Irrigation System Tune-up Time

Spring has barely arrived – but summer will soon be here! The best time to do a careful tune-up of your irrigation system is now – before your plants need it!

Irrigation Tune-Up

An irrigation tune-up is not complicated, although it can take some time depending on your system. Like any other task or journey, just take it one step at a time. There are only four major things to check: filter, water placement, water amount, and schedule.

Irrigation Filter.

Start with the filter. Clean it out.

Many irrigation systems have an in-line filter. It helps capture any solids that may be in the water as it goes into your system. Since new construction is a fact of life in our region, soil often gets into water pipes. A clogged filter will reduce the amount of water your plants are getting each time the system runs. Incidentally, filters are fairly easy to add if your system lacks one.

irrigation-emitter placement
Put the water out where the plants need it – NOT next to the trunk. Photo courtesy of “Landscape Watering by the Numbers.”
Emitter Placement.

Irrigation emitters need to be placed near the water absorbing or feeder roots of the plants. Feeder roots extend far beyond the trunk of the plant in their search for water. Look at the leafy area of the plant. The edges of this leafy area, where a light rainfall would drip off, is where the feeder roots are. A tree, shrub, or groundcover with a canopy 5 feet out from the stem or trunk needs a continuous circle of water placed 5 feet out from the stem or trunk. So check your irrigation emitter placement. You may need to move or add new emitters as plants mature.

There are different types of irrigation emitters. Photo courtesy of Dripworks.
Irrigation Amount.

The amount of water depends on species of plant, amount and type of mulch around your plants, and type of soil(s) in your yard. The goal is for the system to deliver sufficient moisture to all the plants in your yard. Example – two same-size bushes, rose bush and feather-leaf cassia, the rose will need more water. You get more water with either more emitters or a higher flow per emitter.

Check the size of your emitters on each plant. Are they all 1 gallon per hour, or do they vary? Depending on the plants, you may want to change some emitters to deliver a greater or lesser amount of water. You can have different emitters on the same zone.


Irrigation Schedule.

That dreaded gray box on the wall must simply be dealt with. First, check for back-up batteries. Usually a 9-volt, they usually hide in a secret compartment in the door or behind the dial. Replace the batteries once per year, especially before summer thundershowers cause power bumps that erase programs.

Irrigation control boxes vary in complexity and available settings. Be brave! Unless you start yanking wires or using a hammer, you can not hurt the irrigation control unit by pushing buttons and moving the knob.

Check that the controller knows the correct time of day and correct day of the week. Set it to deliver water just as plants need it — at dawn, when plants “wake up” and start to photosynthesize.

Do be careful when opening in-ground water vaults. They make a dandy home for all manner of Sonoran wildlife – including these harmless king snakes.

There you have – 4 things to check in your irrigation system and you should be good for the summer season ahead!  More irrigation tune-up tips on another site I write for – SW Gardening.

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If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures that I mention on on the Gardening With Soule Facebook page. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit “Tierra del Sol” may get a few pennies.

Corona Virus Update. Lectures postponed for “a while.”  You should still visit my Facebook page because I am starting to do Facebook Life posts that are virtual tours of my garden!


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