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Learn about proper care of your new sprinkler system!

Caring For Your Sprinkler System

Having a sprinkler system makes watering your lawn and landscape easy. No longer is your landscape in danger of suffering during periods of drought. They can actually save money on your water bills when compared to watering your lawn and plants by hand. A properly installed and calibrated system will deliver the right amount of water at just the right time. You also save time from having to hand water.


Landscapes need watering from May to October. Your lifestyle often determines your need for an irrigation system. Do you take summer vacations, work long hours, or you just do not have time? Perhaps your health does not permit you to water or simply you have better things to do? If any of these describe you, supplemental irrigation is your answer to a beautiful landscape. Atlanta summers can bring long dry spells where you wonder if it will ever rain again. With an irrigation system in place, you do not have to worry about where your plants will find their next drink of water.


The largest cost of your sprinkler system is not the installation or repair work, but the overall water consumption over time. This is especially true if you are paying sewer fees at part of your water bill. That’s why it is so important to properly schedule your sprinkler systems run times and make regular checks to ensure that your system is functioning properly.


Need Us to Maintain Your System?


McBrayer Landscapes provides routine maintenance of sprinkler systems. While having a sprinkler system can help you to forget about watering your lawn manually, you must still remember to adjust your scheduling for seasonal conditions, inspect your system, make needed adjustments, and winterize it to protect against freeze damage. It’s easy to forget to do these things. We can provide you with routine maintenance so you can have peace of mind that these things are getting done when needed. Get a quote from us today. We have various plans to fit your needs.


Programming Your Controller


Before programming your controller, find out if your area currently has any watering restrictions. You will need to follow them to avoid fines. Common restrictions may be that you’re limited to water only two days a week during certain times of the day. Most recently, we were under similar restrictions that ended in 2017.


When to Water


The best time to schedule your sprinkler system to run is early in the morning. Winds are more calm and this keeps from blowing the water into the street and driveway. Temperatures are lower, so there is less water loss due to evaporation. If you water in the middle of the day, watering will be less effective due to evaporation. Watering in the evening or at night will keep the lawn wet and promote fungus and disease issues. Many water authorities prohibit watering between 10am and 4pm.

Irrigate during the early morning hours, generally between 4am and 8am. We normally schedule sprinkler systems to start running their cycle around 5am to 6am. You want the cycle to complete before 10am. Large sprinkler systems that run for extended periods of time may need to be scheduled to begin earlier.

How Long and How Often to Water


Programming your sprinkler system controller seems like it would be an easy task, right? Well, yes and no. Anyone can program their sprinkler controller. To PROPERLY program your sprinkler controller takes some knowledge your lawn's water needs as it changes throughout the season.

It's convenient to have a sprinkler system, but they can easily waste water (and money) if not programmed correctly. Properly scheduling your irrigation times and keeping up with regular maintenance is the best way to ensure that your sprinkler system is working efficiently.

The concept behind properly watering is to water deeply and infrequently. Watering frequently in small amounts often promotes shallow roots and causes your lawn to be more susceptible to high heat and drought stress. It's best to water for longer periods once or twice a week. You do not want to water to the point that you have run-off. The system needs watering times adjusted if the irrigated area produces run-off, standing water, or becomes muddy. Certain soils and slopes make this worse. Adjust your cycle to a shorter duration with more frequent cycles. Example: a thirty (30) minute cycle becomes two 15 minute cycles.

Typically, we schedule rotor zones twice a week for about 25-35 minutes each and spray zones for about 7-15 minutes each. Drip zones need to run longer, about 45 minutes or so. During periods of extreme heat, 3 days per week may be needed.

Each system is going to have its own unique watering schedule, depending on design and layout as well as how good the coverage is. Your lawn and landscape beds have different watering requirements. Turf generally requires about 1 inch of rainfall a week to do well. To find out how long it takes for 1 inch of water to come out, place cups on the lawn and turn on the system. Time how long it takes for an inch of water to collect in your cups. Hint: Measure your cups before you place them in the yard making a mark at one (1) inch.


