Landscape irrigation consumes as much as 50 percent and even sometimes even more of homeowner water supplies. Irrigation systems poorly maintained lose and waste lots of this water before it reaches its intended areas to runoff, evaporation, and useless collection below the landscape root zone.
Irrigation system maintenance recovers lost water effectively, reduces run-off pollution, and keeps plants healthy by bringing them optimal amounts of water to wherever it can be of best use for the landscape.
Homeowners should examine the condition and check the operation of their irrigation systems at least twice seasonally, once when the system starts with the season and then a second time halfway through it. This frequency of twice a season is minimal. More frequent, monthly checks would be best.
The Basic Tasks of Irrigation System Maintenance
- Inspection of the controller for damage and for proper function
- Examination of all electrical wiring for sound condition and connections, attachment of rain, wind, or soil moisture sensors if necessary
- Replacement of back-up battery as necessary
- Schedule modifications to adapt to current landscape needs
Examples of System Damage and Problems:
Leaking Pipes or Valves
Leaks can be results of weather damage from freezes and thaws, from sharp tools, vandalism, tree roots, and ordinary system wear and tear. Pipe and valve leaks may be large and obvious. Smaller leaks may not be immediately apparent but require close inspections to find them. Damaged pipes or valves should be replaced or repaired.
Broken or Missing Heads
Lawn mowers, improper installation, and ordinary wear and tear can damage sprinkler heads. Replace damaged or missing heads immediately. Heads on flexible swing pipes can move in the soil to avoid damage from lawn mowers and heavy objects.
Nozzles can be clogged by entry of debris into the irrigation system, by dirty water, and ordinary wear and tear. Flush the system at the start of the irrigation season, install filter screens on sprinkler heads, clear or replace clogged nozzles, and upgrade system filtration.
Leaking seals. Over time, dirt and debris will wear out the wiper seal and cause leaks around the top of the spray head. Unitary leaking spray heads must be replaced entirely; others have separate parts.
Sprinkler heads may sink over time. Even with soil packed around them, the weight of landscaping equipment on wet turf can cause settlement. Grass clippings, soil, and other debris can build up around them and disrupt the spray pattern. Higher mowing heights may protect aged systems designed for shorter turf. Risers or taller sprinkler bodies can raise sprinkler heads.
Lawn mowers and wet soil can cause new sprinkler heads to tilt and provide uneven area coverage. If possible, install the sprinkler head on swing pipe and move it out of the way of heavy mowers and equipment that may cause it to settle or shift, or reposition the head and pack the soil around it.
System Efficiency Problems:
Misaligned heads water some parts of the landscape too much and leave brown spots in others. Realign the heads per manufacturer instructions.
Overspray distributes water unevenly and loses runoff to hard surfaces. Correct overspray by adjusting system pressure or nozzle settings or by installing the proper size and type of nozzle.
High pressure causes misting from spray heads, insufficient coverage from rapid rotation of impact rotors, and consequent irrigation system damage. Installation or adjustment of a pressure regulator or pressure-regulating heads eliminates this problem.
Failure of heads to rise up or to rotate is often a result of low water pressure. Low pressure also can cause uneven coverage that leaves dry spots in the landscape. A booster pump, watering in off-peak water use times, or fewer heads can raise pressure.
Incorrect Spray Arc
Observe the sprinkler head spray pattern and adjust if possible. If necessary, replace the nozzle with one with the correct spray pattern. Old irrigation systems may need updated nozzles to fit narrow and odd-shaped areas.
Although some maintenance and repairs may require assistance from a landscape professional, many of them are simple and straightforward and well within homeowner competence. Irrigation maintenance is an important part of water conservation for productive use in growing healthy, beautiful, landscapes.