Why Planning Your Reticulation is an Essential Part of Landscape Design

A well-thought-out landscape design is an important first step for all successful landscaping projects.

When planning an outdoor space the focus is often put on the highly visual elements like pools, structures and planting, and important aspects like irrigation tend to get overlooked and undervalued because they are less prominent.

This is a mistake because here in Perth reticulation is the backbone of our landscapes and a poorly planned system can lead to a very sorry-looking garden indeed. Worse still, the design of many systems (or lack thereof) can lead to disastrous results such as leaking pipes below concrete, solenoid valves underneath trees, and expensive rectifications.

In this blog we’re going to delve into the benefits of a well-designed irrigation system, and why it should be a crucial factor in the landscape design process. But first, let’s take a brief look at landscape design itself.

The Importance of Landscape Design

The Importance of Landscape Design

So why get a landscape design anyway? Well, the answer is simple.

Engaging the right landscape designer can be the difference between your project’s success or its failure.

A comprehensive landscape design allows you to explore different options, visualise your project, and avoid costly mistakes before any work ever begins.

The expert advice of your landscape designer can help guide you in making the right choices for your outdoor space – from designing a well-considered layout, to choosing the perfect materials and plants. They can even help you with the design of your outdoor structures and pools!

A good designer will also have a sound knowledge of the R-Codes, local council planning policies and the National Construction Code (NCC). They will be able to help you to navigate the complexities of the council approvals process with ease, ensuring your project has the best chance of approval. 

With your completed landscape design in hand, you’re already halfway to achieving your perfect result and enjoying your beautiful new landscaping with your family and friends.

But if you choose to wing it you could be facing disappointment, embarrassment and the prospect of either costly re-landscaping or living with something you don’t really like.

So save yourself the time and the stress and invest in a professional landscape design for your project. The results will be worth it!

The Benefits of Quality Reticulation

Most plants don’t stand a chance against Perth’s hot, dry summers without extra water. Hand watering can be an option for those with a lot of time on their hands, but it still doesn’t produce the most consistent results, and this method often leads to under or overwatering.

So if you want a garden full of beautiful, thriving plants that won’t die when you’re on holiday, then you’re going to need a quality retic system installed.

There are many benefits to a quality irrigation system, here are just a few:

The Benefits of Quality Reticulation

A Thriving Garden: Like many things, consistency is key when watering your lawn and garden. Yes, in some circumstances it can be beneficial to intentionally reduce water to your plants so they develop stronger root systems – but in general, your plants will do much better with regular watering. By consistently providing your garden with the right amount of water you’re giving your plants access to the most important resource they need for sustained, healthy growth!

Reduce Stress: A good reticulation system allows you to automatically water your lawn and gardens on a regular schedule, without the stress of plants dying because you forgot to water them! Using quality parts and installation methods will extend the lifespan of your system, reduce maintenance and give you peace of mind that your garden is being watered when you’re away.

Save Time and Money: It’s common for people to spend a lot of time and money upkeeping a cheap, poorly installed system. On top of this, it’s frustrating and expensive to replace plants when it could have been avoided, all because they weren’t being watered correctly! The vast majority of irrigation issues are avoidable, and so it pays to get your irrigation professionally installed by an expert. You can rest easy as your irrigation helps develop your garden into a beautiful, thriving landscape.

An Essential Part of the Landscape Design Process

Irrigation Design: An Essential Part of the Landscape Design Process

So we’ve touched on the importance of landscape design, and the benefits of a quality irrigation system. But why should irrigation be a factor in the landscape design process?

Well, your landscape designer is uniquely placed to ensure that the design of your irrigation and your landscaping are aligned. When it comes to irrigation, a lack of proper planning can cause a variety of different problems during and after your project.

Here are some of the most common mistakes we encounter and how to avoid them:

Poor Solenoid Locations: Every Irrigation Repairman has experienced the pain of trying to locate and repair leaking solenoid valves below paving or under the root ball of a tree. It’s far more common than you think, and rectifying this can be both time-consuming and expensive!

To avoid damage to solenoid valves and pipes, and for ease of maintenance, solenoid valves should be located in an area clear of trees, walls, paving, concrete etc. – ideally in a garden bed. Your valves should be placed in a bank, known as a ‘manifold’, and protected with an access cover called a valve box. There should be room between fittings to allow for valves to be replaced if they ever fail, and its best practice to allow room for additional valves if another zone is ever required in future.

A good designer is going to make provision for this when designing your landscaping and note the proposed manifold location on your plans. Many times we have seen designs with little to no space left for a solenoid manifold, and this can lead to some inexperienced installers placing valves in poor locations such as close to a tree or even underneath paving and concrete!

