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Tuning Up Your Irrigation System

By Carl Wilson, Extension Agent with Colorado State University Cooperative Extension in Denver

Interested in saving 40-50% on your landscape irrigation bill?

Tuning up permanent irrigation systems typically results in significant water savings. Your landscape plants also will grow better because of better water distribution and more optimal soil moisture.

Tune-ups can include many simple actions such as straightening heads to vertical. This avoids dry spots and the temptation to increase watering times when the real concern is poor water distribution due to a tilted head.

New, double-slotted spray nozzles also may help achieve better distribution within the wetting zone of spray heads. It’s easy to screw off old nozzles and screw new ones onto spray head risers.

Seasonally adjust irrigation clocks to apply less water in cool spring and fall weather, more in the heat of summer. And realize that not all irrigation zones require the same number of minutes of water applied. Base water times on exposures, soil characteristics, and plant needs, not uniformity of clock settings.

Hot, southwest exposures require more water than northern or shaded exposures. Sandy soils take in water quickly unlike clay soils. In a clay soil, take advantage of the cycling features on irrigation clocks by watering for half the required time, moving on to water another zone, then coming back to apply the remainder of the water required. This allows water time to soak in instead of running off and is especially useful on slopes.

Rain sensors also can save water through overriding clocks during rainy periods.

Some irrigation systems may have been installed so that the water thrown from one irrigation head does not reach as far as the next head. Head to head coverage is essential to avoid dry spots and system changes should be made to achieve this.

Do you have pavement next to irrigated areas? Irrigation heads should line the edge of sidewalks and driveways so that water is thrown into the landscape. Heads mounted within the landscape that throw water towards pavement inevitably result in waste from water running off the hard surfaces.

Irrigation heads laid out in square or diamond patterns are best. Avoid heads mounted within small, awkward-shaped landscape areas that don’t match spray patterns. Consider drip irrigation for these areas or reworking them to another landscape use.

Note that drip systems are 85%r water efficient, rotor heads (think of the chik-chik-chik sound as the head moves through its pattern) are 65% efficient, and spray heads are only 50% efficient. Use rotors on large turf areas whenever possible and drip on shrub, flower and vegetable gardens.

In semiarid Colorado where water is a precious resource, using landscape irrigation water efficiently only makes sense.

Did you know?

  • Wateruse in our cities doubles in the summer irrigation season.
  • Historically,Colorado experiences a drought cycle on average of once every 20 years.
  • Demand for water is projected to exceed the supply in Denver by 2013. In Colorado Springs, the projected demand from growth will exceed the existing supply in 2008.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010