How to Program a Lawn Sprinkler System for Effective Water Use

irrigation system programming for effective use
Confused about how to properly program your irrigation system for optimal watering and not sure where to start? Follow our handy guide.

A lawn sprinkler system operating at peak efficiency provides optimal watering for turf grass without over or underwatering. To avoid runoff, evaporation or an improperly watered lawn, it’s important to have an understanding of how much water your grass needs, as well as how to program your sprinkler system.

Sprinkler System Programming Starts with Proper Lawn Watering Schedules

Before addressing proper programming, let’s discuss the fundamentals of watering your lawn.
What is the goal of watering? Most would assume that it’s giving your turf enough water to survive, and they’re not entirely wrong. Yes, you do want to water your lawn enough for it to be green and healthy. But your goal when watering should be to develop deep roots that can endure harsher weather conditions.

Consider the environmental challenges that could overcome shallow-rooted turf: drought, disease, puddles due to poor drainage, pest infestations and more. With shallow roots, grass is more likely to dry up in scorching summer heat, drown in standing water and succumb to disease or pest infestations.

Even when factoring in the seasons and weather, you should always aim to encourage deeper root growth. This is accomplished by running your sprinkler long enough to water one inch total (we recommend watering two inches when weather forecasts indicate temperatures consistently above 90 degrees). This amount is sufficient to percolate down several inches into the ground in order to develop healthy root systems. You can measure sprinkler output by placing a clean tuna can on your lawn and timing how long it takes to accumulate an inch of water. However, this does not mean you should run your sprinkler continuously until you’ve watered an inch. As you will notice, the water begins to run off after the soil is initially saturated. Avoid wasting water by shutting your sprinkler off until the soil is able to absorb water again (this can take anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes).

When you account for slope and shading in each area of your lawn, you’ll quickly realize that the watering duration differs from one location to the next. For example, a flat area of lawn will absorb water more quickly than a sloped portion. You may need to water a sloped portion more than once in the morning to reach the optimal amount.

*Image courtesy of Rain Bird

You’ve now determined the ideal watering durations for each portion of your lawn. Next, let’s talk about schedules. The ideal watering time is before sunrise, typically at four in the morning during the long days of summer. This is early enough to prevent water waste via evaporation due to high temperatures. It also ensures the grass is able to dry out before evening. Watering at night, especially in the summer, promotes lawn diseases. Thus, four in the morning it is.

After you’ve achieved your proper day one watering schedule, when should you water your lawn next? The answer, regardless of whether it rains or not, rests on your powers of observation. Wait to run your sprinkler again until your lawn shows signs of stress. A change or fade in color is a telltale sign. So is when normally straight blades of grass begin to wit or curl over. Well-watered grass will spring back up not long after you’ve walked on it. Grass that’s beginning to get a bit parched will still show your footprints half an hour later.

Programming Your Lawn Sprinkler

By now you’ve identified the different sections, or zones, of your lawn based on their water absorption. Through testing, you’ve determined the appropriate watering duration(s) for each zone in order to water an inch total. Lastly, you’re aware that the best time to water your lawn is starting at four in the morning.

Based on the aforementioned watering advice, you can begin programming your sprinkler system.

1. Set Up Your Zones

If it’s not already, set up your automatic sprinkler into zones that separate the different portions of your lawn by watering absorption speed. Take note of the zones that have similar watering needs, since this will impact your watering schedule and programming.

2. Set Up a Standard Irrigation Program

Program the day and time into your automatic sprinkler system (if it’s not set up already).

Set the start time (4 a.m.), which will apply to each pre-set program you create. Note: since we’ve already established that you may need to water any given area of your lawn more than once, you’ll likely need to create a second program at a different start time in order to water the full amount needed.

Program your watering days. Remember that you’ll need to make adjustments to the schedule based on when you determine your grass needs to be watered again. (This will change depending on the season and anticipated weather.)

For those with a regular automatic sprinkler system, this will mean making adjustments at the controller.

For homeowners with a WiFi smart sprinkler system, this means making changes in the Rain Bird irrigation management app or letting your system automatically self-adjust. A smart irrigation controller automatically self-adjusts watering schedules per zone based on effective rainfall measured as well as historical and real-time weather data. It uses that data to calculate upcoming water needs per zone, then adjusts the watering schedules accordingly.

Program the zone run times, as in the duration each zone will water. For example, if you have Program A set to run at 4 a.m. then the zone times will indicate how long each zone needs to be watered.

Once you’ve set up your programs in order to achieve an inch of watering over the course of a morning, you’re good to go. The best thing to do afterward is to pay attention to your lawn. By observing your grass closely and watering only as needed to encourage deep root systems, you’ll be able to conserve water while cultivating a healthy, stronger lawn.

Consult with Experienced Lawn Sprinkler Contractors

When equipped with proper practical knowledge, maintaining optimal watering schedules and making sprinkler system programming adjustments becomes second nature. If you need any assistance or have additional questions about sprinkler systems or watering schedules, contact our experts at BG Outdoor Services today.

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