Spring Is Irrigation Tune-up Time


An irrigation system can take the headache out of watering, but needs an annual tune-up. Photo courtesy of DripWorks.

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Your landscape is a major investment, adding up to 10 percent of the total value of your home, so an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure. Like your car, your irrigation system has moving parts and electrical connections – thus it needs regular maintenance and a periodic tune-up. For irrigation systems, spring is an ideal time to perform the tune-up.

First, check the emergency shut-off valve for ease of movement. These valves can “freeze” open due to the minerals in the water moving through them. By working them every so often, any mineral build-up is knocked loose. Then they will work when you really need them, like when water from a break is geysering toward the sky.

Check to see that emergency shut-offs still work – before it is a true emergency.

Clean filter(s). Somewhere on your irrigation system there should be at least one filter to help trap debris. This needs regular cleaning, especially if there is new construction in your area. Take it out and soak it in vinegar to clean the debris you can’t see.

Clean your water filter on a regular basis.

Check that all emitters are functioning. They can clog with the minerals that are naturally occurring in our water. Repair or replace any clogged ones.

Drip emitters can be flag-type (as seen here) or button-type. Photo courtesy of DripWorks.

Check for leaks. Leaks encourage weeds and waste water. Repair them as soon as you find them. You should keep a repair kit on hand with emitters, pipe couplers, microtubes (1/4 inch diameter), and some mainline pipe (generally 1/2 inch).

Remove end cap(s) and flush irrigation line(s). This helps clear debris that gets past the filter. There is almost always some.

This end cap was leaking, encouraging the growth of weeds and wasting water.

Check that the manual override on irrigation valves can be activated. Electrically controlled irrigation valves have a manual knob that allows you to turn the water on when something is wrong with the controller (also called timer). They too can “freeze” shut from mineral build-up, and thus need occasional attention to keep them available for when you need them.

Irrigation valves are controlled by electrical impulses sent from the irrigation timer. Photo courtesy of DripWorks.

Adjust controller schedule settings (also called programs). If your controller is capable of it, you can store three complete programs, one for summer, one for winter, and one for spring and fall. If you go to the trouble to do this, don’t forget the next care tip!

Change the back-up battery in the controller. Do this once a year whether it needs it or not. You can change it when you do your home smoke detectors (in October, which is Fire Awareness Month) or with your irrigation system tune-up, just before the summer heat and storms.

Irrigation controllers are also called timers.

Check that controller times are set correctly, especially after every power outage. Despite back-up batteries, some controllers reset when power is bumped.

Move emitters out to the dripline of trees and shrubs as they grow larger. The best way to keep trees from blowing over in the wind is to encourage sturdy wide-reaching roots. Water out at the edge of the leaves, not at the base of the trunk. Same for shrubs. You will need to add emitters as the plants age. More on landscape watering in future posts.

This is an irrigation no-no. Photo courtesy of B. Goodnick.

With a little routine maintenance on a regular basis, drip irrigation can be an asset to ease of maintenance for your landscape.


More about irrigation care every month in my book Month by Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $24.99). Books are also available through our Amazon Affiliate link (but unsigned!).

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