Incorrect Plant Groupings: Some plants go together like wine and cheese, and the best plant combinations can look absolutely stunning. But it’s important for designers to ensure that plants in the same bed have similar soil, light and watering requirements. It’s not really possible to water one plant more or less than the others that are in close proximity. Flood bubblers or rings of dripline can be used to provide extra water to thirsty trees, but the immediate area around the trees will still become saturated and any plants sensitive to wet feet can die.

A great example of this is Xanthorrhoea Preissii, commonly known as the Grass Tree. These iconic native trees are usually quite an expensive feature plant because they are so slow growing – they only grow around 1cm per year, so a 1m tall tree can be as much as 100 years old! Care must be taken with Xanthorrhoea Preissii because they are very sensitive to overwatering and whatever plants are selected for around their base should be suitably drought tolerant. If misaligned, either your grass tree or the surrounding plants are going to suffer.

So if care is not taken to carefully select plant groupings during the design stage it can put your irrigation installer in the impossible position of needing to over or under-water some plants to give the right amount to others.

Forgetting to Pre-lay: Pre-lays are larger pipes or conduits that are installed prior to laying down ‘hardscapes’ like concrete, paving, footings and other ‘difficult to lift’ materials like synthetic grass. Pre-lays allow your retic pipes and wiring to be run to garden areas that would otherwise be inaccessible – such as from one side of your driveway to the other. Lack of planning here can have serious consequences because, without pre-lays underneath your concrete driveway, you’re left with very little option for getting water to the other side.

Your landscape designer should be noting pre-lay locations on their plans. Our recommendation is to use 100mm DWV sleeves for your pre-ays, and below surfaces like concrete and walls we recommend running ‘Blue Line’ HDPE pipe through these sleeves for added protection. Blue Line is far stronger and less prone to leaks than regular PVC, and comes in long rolls, so can be installed without any joins below the concrete. All this greatly reduces the chance of leaks and protects your system for the long term.

Pipes under Concrete: Lack of direction by your designer can also lead to the carnal sin of irrigation installation – unprotected pipes below the concrete. Most irrigation pipes such as PVC and poly pipes are not rated for installation directly underneath concrete. They can develop leaks that can damage your concrete or structures and are all but impossible to access for repairs.

At the very minimum these pipes should be in a sleeve, as we previously highlighted above. That way any leaking water will run out either side and prevent damage to your expensive hardscapes. The damaged pipes can also be replaced by running new lines through the sleeve, allowing for the issue to be rectified.

We also recommend going a step further and converting all pipes to Blue Line whenever they run below concrete or hardscapes – saving you the time and stress of the pipes in your sleeves developing leaks in the first place.

The practice of running retic pipes directly below hardscapes without a sleeve is extremely irresponsible, and in our opinion, downright criminal on the part of any landscaper who engages in it. Sadly, it is very common and unsuspecting homeowners can be left with a ticking time bomb below their concrete, expensive natural stone flooring or even walls.

This is why all designers should specify and highlight the importance of pre-lays on their landscape design plans. Too often critical elements like this are either assumed or left up to chance by designers and this can leave homeowners in the dark when selecting the right installer and during the installation of their landscaping.

Tips for how to Plan Your Reticulation Properly

The reason we are experts at designing excellent irrigation systems is that we have fixed so many terrible systems over the years. So here are our top tips for irrigation design in Perth:

Don’t Plan Last Minute: I know we keep hammering this point, but doing anything last minute always leads to less than optimal results. If you want to avoid problems then plan your irrigation system early, before any work on your landscaping begins (Yes – this includes concreting, retaining walls, boundary walls etc.). This will allow you to identify and solve issues before they ever happen.

Tips for how to Plan Your Reticulation Properly

Solenoid Wiring Tips: The first question we ask when someone calls up reporting that “nothing is working” is “Have you been digging in your garden recently”? Nine times out of ten the answer is yes and the unsuspecting homeowner has accidently cut through their solenoid wiring with a shovel.

Don’t Plan Last Minute: I know we keep hammering this point, but doing anything last minute always leads to less than optimal results. If you want to avoid problems then plan your irrigation system early, before any work on your landscaping begins (Yes – this includes concreting, retaining walls, boundary walls etc.). This will allow you to identify and solve issues before they ever happen.

Solenoid Wiring Tips: The first question we ask when someone calls up reporting that “nothing is working” is “Have you been digging in your garden recently”? Nine times out of ten the answer is yes and the unsuspecting homeowner has accidently cut through their solenoid wiring with a shovel.

Because solenoid wiring is low voltage, most irrigation installers just loosely tape the wiring to the main irrigation supply line. Worst still, many just run the wiring through the soil completely unprotected. It can be expensive to locate and fix broken wiring under the ground, and even once repaired, wire joins are more at risk of faults, which can prevent some zones or even your whole system from working.

