Lawns & Irrigation
Tips for Efficient Irrigation
Even when used efficiently, sprinklers frequently account for more than half of the typical Floridian's water bill. The following tips are intended to help maintain a healthy, water-efficient landscape.
Top Ten Tips:
1) Frequency Adjustment: Set your irrigation clock for the correct watering day according to the last number in your street address.
2) Duration: Apply 3/4" per irrigation.
Note: Application rates and system design can vary significantly. Suggested run-times shown in the table below are based on average application rates. Always check amount with tuna can calibration.
| Sprinkler head type|| Suggested run-time|
|Fixed spray pop-ups||20 minutes|
|Micro-irrigation / drip||45 minutes|
3) Rain shut-off devices: Turn ON roof mounted rain shut-off device and check for proper operation. Set to turn off after 1/2" of rainfall. If non-functional, replace. Or for even better savings, upgrade to a Soil Moisture Sensor (see tip #6).
4) Mature landscape plants don't need as much water as turf. Well-established trees and shrubs typically don't need weekly irrigation. If shrubs and trees are 5+ years old, turn down or turn off individual emitters, or entire zones if not used for turf irrigation.
5) Install micro-irrigation in landscape beds, or water by hand as necessary. (Looking for an in-depth guide to micro-irrigation?)
6) Soil moisture sensors: Replace roof-mounted rain shut-off device with a soil moisture sensor (installed in the ground). Wired and wireless versions are available. When properly installed and calibrated, these devices can provide significant water savings over traditional rain shut-off devices. Important note: To achieve maximum savings, follow installation and calibration instructions closely. Improper location, installation, or calibration of sensors can reduce or eliminate water savings.
7) Mulched landscape beds / alternative groundcovers: Replace irrigated turf with mulched landscape beds of drought-tolerant plants or alternative groundcovers such as perennial peanut, Asiatic jasmine, beach sunflower, etc. Remember, in order to achieve water savings, you'll also need to modify the irrigation system by replacement with micro-irrigation, or by capping existing emitters once plants are established. And remember, always get HOA approval first.
(How much mulch will you need? Use a "mulch calculator" to determine how many bags -or- cubic yards you'll need to get.)
8) Manual operation: Operate the irrigation system manually. Shut it off entirely during the rainy season for maximum savings.
9) Seasonal adjustment: Use 'Seasonal Adjustment' or 'Water Budget' settings during cooler months. Irrigation needs are typically up to 50% less in the winter dormant season.
10) Programming problems: Periodically check controller programming. In particular, check for duplicate programs, multiple start-times, excessive run-times, etc. (See "Programming Problems" section below.) These issues are easy to overlook, but are frequently identified as the cause of excessive water consumption.
ALWAYS check programming after power outages, power surges, or lightning strikes, as these have been known to reset controllers to factory default settings. For many controllers, factory default = a DAILY watering schedule.
Sprinklers can use more than 1,000 gallons per hour they run. Even when used efficiently, sprinklers account for more than half of the typical Floridian's water bill. Accidentally programming too many start-times can suddenly cause the sprinkler's usage to double, triple, or worse... Because over-watering can encourage weeds, pests, and turf disease, this type of common mistake doesn't just waste water (and money); it can even harm the lawn you're trying to keep green.
A real example:
Pasco County Utilities' Customer Information & Services received a call from a concerned homeowner whose water bill had unexpectedly skyrocketed. When asked about whether the sprinklers had been used recently, the customer stated, "Yes, but we only water once a week, 15 minutes per zone."
To verify the billed usage and assist with troubleshooting, their flow data was downloaded from the meter. According to the meter data, there was a pattern of timed, overnight, high-volume usage consistent with sprinkler usage, BUT... each usage spike lasted nearly nine hours! This was certainly different than the "...15 minutes per zone..." this homeowner believed was scheduled.
A close examination of the sprinkler controller's programming identified the following cause:
“[…] The irrigation controller was set with four start-times on Program A. Therefore, the system was running four times during the night which accounts for both the volume used and the nine-hour run-time in the profile [...]”
