Irrigation System Maintenance


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    Irrigation System Maintenance

    Kelly Kopp, Extension Water Conservation and Turfgrass Specialist

    Jennie Hoover, Water Conservation Specialist, Center for Water Efficient Landscaping

    November 2004 | HG/Irrigation/2004/01


    A sprinkler system test is performed on a playing fieldIrrigation system maintenance is necessary to ensure the most efficient use of the water that is being applied. Efficient irrigation is important because over two-thirds of the total water used in the average Utah home is applied to the landscape. With the natural drought cycles that occur in Utah and the growing population, efficient water use is critical.

    These maintenance recommendations will help you evaluate our irrigation system before using it each spring and also throughout the growing season.

    Irrigation Controller

    Irrigation controllers should be checked at the beginning of each growing season before running the sprinklers for the first time. First, find the manual for the controller. If the manual has been lost or misplaced, check the manufacturer’s web site for downloadable versions or information on how to order one. Becoming familiar with the irrigation controller’s manual will make spring start-up quick and easy.

    Open the controller’s cabinet and clean out any cobwebs, dirt, or debris. This is also a good time to change the battery and check the wiring for any loose connections. Check all wire connections, including the rain sensor connection if one is attached.

    If a rain sensor is not attached to the controller, consider adding one to your irrigation system. A rain sensor is inexpensive, simple to install, and will automatically shut off the irrigation system when a significant amount of rain falls.

    Next, check the time and day showing on the controller and correct them if necessary. This is also the time to set up an irrigation schedule. If the landscape has slopes, sandy, or clay soils, split the irrigation runtime into two or more cycles to avoid runoff or ponding.

    Also, remember that in the spring and fall less water is needed to keep plants healthy than in the heat of the summer. The following basic irrigation schedule is recommended for use in Utah. Consult USU county extension offices for irrigation schedules that are directly
    applicable to your county.

    State of Utah Basic Irrigation Schedule*

    Startup  until April 30 Once every 6 days
    May Once every 4 days
    June  Once every 3 days
    July  Once every 3 days
    August Once every 3 days
    September Once every 6 days
    October 1 until shutdown Once every 7 days
    *This schedule requires that you apply 1/2” of water each time you irrigate or 5/8” in St. George and vicinity.

    Sprinkler System

    Once the irrigation schedule is programmed, inspect the sprinkler system by checking the valves, sprinkler heads, and emitters. Before running the system, remove the last sprinkler head in each line and let the water run for a few minutes to flush out any dirt and debris. Replace the sprinkler head and turn the system on,
    running one valve at a time.

    • Observe the spray patterns and position of the sprinklers for obvious problems such as clogged or
      misaligned heads.
    • Some sprinkler heads may be tilted, surrounded by grass, or even buried. If not positioned
      properly, these sprinkler heads will be unable to apply water efficiently.
    • Some sprinklers also have built-in filter screens that should be cleaned and replaced if necessary.
    • Watch for leaks and misting from sprinkler heads that may indicate high water pressure problems.
      High pressure problems may be corrected by plumbing a pressure regulator into the sprinkler
      system. Pressure-regulating sprinkler heads are also available.

    Make the necessary adjustments and repairs to the system in order to apply the water as evenly as
    possible. The flow control on the valves may also be adjusted to fine-tune the system. When this is done, turn the
    irrigation system on manually to make sure it is operating as programmed.

    Drip System

    As with sprinkler systems, flush the drip system before running it by removing the emitters and letting
    water run through the tubing for a few minutes to flush out any dirt and debris. Replace emitters and run the
    system, one valve at a time, to check for problems.

    • Clogged emitters should be replaced. If the system does not have a water filter, one should to be
    • Check the placement of emitters. Emitters need to be at the edge of the root-ball on new plantings
      and moved to the drip line (edge of foliage) of established plants.
    • Check for emitters that have popped off tubing because of high pressure, and install a pressure
      regulator if needed.
    • Check to see that all emitters are in place. Missing and broken emitters need to be replaced to
      keep your system running efficiently.
    • Look for pinched or broken tubing and straighten or replace it. Also make sure that all tubing is
      attached to the appropriate emitters and that connections are secure.

    Make the necessary adjustments and repairs to the system. When this is done, turn the irrigation system
    on manually to make sure it is operating as programmed.


    Basic winterization of a sprinkler system is quite simple. The water supply should be turned off at the
    main valve and the irrigation controller should be set to the “rain” or “off” setting.

    Each valve should be turned on to release pressure in the pipes and water should be drained from the system to protect any components that could freeze. Your system may have drain valves that can be opened for drainage, or you may have to blow out the system using air. You may wish to have your irrigation system blown out by an irrigation professional. Consult your local irrigation supply store for a recommendation. 

    The goal of irrigation system maintenance is to create the most efficient irrigation system possible so thatwater is not wasted on the landscape. While perfect efficiency is impossible to achieve, most irrigation systems can be dramatically improved by regularly following these simple maintenance practices.

    Examine your irrigation system carefully each spring and several times during the growing season (at least once a month), to keep it operating at peak efficiency. Most importantly, use an irrigation schedule that accounts for plants’
    changing needs over the growing season.



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