With warm temperatures settling in, it is time to turn your irrigation system back on from its winter break. Before turning your system on for the spring and summer months, you need to test it to make sure your plants are being watered effectively and water is not being wasted. This not only results in water savings, but money saved as well. Here are some helpful tips to assist you in achieving a successful start up of your irrigation system:
1. First, inspect your irrigation system by turning the system on and walking around your yard; you can turn your irrigation system on manually from your controller or your valve box. Make sure water is only being used to water plants and not creating wet spots where plants are not. If you see water leaving the system where no plant is present, you may be able to solve the problem by plugging the ¼” irrigation drip tube that is commonly used. The appropriate plugs are available at any hardware store. Also, check the location of drip emitters, as these can easily be moved by pets and yard maintenance activities. Position emitters to supply water to the entire root zone, which is typically about 50% larger than the top of the plant. If plants are on a slope, make sure to position the emitter on the high side of the root ball to take advantage of the water flowing downhill.
2. If you have turf, make sure sprinkler heads pop-up and are not stuck in the ground. You should also check to see that heads are pointed in the right direction and are spraying the intended pattern. Nozzles can become clogged by sand, rocks or other debris which you may be able to clean out with a screwdriver or pocketknife. If you cannot unclog the nozzle, replacement is necessary.
3. Once you have checked that the water delivery system is functioning correctly, move on to your irrigation controller. Sometimes, power failures or other factors can cause the controller to return to a default schedule, which may not be appropriate for the current weather conditions. If needed, reset the controller and enter a schedule appropriate for the needs of your landscape. You can use the interactive tools at http://www.wateruseitwisely.com to determine how often and how long the various stations on your controller should run.
4. Finally, do a reality check. You want to make sure moisture from your irrigation system is actually reaching the root zone of your plants. To test the depth the water is reaching, use a long screwdriver, piece of rebar or purchase a soil probe. A screwdriver will move easily through most soil when it is wet, but will stop when it reaches dry soil. The roots of most shrubs are not more than 6″ to 18″ deep and even a large tree will have most of its roots within the first 24″ of soil. For turf, getting moisture to a depth of 6″ should be sufficient.
As the weather and other factors change, you will need to adjust your watering frequency, days and run time. It is important to adjust your watering schedule monthly to account for temperature and moisture changes in the environment. After it rains, turn your irrigation system off completely. Monitor soil moisture and carefully observe the condition of your plants and turf before turning the system on again.
There are also a number of resources on the internet that can help you find information on how to maintain your plants and irrigation system. The Weather Channel (www.weather.com) has an excellent website with watering information. If you have other questions regarding your own landscape, a great reference is available through the University of Arizona, Cooperative Extension website at http://www.ag.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/.