Avoid this by running your wiring inside of grey electrical conduit to protect it and by installing full runs of wiring with no joints except at the controller and at the solenoid manifold/s.

Run a few spare wires to each solenoid manifold in case you ever need to install future zones, and make sure to join all wires using high-quality silicone gel connectors.

Leave a loop of wiring at each solenoid at least 300mm long and make sure to terminate the end of all wires in a gel connector, both spares and wires that are in use, as this will help prevent corrosion.

Following these wiring tips can greatly extend the life of your system and will dramatically reduce the risk of any shorts, faults and other issues with your wiring from occurring.

Head-to-Head Coverage: This is one of the most important concepts in irrigation design and the health of your lawn and garden really depends on getting this right.

In short, Head-to-Head coverage means that your sprinkler heads should be spaced to achieve full overlap from one nozzle all the way to the next. This allows you to achieve an even amount of coverage, with no dry patches or areas that are overwatered in your lawn and garden.

Use Quality Parts

Tip-to-Tip coverage is where the sprinkler arcs meet in the middle, leading to over-watering in some areas, and under-watering in other areas. This leads to patchy lawns and gardens and should be avoided.

Use Quality Parts: Before you go and buy those cheap pop-ups from you-know-where, you’ll want to consider the long-term results. Do you enjoy spending your weekends repairing blocked and broken pop-ups? Or do you like to spend time with friends, and family, and do the things you love?

Here are just a few recommendations for the types of parts you should be using in your system:

  • Use a 100mm pop-up with a quality make. Taller pop ups mean we can sink them lower to avoid being hit by lawn mower people and they will still pop up nice and high.
  • Use Hunter MP Rotators. In our opinion, these are the best sprinkler nozzles on the market by a long shot. Perfect coverage every time, are durable, use less flow than standard nozzles, are very targeted and cut through the wind like magic. There are very few situations where a standard spray type nozzle outperforms an MP Rotator. 
  • Use articulated risers to connect your pop-ups to your PVC. Articulated risers are a ‘swing arm’ that allows you to adjust your pop up to any height without the need to swap risers to a different size to sit the pop up at the perfect height. This is very convenient for installation as well as for repairs because they save so much time and effort. They also act as a kind of ‘shock absorber’ and will help protect your pop-ups and the PVC pipework below from damage by cars and other traffic.
  • Use concrete surrounds around your pop-ups in trafficable areas like verge lawns. Concrete surrounds are designed to take and disperse the weight of vehicles and will help protect your pop-ups from becoming broken.
  • Use a good controller like the Rain Bird ESP-ME3 Modular controller. 
  • They can also be converted into a WIFI ready controller with a simple WIFI card. They start with a base of 4 zones, but can be expanded up to 24 zones with 6 zone modules.
  • Use high quality solenoid valves such as Rainbirds DV 100 quality valves
  • Use waterproof Gel Connectors

How to Avoid Pressure and Flow Issues

So many systems are poorly designed with a lack of planning for potential pressure and/or flow issues in future. It is very common for pressure and/or flow to your home to be reduced over time, either as new homes are built, or to protect an ageing network of pipes. The first place you will notice this is your irrigation system, as often it has been incorrectly designed at the very limit of your home’s available pressure/flow. This can mean your sprinklers will no longer throw enough for good coverage, and they can even stop popping up whatsoever! This is not an easy fix and can be time-consuming and expensive to rectify.

Choosing the right landscape designer

So to avoid pressure and flow issues you should build a margin of safety into your system. We recommend designing your system by adding on more solenoids than what you need. You need to test your system under its operating pressure, which is generally around 250kPa. This does depend on a number of different factors like pipe sizing, desired sprinkler throw radius, and the distance between your cut-in and your sprinklers.

This can be difficult and quite complex to work out, so we recommend consulting an irrigation professional who can guide you in designing a system that won’t falter with pressure and flow issues. Get in touch with us today if you want a system that’s designed to perform well in the long term.

Luke from Retic Renovations


Choosing the right landscape designer can make or break your landscaping dreams, so it’s important to choose wisely! Irrigation design is a critical but often overlooked element of landscape design. To help homeowners get the best from their landscaping, irrigation design should be carefully considered during the landscape design process and a reticulation expert should be consulted. This will help to safeguard your system against a myriad of potential issues that could otherwise lead you to experience a lot of stress and avoidable expenses.

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John Porter from Valley Design Co
This blog was written as a guest blog and in collaboration with Retic Renovation by John Porter from Valley Design Co who has over 15 years of experience in landscape design and construction.

This blog was written as a guest blog and in collaboration with Retic Renovation by John Porter from Valley Design Co who has over 15 years of experience in landscape design and construction.