Published on 04/03/00

Spring Sprinkler Checkups Vital to Landscape

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Photo: Joe Courson

Sure, it's spreading water. But is your irrigation working right?

The University of Georgia's state climatologist predicts we can expect watering restrictions that will come sooner and last longer this summer. If I want to keep my yard nice and green, my irrigation system becomes a lifeline to my landscape.

It took a little while to refamiliarize myself with my irrigation controller. After a few minutes, I got the system to spew water, but I didn't know if it was working correctly.

So I asked Kerry Harrison, an irrigation engineer with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, to take a critical look at my system.

He found a problem immediately. A seal had failed on one of the sprinklers, wasting what could become precious water.

"See the bubbling?" he said. "This is water that should be going out into the yard and be distributed out there. Instead, it's wasted around the edge of the sprinkler.

"It's not altering the pattern," he said. "It's just not putting the water where it could be used better. Wiper seals, at the base of the sprinkler, are among the most common sprinkler parts to wear out, regardless of the brand."

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Photo: Joe Courson

Does water puddle at the base of a sprinkler? It's a common problem that costs your lawn.

Check Sprinkler Before It's Needed

Harrison said spring checkups should be done long before I need to use the system. It's important to check out every sprinkler. Make sure it turns. And make sure it provides an even watering pattern.

Sure enough, another of my sprinklers had a problem, wasting water on the deck while missing the plants on the opposite side. Harrison said I, like many others, probably knocked the sprinkler out of adjustment when mowing the yard.

"It's one of the more common problems," he said. Luckily, the lawnmower didn't knock the head of the sprinkler off. It just changed its adjustment.

For more than an hour, I inspected every sprinkler. I found a few minor, easily correctable problems.

Consider a Maintenance Contract

People who don't have time for a spring sprinkler checkup, or who aren't mechanically talented, may want to consider a maintenance contract. Let a professional keep the system operating year-round.

"An irrigation person would come out and do your spring season tune-up for you," Harrison said. "Generally, a maintenance contract doesn't include any parts. It just includes his labor."

The contractor would adjust the settings on a time clock for spring, summer and fall, too, he said.

"You're usually talking about two to three trips to your house or place of business to do this run-through," Harrison said. "That kind of contract is probably a good one if you're a busy person."

Often, irrigation contractors have other businesses, such as landscaping. So their other commitments may determine when they can tune up your system. As a rule, Harrison said, maintenance contracts aren't very profitable for contractors. Many do it just for good customer relations.

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Photo: Joe Courson

Know how to operate your system controller.

Harrison's advice to people who do their own checkup is to "run the system through its cycle," he said. "Be familiar with the time clock if you have an automated system. Know how to adjust it. And make sure the time is correct.

"Starting ahead of time, before the system is needed," he said, "is going to be the recommendation for any homeowner."

Now, if we have outdoor watering restrictions (and not an outright ban), I'm ready. I know my system works as it should because I checked it out before the really hot weather tried to suck the life out of my yard.