Irrigation Systems: Advice from an Expert

May 19, 2017

It does nothing but rain in the Northwest…not so

We are starting to see a break in the rain finally, and before we know it summer will be here (fingers crossed). If you’ve ever spent a summer as a slave to your hose trying to keep your garden watered, you know that it does not always rain in the Pacific Northwest. Hand watering can be very enjoyable, but if you have a large space and a have a lot of new plants installed all at once it can become a daunting task. It only takes a day or two of scorching heat, combined with a lack of water, to kill your newly planted garden. For these reasons, we suggest having an irrigation system installed to most of our clients.

A new landscape is a large investment and an irrigation system is somewhat of an insurance policy on the new plant material. That said, as stewards of the environment and certified EcoPRO professionals we are always looking for the best ways to help our clients become more environmentally sustainable.

I recently discussed the topic of irrigation systems with one of our contractors. Matt Arnold is the Irrigation and Lighting Specialist at JP Landscape. He had some great insight and pointers.

Spray head for lawns (MP Rotator – Photo Courtesy of Hunter Industries)

Drip irrigation in bed areas


What are some of the most common mistakes you see when rehabbing old irrigation systems?

Poor distribution uniformity, the wrong equipment for the application (different types of heads and/or drip running together on the same zone), and large amounts of overspray.

Matt also points out the importance of considering the system pressure (psi) and flow (gpm) when designing the system.

Irrigation efficiency (Photo courtesy of Hunter Industries)

What type of maintenance do irrigation systems need?

Irrigation systems are not, contrary to popular belief, maintenance free systems. Matt recommends a minimum of 2 system services per year. Ideally the system will be evaluated monthly to check operation and programming to optimize water needs and usage.

Those 2 system services include:

Irrigation spring service:

  1.  Turn the water on to pressurize the irrigation mainline and confirm that it is “tight” (not leaking).
  2. Test the backflow assembly (AKA double-check valve) to ensure proper operation. (This is an important safety device that keeps potentially contaminated water from flowing backwards into the main water supply)
  3. Run through all the zones paying close attention to: valve operation (opening and closing properly), sprinkler operation (heads are spraying properly and drip emitters are functioning), and flushing/cleaning of filters as needed.
  4. Repair or replacement of broken or damaged components.
  5. A review of the sprinkler controller programming.

Irrigation winterization service:

  1. Flush the majority of the water from the irrigation system. This process will prolong the life of the irrigation system by protecting it from freezing.
  2. Turning off the system to insure the system will not be in operation during the colder months.

“It is important that this task is performed by an experienced technician. Improper connection, and operation of an air compressor to an irrigation system can result in damage of more than just the irrigation system.”

What is the biggest factor in ensuring efficient water usage?

It is common for homeowners with irrigation systems to use more water than if they were watering by hand. The biggest factor in ensuring efficient water usage according to Matt is proper controller programming. “Entering a clear base program can prove to be difficult without experience in the subject. A correct base program will set the controller on the right path to its intended goal of watering your landscape while saving water.”

There have been advancements in the technology of irrigation controllers that provide options to connect the system to databases that send signals to the controller with weather information to make automatic adjustments. These advancements help the system to be more efficient and saves Matt as a contractor a lot of time making site visits, to check the controller operation at different times of the year.

Irrigation Controller (Courtesy of Hunter Industries)

With a properly installed and maintained irrigation system you garden will be happy and you will be able to spend more time relaxing in your garden rather than stressing that your plants are not getting watered correctly.

Thank you to Matt for sharing his vast knowledge and expert advice about irrigation systems. Do you have any other questions about irrigation systems? If so let us know in the comments below.

~ Kryssie

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