How to Evaluate a Sprinkler System – Part 1 of 2

By Courtney Brown, Conservation Garden Park

Most of us realize that certain things require regular maintenance. We are willing to invest a little time and effort, even money, if we know it will make the “thing” work better. People commonly work hard to maintain their vehicles, homes, and their own health, but what about assets surrounding their home – the landscape, and particularly the sprinkler system? In this 2-part series, we’ll look at some simple and not-so-simple ways to make your sprinkler system function at its prime.

First, there is a great deal of efficiency to be achieved by making sure your sprinklers are operating properly. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people to simply increase the watering time on their sprinkler controllers to compensate for dry spots in the lawn rather than finding what’s causing the dry spot and fixing it. This would be like accelerating harder when you get a flat tire with the hope that it would just go away!

When it’s time to begin watering for the season (try to make it to Mother’s Day!), take the time to turn on each sprinkler zone and check for obvious problems such as broken heads, improper nozzles, tilted heads, low heads, and misdirected spray. These are relatively easy problems to fix, and if this is all you need, great! But to ensure your sprinklers spray evenly and consistently across the lawn, there are some other important things to consider:

No Mixed Zones: When replacing sprinkler heads it’s important to use the same type of head through the entire zone. Sprinkler heads are designed with drastically different precipitation rates, so using different types applies wildly different amounts of water to your lawn. To illustrate, if you were to put an empty cup on the lawn and run a fixed spray head for 10 minutes, then do the same thing with a rotor head (the kind that rotate back and forth), the cup would have much more water in it from the fixed spray zone. Rotor heads requires more runtime than fixed spray heads to put down the same amount of water on the lawn. If you mix heads on the same zone, water isn’t applied evenly.

Use the Correct Nozzle: The nozzle is the top part of the sprinkler head where the water comes out. Sprinkler heads offer a wide variety of nozzles with various spray patterns and distances, and sometimes the wrong pattern or distance is being used. Make sure you’re using the right pattern or spray distance for the shape or length of lawn. There are so many options available that you should easily be able to find the appropriate spray type for where you’re using the nozzle. If not, these can be changed by simply unscrewing the nozzle and installing a new one. For rotor heads, the nozzle is usually held in place by a screw that comes down from the top of the sprinkler head. You can use a small screwdriver to back out the screw and change the nozzle.

These are only two intermediate fixes. Next week we’ll talk about sprinkler head spacing and how to change out a sprinkler head.

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