This is actually a very common mistake. Even some landscapers have been known to do it. So, how does it happen?
Problems start when someone mistakenly assumes that each zone needs its own start-time. Typically, a controller only requires a single start-time to run the entire sprinkler cycle, or "program." The controller actually interprets multiple start-times as meaning "I want to run all the zones, then run them again, then run them again..." Your controller even 'helpfully' arranges overlapping start-times to run consecutively! For more information on checking for (and removing) multiple start-times, check out the helpful video tutorial links below.
Another example of "irrigation gone wrong"
In some cases, a homeowner may believe they turned OFF their sprinkler system, but in reality, they only turned off a single start-time, or one of several active programs.
For example, most controllers allow you to set up at least two different programs (A/B) for plants with different watering requirements. (Some controllers allow for many more... Program A/B/C/D, etc.)
Say Program A and Program B both contain active programming. Only Program A gets turned OFF. The display screen may now include the word "OFF" (referring only to Program A), but... Program B still contains a start-time and run-times for several zones. Therefore, Program B will continue to run until the controller is turned to the "System OFF" position, or until the programming is eliminated from B.
If a homeowner doesn't know to check for additional start-times on Program B, the second program will frequently keep running until... the water bill arrives. The usage shown on the bill may seem impossible - since they sincerely believed the sprinklers had been turned off for the entire month. Unfortunately, by the time that bill has been received, alerting them to the problem, there may have already been several weeks of additional sprinkler usage that will be included on the next bill cycle...
This brings up a final key point when troubleshooting timer issues - Always note the dates of any timer changes you make. That way, you'll be able to compare those changes with your meter reading dates on the upcoming water bills.
|Key Terms|| Description|
| Start-time||Tells the system when to turn on and begin running a program.|
| Run-time||Tells the system how long to run a given zone/station before proceeding automatically to the next zone with a run-time.|
|REMEMBER!||For most controllers, a program only requires ONE start-time to run EVERY ZONE. Once a program starts running, every zone that has a run-time will automatically run, in sequence. No extra start-times are needed!|
Q: Why do sprinkler controllers have all these high-tech features and settings? It seems like a recipe for disaster...
A: When used carefully, features such as the ability to program multiple start-times are actually intended to help save water. Such features allow increased flexibility in irrigation scheduling, even in the trickiest situations.
Example 1: If your soil is compact, and your yard has steep slopes, water probably tends to run off, rather than soaking in. With the capability to program multiple start-times, the controller could allow you to program a “cycle and soak” schedule. This technique uses a series of very brief watering cycles, with adequate time between to allow the water to sink in, thus minimizing runoff.
Did you know? “Cycle-and-soak” is a common technique on golf courses.
Example 2: You have five irrigation zones. You’ve just re-sodded Zone 3. You can use Program A to run the typical once-per-week schedule for Zones 1, 2, 4 & 5, while Program B can handle a custom sod establishment schedule just for Zone 3. This allows the new sod to receive the extra water it needs without overwatering the rest of the landscape.
Remember! Be sure to delete Program B once the sod is fully established!
Note for homes built in the early 2000s (or before):
Irrigation controllers don't last forever. Recently, a number of Utility customers and irrigation professionals have reported an increase in situations where the electrical contacts inside the irrigation controller have degraded, making the performance of the controller highly unpredictable. In the most extreme cases, the dial on the controller can be turned to the OFF position, but the controller remains active.
This may be the result of internal wear or corrosion of the electrical contacts, of excessive voltage from lightning strikes or power surges, or a combination of factors. While such issues will sometimes cause the controller to completely quit functioning, in other cases, the signs of internal damage may be more subtle, and the controller can continue to appear functional.
"Q: What should I do?"
If your controller is approaching 10+ years old, and it displays any of the symptoms listed below, it may be time to consider replacing it.
When rotating the central dial, the display hesitates, lags, flickers, or 'jumps.' Sometimes, tapping on or wiggling the dial will cause the display to change or “catch up.”
