Due to the mild climate long growing season in Central Florida eventually all irrigation systems will need some adjustments or sprinkler repair. All sprinkler systems consist of moving parts, and parts wear out. Now is the time for “tuning up” your sprinkler system now that the hot, dry spring upon us. April through June have the highest evapo-transpiration rates in the South, and landscapes generally require the most supplemental irrigation during these months.
Here is 10 part “tune-up” checklist to get your ready for Spring.
1. Set Controller for Correct Time and Date
If you have experienced a power interruption during winter, your sprinkler timer has returned to its default program settings; generally 10 minutes per lawn sprinkler zone, every day. This is not only against Central Florida watering restrictions, but it is also bad for your yard.
If this has happened to your controller, need to change the backup battery. Be sure to check if the sprinkler timer requires a rechargeable battery. If you replace a rechargeable battery with a regular battery you will harm the controller circuitry.
2. Inspect Each Sprinkler Zone For Leaks
Leaking seals or worn out sprinklers. Leaking sprinklers waste a lot water, raise your utility bill and steal pressure from the rest of the heads on the zone leading a lack proper coverage.
3. Check if Rotor Heads are Turning
Rotors are used to cover the larger areas of your yard and these heads throw a long distance. In order to water that larger area, they need to turn. Eventually all rotors will wear out and stop turning. “Closed case rotors” such as Hunter PGP’s need to be replaced when they stop turning. Impact rotors such as Rain Bird Mini-Paw sometimes stop turning due debris or grass in the spring mechanism. Often times this can be solved with a simple cleaning.
4. Heads too Low in the Turf
One common problem often seen in St. Augustine and Bermuda grass types is thatch. Thatch is a layer of dead grass under the newer grass shoots. This thatch layer grows higher over the years and can disrupt the spray pattern of a sprinkler head. If your heads seems significantly low and the grass is disrupting the water pattern, replace it with a taller head. For example, you can change a 4 inch pop up with a 6 inch pop up. For some heads two inches may make the head too tall. If so you can use a “riser extension” commonly available hardware stores. These can be cut to raise the head to the height you need.
5. Shrubs Blocking Spray Heads
As landscapes mature, sprinkler systems need to change along with them. Before drip irrigation became more common in residential sprinkler systems, a row of upright PVC pipes with sprinklers on top of them would be situated behind the shrubs. These sprinklers were used to water both the shrubs and the lawn. In this type of irrigation design often the shrubs continue grow higher up blocking the water from reaching the grass. One solution is to use PVC couplings and pipe to raise the sprinklers higher above the top of the shrubs. What I believe is an even better approach is to move the sprinklers in front of the shrubs with pop up heads in the grass. Attach flexible PVC hose to the pipes behind the shrubs, run it underneath the bushes and install the heads in front. Now use adjustable sprinkler nozzles throw water back shrubs and on to the turf. Don’t worry about the shrubs receiving less water than the turf. Established shrubbery requires much less water than turf due to deep root growth.
6.Clogged Spray Nozzles
It takes a very small amount of debris to clog a sprinkler nozzle. When this happens water coverage suffers. If the spray appears to have a slight clog, try tapping nozzle a screw driver handle while the head is spraying water. This will sometimes clear the obstruction. If that doesn’t work then the nozzle needs to be replaced. With clogged spray heads manufactured with built in nozzles, such as the Hunter PS, the whole spray head will need to be replaced as it is impossible to change the nozzle. However, before you do that, try this first: With the sprinkler on and running, twist open the adjustable nozzle way to a 360 degree pattern. Sometimes this will flush the nozzle obstruction. If not, then the entire spray head has to be replaced.
7. Misaligned Sprinkler Heads
Sprinkler positions can change over time. In order to work as designed, your irrigation sprinklers need to be straight and properly adjusted. Make sure the heads are watering the landscape, not the road or your patio. Check and straighten each lawn sprinkler head if it is tilted.
8. Set Sprinkler Run Times Correctly
Set individual zone times. There is no “one size fits all” equation when it comes to setting zone times. There are many variables such soil conditions, sun shade areas, types of heads and sprinkler system design efficiencies. Here are some basics that determine sprinkler times.
First, rotors, fixed sprays and drip emitters all have different run times due to having different precipitation rates. In general, rotors run three times long spray heads to deliver the same amount of water over a given area.
If the spray heads run for 10 minutes, then the rotors need to run for 30 minutes (all conditions being equal.) Over or under applying the needed amount of water can lead to plant problems. For example, in a dense clay soil or thick Florida muck soil, the amount water required for the plants may need more than one application due to the poor percolation properties of soil. Lets say it takes twelve minutes to fully water the area with spray heads. In this scenario, rather than applying all twelve minutes at once, it might be best to apply three separate applications of four minutes each to avoid runoff.
This can be accomplished by setting the controller start three separate times spaced closely together. If we have four zones consisting two spray and two rotor zones, settings follows above soil example:
Set the spray zones for four minutes and rotors for twelve minutes, a total system time run time of 32 minutes. Then set the sprinkler controller to start three times, 45 minutes apart. We would want our last run time near daybreak, so we would set the start times at 3:30, 4:45 and 5:00 and be finished watering at 5:32 AM
9. Turn Your Controller to Off ?
Setting your irrigation controller to water two days a week unless interrupted by the rain sensor is not the best way to irrigate your yard. A better way is to turn on your sprinklers only when you start to notice some plant stress in your yard. These two articles here and here from the University of Florida can show you what stresses to look for. When you only water your yard when it really needs it, you will promote deeper root growth. This deeper root growth will not only make your plants stronger against pests and diseases, but protect your landscaping when we experience a drought.
10. Don’t Obsess Over The Perfect Lawn
I believe that we have an state wide obsession regarding perfect lush grass in our yards. I believe this mentality needs change. Most homeowners with automatic sprinkler systems over water their yards over water their yards. We pour billions of pounds of pesticides and fertilizer in our yards every year. This toxic goo eventually winds up in our rivers and drinking water I p.ersonally believe it is okay to have a weed or two in my grass. At my home I have non-irrigated Bahia grass, the kind of grass that you see along the interstate. It thrives naturally in Florida without much supplemental watering. When it rains its green. If it doesn’t rain it turns brown, but that’s okay. It will turn green when it rains again. I use a drip irrigation system on my flowers when needed. I never water the shrubs and they do fine because the plant material native and drought tolerant.