Monday, June 24, 2013

Irrigation System Maintenance

How to save money, use water efficiently and maintain a healthy landscape.

Do you have an automated irrigation system? When is the last time you turned it on and visually inspected the system?  If you haven’t done routine irrigation system maintenance in a while, now is the time to do it.  Many people run their systems so early in the morning that they never see them run.  But it is a good idea to visually inspect the system every few months by running it during the day. 
Correcting problems with you irrigation system will directly affect the health of your landscape.  A broken head may not be watering part of your lawn, resulting in a dry patch.   Too much coverage in another area may result in a weed issue.  Take the time to walk through each zone identifying problems.  Many fixes are simple but some may require you to contact a contractor.  Some of the problems you want to look for are:
ü  Clogged sprinkler heads
ü  Leaking sprinklers and valves
ü  Obstructed sprinklers
ü  Overspray onto sidewalks, driveways and streets
ü  Design problems
ü  Missing nozzles
ü  Pipe leaks or breaks
1.   Clogged sprinkler heads
Dirt and debris trapped in the filter or nozzle of the sprinkler head can clog any type of head.  Look for sprinklers with little to no water exiting the sprayer.  Cleaning a sprayer can be done by pulling up and securing the riser (pop-up) and removing the top part of the spray head.  You can then remove the filter and clean it with water.  With a rotor head, you will need to unscrew the top part of the rotor and remove the filter.  Before replacing the filter, flush your irrigation line to ensure that no debris entered the system while you were preforming maintenance.  Replace the parts and turn the system on to check that it is working.  If you have a clogged micro-sprayer, you will need to remove the part of the sprayer where the filter is found and follow the steps above.  You may also need to check the small emitter at the top of the micro-spray head as they can clog as well.
2.  Leaking sprinklers and valves
Lawnmowers and cars are the main causes of leaking sprinkler heads.  Leaking heads can cause problems as a result from the reduced water pressure the leak has caused.  So you may visually see problems (such as all the pop-up sprinklers in the zone failing to pop-up) over the entire zone before you find the leaking head.  Obviously, one leaking sprinkler head can cause widespread problems throughout your landscape.  To correct this problem, you may be able to replace the seal inside the sprinkler, but many times you will need to replace the entire sprinkler head.  Make sure you replace the leaking head with the same brand as the new sprinkler head.  If it the sprinkler head is buried underground you will have to dig it out to replace it.  Then you will be able to unscrew the old head and replace it.  Make sure that no debris gets into the line while you do this. 
You may also find leaks inside the irrigation control box.  These leaks may simply have developed due to the age of the system.  Depending on what type of valve you have, irrigation suppliers will be able to suggest replacement parts.  Many times the entire valve will need to be replaced. 
3.  Obstructed sprinklers
As your landscape plants grow; they may block some of your sprinklers.  Grass can grow over sprinkler heads and over time sprinkler heads may settle into the ground and not pop up far enough to be effective.  If you have obstructed sprinkler heads consider pruning plants to keep sprinkler patterns clear.  You may need to raise heads and possibly replace pop-up spray heads with longer pop-up extensions.  You may also want to consider capping ineffective sprinklers in shrub areas where they are no longer watering efficiently.  This is a great time to retrofit the area with micro-irrigation.
4.  Overspray
If you find that your driveway, front walkway, sidewalk or even your house is wet after an irrigation event, you will need to correct overspray problems.  Check each sprinkler head to determine why overspray is occurring.  You may have a tilted sprinkler head.  If you do, you will need to dig out some of the soil around the head and straighten the head.  If the length of the spray is too long, you may need to make an adjustment to the rotor or spray head.  You may need a special tool to make this adjustment.  If you do not have the tool, contact an irrigation supply company and they can locate the tool that you need.  It also may be possible that you will need to replace some of the sprinkler heads with different heads that provide more appropriate coverage.  Both the nozzles on rotor sprinkler heads and sprayer heads can be changed out to provide desired coverage and spray pattern.  Again, this is something an irrigation supply company can help you identify.  Sprayers may also be easily adjusted by simply twisting the screw on the top of the sprayer.  This will adjust the direction and the radius of the spray.
5.  Missing nozzles
Replacing broken or missing nozzles can be easy.  If you don’t know what type of replacement nozzle to purchase ask your local irrigation supply company.  Missing nozzles will affect your water pressure and can result in poor coverage and possible dry areas in the landscape.  This is important to correct as soon as possible.  Follow manufacturer’s instructions to replace the nozzles.
6.  Pipe leaks or breaks
Many underground pipe leaks and breaks are best left to the professionals, but it is important that the homeowner be able to identify the problem should it occur.  Look for large wet spots in the landscape, grass that is significantly greener than other spots, and low water pressure.  If you decide to fix these on your own, make sure you keep the area clean while you make repairs.  You do not want debris to get into the system. 
For above ground pipe leaks and breaks you will be able to visually see the leak.  You will need to take the same precautions and keep the area free of debris as you work.  Make sure you purchase the same size PVC pipe that you are replacing, clean the pipe before applying PVC primer and pipe cement and let the cement dry before you turn on the irrigation system to check your repair.
There are a lot of potential maintenance problems with irrigation systems, but if you frequently check your system and make small repairs and changes as needed, landscape loss and issues associated with inefficient irrigation can be avoided.  Many times you will encounter design problems that occur as a landscape changes and matures.  If you make landscape changes, don’t forget that you need to make changes to your irrigation system as well.  Small projects such as installing micro-irrigation in landscape beds are easy for a homeowner to tackle, but large changes may need to be dealt with by a professional landscape contractor.  For a list of contractors go to the Florida Irrigation Society website ( and click on the homeowners tab.  Information and literature on irrigation repair and maintenance can be obtained by contacting your UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service.  Always remember to call Sunshine 811 ( to have your utilities marked before you dig.  For more information contact the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program at 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer Gardening Workshops