In the photo below, the controller's dial was pointing at Friday, however, the display is showing Monday’s settings. In the same way, this dial could be pointed in the “OFF” position, whereas internally, the controller might remain fully active and operational. By wiggling and tapping the dial, the display could eventually be coaxed into showing the correct day's settings, but the decision was ultimately made to replace the controller due to erratic operation.
Keep in mind, the cost of a new controller is typically less than one unexpected high water bill. Therefore, replacement of an old quirky controller in this condition would be highly recommended.
Useful online tutorials - Checking programming on common sprinkler timers
Learn how to check for multiple start-times. Verify the total run-time for all zones.
Note: The following URLs have been compiled for educational purposes. Inclusion of a website in this list does not imply endorsement of a brand, company, or product by Pasco County or Pasco County Utilities. Pasco County Utilities is not responsible for the creation or maintenance of the content included in these external links. Please let us know of any issues with the links below.
– Basic setup of Program A.
“Hunter X-Core Programming Multiple Programs and Additional Features”
– How to advance to the next program.
– Check which program is currently selected. Learn how to advance to the next program.
– Selecting between Program B and Program A.
– How to remove extra start-times from the X-Core Controller.
– (1:08) Discusses setting and removing start-times. Switching between programs and setting up different zones.
– Quickly check the total run-time for each Program on the ESP-ME controller.
– How to manually run a program. How to turn the system OFF to prevent watering.
“Toro DDC-8 Controller (Model 53808) - How to Set up Program A” – How to turn off a station’s watering time. Also describes how to set up Programs B and C, and how to check the current program.
“Toro DDC-8 Controller (Model 53808) - How to Set up Run Times” – How to adjust or turn off run times for a specific zone.
“Toro DDC-8 Controller (Model 53808) - How to Seasonally Adjust”
Note: A lot is changing in the world of sprinkler controllers. With more and more controllers being "smart" and/or wi-fi / bluetooth enabled, there will be some monumental shifts in the field of home irrigation efficiency. With any new technology comes new issues to troubleshoot as well. If you've encountered an issue that you think should be included here, let us know! We'd love to learn and help spread the word.
Too much of a good thing?
Turf-grass needs water. But did you know that over-watering grass can do at least as much harm as under-watering?
Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow root development, and can increase a lawn’s susceptibility to diseases, insect damage, root-rot, and weed growth.
In contrast, a thorough, less frequent watering schedule helps to promote deeper, healthier root development. Deeper roots, in turn, allow your lawn to better withstand hotter, drier weather, while making the turf more resistant to pests, weeds, and disease.
Applying approximately ¾” - 1” of water per-week is typically sufficient to maintain healthy turf-grass in our region. (That equals about 2 gallons of water per square foot of lawn, per month...)
When in doubt, “Let Your Lawn Tell You When to Water”
Mowing height: Did you know?
Aside from over-watering, one of the most harmful common turf mistakes involves mowing height. Varieties like St. Augustine-grass and Bahia-grass thrive when mowed at heights of 3" - 4". Shorter mowing heights invite problems including stress, scorching, weeds, and disease.
Compounding the problem, grass that has been “scalped” often turns brown, which can be mistaken for a lack of water, leading to over-watering of already stressed turf,... which invites disease, weeds, insects - and the cycle continues.
Remember: For healthy turf, raise your mower to a higher setting.
Additional Water Conservation Tips for Lawns & Irrigation
- Don't allow sprinklers to water your street, driveway or sidewalk. Position them so water lands on the lawn and shrubs...not the paved areas! The following online tutorials demonstrate how to easily adjust several common types of spray and rotor heads:
- Do not excessively fertilize your lawn. Fertilizer applications increase the need for water. Apply fertilizers that contain slow-release, water-insoluble forms of nitrogen, and apply only as directed.
- Boost organic matter in sandy soils by topdressing with compost. In addition to adding nutrients, compost can help to increase water and nutrient retention.
- Do routine inspections. Broken heads and leaking valves can greatly increase the sprinkler system's water usage. Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly.
- Raise the blade! Adjust the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system and holds soil moisture better than a closely clipped lawn.
- Timing is everything! Water lawns during the early morning or late evening hours when temperatures and wind speed are the lowest. This reduces water losses from evaporation.