Trees and shrubs do not usually require supplemental watering once they are established. Small perennials may need regular watering, even once established. Annual flowers need regular watering. New lawns and plants may require multiple waterings everyday during periods of extreme heat.


Smart WiFi controllers that connect to local weather stations may handle some of these adjustments for you, as long as it’s set up properly.


The below sprinkler system scheduling info can be used as a general guideline, not  necessarily a schedule set in stone.  


Winter (December-February) - No watering is needed. The only exception to the rule may be for newly installed plants or sod. Water just enough to keep roots from drying out, watering only once per week when temperatures are above freezing.


Spring (March-May) - We typically get a good bit of rain in the spring. You may not need to use your irrigation system at all in March or April. Schedule the system to run 1-2 days a week if we aren't receiving 1" of rainfall per week. Rotor zones can be scheduled to run 20-30 minutes each and spray zones can run 7-10 minutes per zone. If areas of the lawn appear to not be getting enough water, you may need to run some zones longer and/or more frequently.


Summer (June-August) - This is the most important time to use your sprinkler system. Schedule the system to run 2-3 days a week if we aren't receiving 1" of rainfall per week. Rotor zones can be scheduled to run 25-35 minutes each and spray zones can run 7-15 minutes per zone. If areas of the lawn appear to not be getting enough water, you may need to run some zones longer and/or more frequently. 


Fall (September-November) - As we enter fall and the temperatures begin to cool down, you can back off scheduling frequency and/or run times. Towards the middle of September, reduce the watering schedule to 1-2 days a week if we aren't receiving 1" of rainfall per week. Rotor zones can be scheduled to run 20-25 minutes each and spray zones can run 7-10 minutes per zone. If areas of the lawn appear to not be getting enough water, you may need to run some zones longer and/or more frequently. We normally stop watering around mid October. By November, you can completely shut down and winterize your sprinkler system as long as you are not needing to water a seeded lawn, new plants, or fall annuals. If you postpone winterizing your system, don’t forget to shut it down before freezing weather.


Rain Sensors


McBrayer Landscapes installs a rain sensor with each new sprinkler system installation. Rain sensors have been required to be installed by law with all new systems since 2005.  We regularly find systems missing this important component. If your system is missing a rain sensor, we highly recommend having one installed. The payback period can be quick if you regularly use your sprinkler system. Modern Wi-Fi controllers that connect to a local weather station to automatically adjust the watering schedule do not require one, but it is still a good idea to have one installed. It is possible to have a heavy downpour at your home and the weather station will not pick it up and your system will still run. McBrayer Landscapes installs wireless rain sensors for a clean job with batteries that can last up to 10 years.


It’s a good idea to check to ensure that your rain sensor is working at least once a year. Some wireless rain sensors can be checked from their receiver mounted next to the controller. They will display whether or not they are working properly. Other sensors you will need to test manually. Turn on a zone that is visible from the rain sensor location. Access the rain sensor mounted on a gutter. Press and hold the button on top of the rain sensor. The zone should turn off (this may take a few seconds). When released, the zone should turn back on. 


You can also wait until a significant rainfall and try to run the system. If your sensor is functioning properly, the system should not run.

Valve Boxes


It’s a good idea to keep track of the location of all valve boxes on your property. Try to keep them uncovered. We often find turf or mulch completely covering valve boxes. Trim growing grass away from the box.


Winterizing Your System


You must winterize your system. In Atlanta, generally the ground does not freeze below the first inch, but for the times of a more serious freeze. You must prepare or you might have to repair your irrigation system. Before extreme weather comes, you need to get most of the water out of the system. Your shutoff valve is located underground close to the water meter. Close this valve. If the sprinkler system is equipped with a drain valve, open the valve to drain the mainline. Take care so that no debris enters the mainline during this process. This can cause significant problems. If your system is not equipped with a drain, skip to the next step. With the water shut off, use the controller to turn off all the zones, then turn on all your zones. Allow the system timer to run through all of its cycles in its normal manner. Much of the water in your pipes will run out of the lowest irrigation heads. The water that remains will not be under pressure. Your system should be fine when you turn it on after the cold weather.

Another alternative is to purchase a maintenance program from an irrigation contractor, such as McBrayer Landscapes. With our maintenance program, you can rest assured knowing that the care of you sprinkler system is in good hands.


Spring Start Up


Once we get past the potential of a deep freeze, it’s a good idea to check to make sure your system is functioning properly before warmer weather arrives and you need to use your system. Typically early March is a good time to do this. Turn on the water supply back on to the system from the shut off valve. Inspect your property for potential leaks in the mainline. If they exist, you will see water coming out of the ground. Close the shut off valve if you notice a leak. 


If not leaks are noticed, begin running each zone and inspecting for issues. While running each zone, walk around the area it is running and look to make sure each head is functioning properly and not leaking. Look for low pressure issues. Make sure all the heads are properly adjusted and not spraying onto the house or into the street or driveway. If you have drip irrigation, inspect each emitter to make sure that it is flowing. These easily become clogged.


After you have ensured that everything is properly functioning, program the controller for seasonal conditions.


If you notice any issues, contact McBrayer Landscapes right away.


Regular Inspections


Since sprinkler systems generally run early in the morning, you may not know you have a problem until you receive a high water bill. It’s a good idea to check your system once each month during the growing season to observe for issues. Inspect each zone in the same manner as the spring startup guide. Issues can arise at any time, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on things.


Landscapes are dynamic. As your landscape grows and matures, your sprinkler system may need adjustments or heads relocated or capped off. Keep this in mind.


Occasionally, check your irrigation system to make sure there is no damage from your lawn mower. Make sure your drip irrigation is working. If you have drip irrigation or spray heads, make sure the plants have not outgrown the original installation. The system may need to be adjusted or retrofitted.


Before You Dig or Have a Project


Damage often occurs to sprinkler systems when there is digging in the lawn. You may be able to avoid issues by having us locate all your valves and wiring prior to performing any work. While we cannot locate all the buried pipes, we can trace wire and flag all your heads and valves. Pipes aren’t always buried with wire, but wire is almost always buried with pipes. We will at least have a good idea of where the major components are located. We have seen damage from plumbing companies, deck and fence installations, driveway installations, general landscaping projects, etc. Please take possible damage to your sprinkler system into consideration before anyone digs on your property.


Before Aerating


Make sure to flag all your heads and valve boxes before core aerating your lawn to prevent damage.


Common Problems and Easy Fixes


Sprinkler Controller Not Working - Make sure it’s plugged in. Press reset button on backside of panel if present. Make sure the outlet has power. Check to see if a GFCI outlet is tripped.


No Water When Running - Make sure the meter is turned on (if separate meter for sprinkler system). Make sure the ball valve is turned on for the sprinkler system water supply.


If you suspect a leak in your system, you can find out by going to the main water meter, there is a very sensitive red triangle that rotates if there is even a small amount of water. Make sure no water is running in the home. Make sure all faucets are shut down and no toilets are running in the house, and then check the water meter. Re-check the meter after you shut down the irrigation system main ball valve. If the triangle does not move, there is no water movement and no leak in the irrigation system. If the triangle rotates at all there may be a leak present in the irrigation system. Digital meters will show the flow rate in gallons per minute. If it reads zero GPM for the rate of flow, there is no leak.

Once you have identified a leak, find the location of the leak. To find the leak, wait for a time free of rain and a couple of days without the sprinkler. When the system comes on the next time, check for wet areas, most likely the irrigation valves or main shut off area. Water in a low point will need to be traced to its source. If you observe a leak, please turn off the irrigation system water supply and call us.

Call us if you have any questions!

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