Irrigation School
Thursday, June 27, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Peggy Brown Building, 215 South Lake Avenue, Lakeland
Are you a homeowner interested in learning more about your irrigation system and how you can increase efficiency?
Are you an irrigation contractor or landscaper interested in maximizing your business by learning how to offer new services to your clientele?
Join us for a free Irrigation School to learn more! Dinner will be provided.
Irrigation School Schedule of Speakers:
6:00-6:30 How can I make sure my irrigation system is working properly?
Irrigation system maintenance--how to maintain efficiency and maximize landscape benefits
6:30-7:00 How can I conserve water?
Hands-on demonstration of micro-irrigation and how the City of Lakeland is retrofitting existing irrigation systems
7:00-7:30 How much water should you apply?
Sprinkler calibration and using FAWN's weather tools to schedule irrigation
7:30-8:00 How do I use my timeclock?
How-to use your timeclock, create seasonal programs, and maintain a rain sensor
This program is presented by:
Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program, UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service
Florida Automated Weather Network
City of Lakeland Water Utilities
Polk County Utilities
To register for this program, click here. 

Rain Barrel Workshop
Saturday, July 20, 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service
1702 US HWY 17 S, Bartow
Would you like to reduce stormwater runoff, reduce water use and collect rainwater for irrigation? Attend the rain barrel workshop offered by the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program.
Attending the workshop is free, but if you would like to purchase a rain barrel, they are $30 each. Please indicate on your registration how many you will purchase. Payment of cash or check at the door. To register for the workshop go here.

Rain Gardens, Lunch & Learn Workshop
Wednesday, July 24, 12:00 noon-1:00 p.m.
Lakeland Electric Building, 501 East Lemon St., Lakeland
Learn how to plan, install and maintain a rain garden. This workshop is a lunch and learn class. Lunch is provided. You must have a photo I.D. to enter the building. Workshop and lunch provided by the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program and the City of Lakeland Water Utilities. Click here to register for the workshop.

Right Plant, Right Place: Shrub Selection
Wednesday, August 21, 12:00 noon-1:00 p.m.
Lakeland Electric Building, 501 East Lemon St., Lakeland
Are you looking for low-maintenance shrubs for your landscape? This workshop will teach you how to choose plants that will work for your yard. This workshop is a lunch and learn class. Lunch is provided. You must have a photo I.D. to enter the building. Workshop and lunch provided by the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program and the City of Lakeland Water Utilities. Click here to register for the workshop.

Water Matters

Check out the newest edition of the Water Matters Newsletter

Monday, June 10, 2013

How much fertilizer should you apply?

By now you know that Polk County has a new Fertilizer Management Ordinance.  But that doesn't mean that figuring out how much fertilizer to apply has been made any easier. It can be really confusing, and applying too much fertilizer can cause ugly stripes in the lawn, burn areas of the grass and even encourage pests and disease.  This video makes it easy to calculate how much you need to apply as well as tell you what the information on the fertilizer bag means.  If you still need some guidance, don't forget to call the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Home Irrigation Timeclocks

The rainy season is here!  Time to turn off your irrigation system or change the timeclock to reflect the change of seasons.  Never made any changes to your timeclock? Here's how to do it! 
1.  Set date and time
Set the current date and time on your timeclock.  If you haven't made any changes in a while, it time might not be correct.  If your timeclock doesn't have power, make sure it's plugged in and replace the battery backup.

2.  Set days of the week to water
Set the timeclock to run on your watering days (as determined by your water utilities).  In the summer, you don't need to run the sprinkler twice a week, so set it to run once a week.  You may even want to set it to skip a week during the rainy season.  Remember, too much water on your plants is NOT a good thing!  Disease, pests and weeds are encouraged in overly wet conditions. 
3.  Set run time
How long do you want each zone to run?  The time should be determined by the calibration (catch can) test that you preformed.  (Need to know how to do a catch can test?  Click here for instructions.)
If your zones put out 1/4 inch of water in 15 minutes during the test, then you need to run each zone for 30 minutes to reach the 1/2 inch of water that the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program suggests.  Remember, each zone may be different!

4.  Set time of day to run
Run your irrigation system in the early morning hours when winds are low and the sun isn't out.  Our watering restrictions state that no watering shall occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.  If you have a lot of zones, make sure that they all are done running by 10 a.m. to comply.

5.  Setting multiple programs
If your timeclock will allow for multiple programs, you may wish to set different programs for different seasons.  For example, program A is for summer, program B is for fall, and so on.  If not, just remember to change your current program to reflect seasonal changes.  It's easy to do!
6.  Check your rain sensor
Make sure your rain sensor is functioning, it's required by law!  During the rainy season it is particularly important to make sure your rain sensor works.  They don't last forever, so if yours is old you may want to consider replacing it. 
If you have questions about your timeclock or would like assistance making changes to your timeclock please call the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program at (863) 519-8677.  We can help you conserve water and maintain a healthy lawn and landscape. 
For more information on setting your irrigation timeclock: