Maintenance and Common Problems

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Save money and water and keep your landscape green by:

  • Fixing leaks
  • Solving common problems
  • Taking care of sprinkler heads and valves

Many parts of a sprinkler system require regular maintenance. Consider hiring a certified professional irrigation contractor (pdf) each year to identify hard-to-see issues.

Fix leaks

After checking the system for obvious leaks, use the water meter to identify underground leaks and breaks in the pipe. Leaks can occur on the mainline pipe that feeds each of the sprinkler zones. Not all leaks will come above ground. Leaks may result in wet, muddy areas that never dry up. Grass that is greener than the rest may indicate a leak. Underground leaks are difficult to identify, and may require the assistance of a sprinkler professional.

  1. Choose a day and time when the sprinkler system is turned off. Look for water running or leaking around the yard. Wet, boggy or muddy areas that cannot be explained by normal watering or rainfall are signs of a leak.
  2. Turn all water off inside the house.
  3. Turn off the sprinkler controller then check the meter for movement or record the dial numbers and wait 10 to 60 minutes then record the numbers again to see if they’ve changed.
  4.  Turn on each sprinkler zone in turn and walk around to see if water is coming out of the ground or leaking around sprinkler heads or valves. This will identify leaks that are not related to the mainline sprinkler pipe.

Solve common problems

Watering in the rain

Install a rain sensor that will pause your sprinkler system when it rains.

Watering the sidewalk, driveway or other non-landscaped areas

Realign or move the sprinkler heads. For a narrow planting bed, consider switching to drip or soaker hoses.

Water running off the landscape

Runoff occurs because the sprinkler system sprays water faster than the soil can take in. It is prevalent on sloped landscapes.

Allow the water to soak in by splitting watering times into two or more “cycles” with 30 minutes in between. This technique is called “Cycle and Soak”. To learn more, read Irrigation Scheduling Tools (pdf) and consult the controller’s manual.

Watering established trees or shrubs

Most trees and many shrubs do not need additional watering when they are well-rooted after 3 to4 years. When sprinklers are no longer needed replace the nozzle with a cap

Brown spots in the grass

This is a sign that the sprinkler spray is not reaching the area enough. Adjust or replace sprinkler head nozzles to provide even watering. Do not increase the watering time because this will overwater other areas.

Misting sprinkler nozzles

Tiny spray droplets in the air means the pressure is too high. If all the zones are misting, install a pressure regulating valve. If only one zone is misting have an irrigation professional install a pressure-regulating valve, or install sprinkler heads that regulate the pressure

Take care of sprinkler heads and valves

  • Replace or clean leaking, cracked, or clogged sprinkler heads.
  • Adjust sprinkler heads spraying the wrong direction.
  • Replace sprinkler heads that seep water after watering is finished. Sprinkler heads at the lowest elevation may drain water in the pipe. Have a professional install sprinkler heads with “check valves” to stop the water from leaking out.
  • Inspect sprinkler heads to ensure they pop up correctly and avoid spraying the driveway, sidewalk, house or street. Remove plant material that’s grown over sprinkler heads.
  • Align sprinkler heads so that their spray reaches adjacent sprinkler heads. There are different kinds of sprinkler heads:
    • Spray heads are small with a fan of water that blankets the ground. Simply rotate the head until it is watering the area correctly.
    • Rotors are larger sprinkler heads that spray a single stream of water. Rotor heads need to be adjusted at the head itself, typically with a special tool.
    • Multi-stream nozzles can be retrofitted onto most spray heads and improves sprinkler efficiency by improving the spray coverage and spraying water more slowly. Sprinkler heads with multi-stream nozzles can be adjusted to change the length of throw of water.
  • Straighten crooked sprinkler heads and move sprinklers that are too close to plants.
  • Remove any dirt covering sprinkler valves.