends trying to fix them themselves. By the time they finally get some money in the lawn or the gardens really suffered and they've really not saved themselves any money and the protocols themselves fair bit of frustration, and you know the gods a lot worse for wear from it. So when you first get the problem, if it's not something you're confident with straight up, get somebody in it, it's not going to cost you a million dollars and get it fixed. And get the insight to what the issue was and how to avoid it or how to fix it in the future.
Totally. And that also goes for the building of the system as well. Because I mean, if you try it yourself and you don't know what you're doing, you might end up making a lot more headaches for yourself and end up costing yourself a lot more money when someone actually comes in to fix it.
This is true, like we have, over the years, pulled out a lot of irrigation systems that clients have put in themselves. And I would have spent a reasonable amount of money and a favorite of Tom putting Nick in and got really cool results for guys, sometimes I really did let it be better off, pay somebody to do something, and that you're not good at and then go and do something that you're good at to earn the money to pay them it works out better for everybody in the long run.
You can't be a jack of all trades or master of all trades anyway.
Now this is this is true. So and irrigation is a it's a little bit trickier than people give it credit for and a lot of people think it's just a matter of hooking a few pipes up to the tap and why you go but getting a system that works really well that avoids a lot of people to possibly come up against is worth spending the money on.
Absolutely couldn't agree more. Are you a part of irrigation Australia,
I'm a member of Australia I'm also we have a program we haven't who would wiser again is so waterwise irrigator as well. So we've got things we have to do to keep our skill sets up to make sure we qualify to be waterwise irrigators. And we have to do systems to this reasonably strict parameters put on how we set up the systems and it was a who designed our program. And it worked really well. And it does give people build confidence that the person that they're employing to do the irrigation is competent and knows what they're doing. So I encourage any West Australian listeners to look for that waterwise irrigator waterwise irrigation shot and waterwise irrigation designer logos there will give you a fair degree of confidence that you're going to get a good value for money.
And I imagine that would have actually not only just it's not just good for branding for the business, as a business owner for you to sort of become involved with these sorts of things, but it also helps you with your own personal journey and your own learning. Can you tell me a little bit about how joining those organizations has helped you on your personal journey.
When you drive those organizations you tend to mix with a lot of very professional people on on a steering committee for the waterwise irrigation program. So the guys are I sit with on the steering committee are absolute professionals in in their field. Some of them do different types of irrigation or I do they might specialize in things like parks and gardens or broadacre irrigation other guys work in the in the retail and wholesale irrigation field. So being part of those organizations and read it you also get a lot of material to read and articles get sent out to regular on email and on printed form and just reading what other professionals are doing and how they feel like they strive to get better and better and better. It's just a real impetus for myself and my business to keep improving on what we do like We have pretty high standards, when we're doing an irrigation system that we want to be better than the guys that pretty much just drive around with you, and going to a local hardware store to get rekey parts. And as long as they've got water splashing into that yard, they're happy. So we try, you know, aim for installing really good components, having really good design work for irrigation systems, and being part of those organizations really does push you to keep improving not rest on your laurels. looking for ways to make the systems easier to operate easier to maintain something, a lot of your water around irrigation contractors really don't have a lot of thought to irrigation maintenance. And we come across a lot of systems that were quite had issues with them. And just something as simple as changing out of out instead of being a 30 minute job or a 15 minute job becomes half a day because of the way that the system was installed in first place, though. Those are the things we get really Yeah, it really drives us to just be as absolutely good as we can be. And constantly looking for ways that we can improve the way we set up arrogation systems, why we install them and how we interact with our clients to make those systems really worked well for them to
I think that's awesome. What advances Can you see in irrigation moving forward?
Well, there's a couple of things we talked about him in hushed tones around the irrigation system. And probably the big one is irrigation valves that don't need wiring. So they'll operate through a some sort of Wi Fi type system, there are currently cap timers and small scale battery power. So you can operate a Bluetooth, rather than having to lean down to the tap timer and programming just programmed on a phone app. But I think that's the holy grail at the moment is doing with the wiring between bows, because it is a one of the things that where you have damage or even the other cables do degrade over time. We have water into the into the shoes and they can grow throughout. And so that will be an amazing thing. If we can install bows on how to wire them back and control. They just talk to each other over Wi Fi or something like that. That'd be a fantastic innovation. Yeah, I think that'd be the big one that all the irrigation companies are constantly working on better and meters. So the pop up sprinklers or gear drives those sort of things to so they apply water really get as evenly as possible. So that's something that's constantly being worked on, improved on. And yeah, I just say the controls will get smarter and smarter as well.
It will be exciting to see all of that. We're coming to the close of the episode now. And I like to ask our guests. Is there anything else that you want to tell the listeners about?
It's an interesting one, because I'm What?
What would go? Well,
depends on on talking to another I came in wi I think and probably somebody smelled it?
Yeah, I am. Yep, yeah. So
because I've got some good friends that have through the industry out there. I would tell people if you're keen gardeners and interested in the whole copper industry to sport to sport your local independent garden center as much as you possibly can on the independent God says once it is still still going still going well in Australia have been incredibly innovative, the services I provide for their customers information base as part of their customers, the quality of stock that provide is just fantastic. And they've had a lot to deal with over the last particularly 20 years has been a very tough time for independent garden centers. And I think if you can get out there support, the local independent gardeners often operated often employs a lot of people who've put years and years into the industry. And they often do quite a lot of training and provide the whole cultures of the future. Get out there and find your local independent garden center support.
Couldn't agree more. Darren, thanks so much for coming on, man.
No problem enjoyed it.
There'll be links in the show notes to some of the products that we've talked about in this episode, as well as to the garden solutions website. If you know someone who you think would be perfect for our show, send them to the contact section of our website where they can fill in a form and let us know what topic that they'd like to teach. We put out one episode a week so make sure you're following us and also check out the educational blogs on our website.

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