In my recent June newsletter I begin to explain how to monitor your water system using your sprinkler controller, problem is I ran out of room so here are some detailed descriptions and ideas for operating your sprinkler system.

The most important thing you can do is read the manual at least 3 or 4 times and practice running the controller through all of its functions.

There are 2 main controllers that we are installing Rainbird and Hunter, you may also have an old Richdel, Orbit or Nelson controller, if the later do yourself a favor and have us install a new one with a rain gauge sensor. Both the Hunter and Rainbird controllers are excellent, both have similar features I will do my best to explain.

Date and Time

Always make sure the date and time are correct, and more importantly that the am/pm indicator is correct otherwise your system will be off by 12 hours. There are a few main settings, Start Times, Run Times and Watering days or days to water. There are also 2 or 3 Programs within each controller, basically that means you have 2 or 3 controllers within a controller, sound confusing? Can be if you don’t understand this part of the process, just remember that each Program A, B or C on Hunter controllers or 1,2,3 for Rainbird are basically 3 clocks in one, so when you are on Program A or 1 you need to set the complete Program up before you set up the next Program.

Start times - here is where the Hunter controllers and others can get confusing. When you set up a Start Time it is the time that you want the first zone in the first Program to Start. As soon as that Program starts the first zone running the next zones will follow. It is not necessary to manually set another Start Time and in fact most landscape applications will be run from only one Start Time in one Program, keep it simple unless you need to separate shrubs from grass, ect, more on that below.

Run Times – this is easy, each zone (Valve in the ground that runs the heads) will need a Run Time attached to it, this determines the amount of time that the zone will water. More water for lawn, less for shrubs, more about his below.

Water Days or watering days - watering days are usually easy to set, with hunter it is the rain droplets, solid droplet is on, and circled or blank is off. Rainbird are usually on the dial so you have to set each day as on or off.

Water budget or % this little known feature comes in handy for quick adjustments. Turn the dial to this feature and it will show a percentage of 0 to 100% or on some 0 to 200% when you adjust this it will either add or subtract minutes from the watering time on all of the stations. I use this feature a lot on controllers that I am adjusting, it is fast and easy, when the temperature warms I add say 20% when it cools I take it back down to my original settings usually 100% is where I like to keep it as that is the medium setting. As the weather warms I will add as much as 50% this adds more run time to each zone. This feature is nice when you are in a hurry or just don’t want to deal with each individual run time on each zone.

Multiple programs/Run times

I left this for last as this is where most people get confused, running multiple Programs is easy. The main reason for running another Program is so that you can separate the shrubs from the grass especially if they have different types of sprinklers, and you can run them on different days. Also shrubs don’t need as much water as their roots are deeper in the ground than the lawns roots. Remember to start with the first Program for example Program A: set the Start Time and double check that it is in the proper Am/Pm position, next set the Zone Run Time. Then set up the Water Day or Days to Water. Remember to keep it simple and just run 1 Start Time per Program as there are up to 4 or more, I repeat only run one Start Time per Program you don’t need more than that! Next set the Run Time for each zone that you want to run on that day on that Program. Ok program A is finished, now set up Program B for either the shrubs or grass, I always run grass on A and shrubs on B and that’s it, anything else just makes it more complicated.

An example for running multiple Start Times would be if you were seeding a lawn in the summer and you needed to water the grass many times a day to keep it wet, then you would use as many start times as needed.

Some frequently asked Questions

What is a Zone?

When a sprinkler system is set up there is only so much water available to draw from, if you ran the entire property on one zone there wouldn’t be enough water available from the city metered water to cover everything so we break out the system in zones. Each zone is controlled by a solenoid valve, the water is pressurized at that valve not the heads, wires are run from the valve to the controller, when the controller turns on the valve the valves pressurize the heads and water your landscape.

Why are there multiple Start Times in a Program?

Main reason is that these are national companies that sell product all over the world and many different climates. Dry climates like Arizona, California and the desert areas need more control and require different applications based on temperature and soil (more sandy/silts). Our soils hold more water (Clay) really all we need is 1 Start Time per Program per day but other areas will run water in multiple applications to keep plants cool adding to more Start Times per Program.

Why multiple programs

I touched on this above; the best example is that grass and shrubs require different amounts of water. Remember the stations on a Program follow each other by separating grass from shrubs this allows you control over the runtimes and watering days as lawns need more water days during a week than shrubs. By setting lawn on A or Program 1 you can water say 4 times per week, shrubs don’t need this much water so put them on program B or 2 and water just 2 times per week.

What type of heads Rainbird or Hunter and for what application?

Either is fine, I prefer Hunter but they both are basically the same in quality. For lawn I like the Hunter PGP it is the best lawn head in my opinion, the Rainbird 5000 is also a good choice. For shrubs the Hunter Pro Spray and the Rainbird 5000 are almost identical with an edge to the Pro Spray on the seals and the Rainbird on the nozzles.

How much water do they apply?

Lawn spray heads (Hunter PGP, Rainbird 5000) are gear rotating heads, (Hunter Pro Spray and Rainbird 1800) are fixed spray heads. Rotating heads are typically used for lawn applications, fixed spray heads are used more in small lawn areas and shrub areas. Because the rotating heads move it takes longer to apply a similar amount of water in one location as fixed spray heads. This is why on my watering blog I always attach longer run times to rotating heads than fixed spray heads. Advantages of the rotating heads is that they come with nozzle packs that allow the amount of water (PGM gallons per minute) to be applied from .5 GPM to up to 8 GPM this gives flexibility to the area watered. The fixed spray heads have pre determined nozzles that applying about 1gpm. It’s important to understand the difference, most people will set both the lawn with the rotating heads and the shrubs with fixed heads at the same times, this creates an overwatering problem with the fixed spray heads at they don’t need as much time to apply an amount of water on a given area as the rotating heads.

Trouble Shooting

  • System didn’t water- check to make sure there is power and that the backup battery is in place.
  • System watered at the wrong time- check the Start Time especially the AM/PM icon on the Start Time.
  • Unfamiliar blinking in the controller window- if there is a wire problem most controllers will blink or say system failure, trace the wires back to the valve to make sure that gophers have not filled the box with dirt, if so dig out the box, clean the valves and check the wire connections.
  • Water is coming on at different times than I set up on controller. Check the Start Times, remember only 1 Start Time per Program is needed to run all the zones on that day.

Well hopefully this helps, or if your totally confused even more go back to the beginning and re-read the blog or better yet read your control manual 3 or 4 times. If your still stuck give me a call as I am always willing to help walk you through the process.

Thanks, Tim..


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