Control Your Controller

Control Your Controller

It’s important to maintain your irrigation system to avoid over watering, maintain plant health, and reduce runoff. IRWD wants to team up with you to take control of your controller.

 Step One: Schedule Your Watering

Be sure your controller has a back up battery in case of a power outage and replace it every time you replace your fire alarm batteries.

Most controllers take a 9 volt battery, which is located behind or under the controller face.

Check your controller run times; if it’s set to water 7 days a week, 10 minutes for each zone this means you have experienced a power outage and your controller’s back up battery is missing or dead.

Now it’s time to re-schedule your run times. Here is a suggested watering schedule.

 Step Two: Identify Zones

It’s important to have an idea of what is being watered and where to optimize efficiency.  Sketch out a map of your landscaped area and label which zones water the different areas of your yard.

  • Identify each watering zone or station by manually turning the water on and label (e.g. zone 1, zone 2, etc.).
  • Make note of how many zones/stations you have on your map and how many you have on your controller.
  • Ideally, shrub & turf areas should be watered on separate zones since they have different watering needs.  Mixed zones require compromise & lead to inefficiency.
  • Most controllers have more than one program (A, B, C).  Use multiple programs to differentiate between turf and shrub zones since the watering needs are different.
 Step Three: HydroZones

Did you know that the average sprinkler sprays 2 gallons a minute?  If a lawn with ten spray heads is overwatered by five minutes that can lead to a waste 100 gallons!   

Oftentimes, overwatering occurs because an entire yard is watered on the same schedule despite the fact a yard is composed of different plants with different water needs.  

The trick is to have your sprinkler system separated into hydrozones (discussed in Step 2) and to use multiple programs and start times.  Find the zones (synonymous with valves or stations) which water grass and annuals and assign them to Program A on your controller while zones watering shrubs or other low-water using plants are placed on Program B.  

Program A will then have its own start times and watering lengths independent of Program B (Step 4).  

For example, in summer grass areas (Program A) may need to come on 4 days a week, such as Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, while shrubs (Program B) only require water twice a week.  If these different zones were to stay on the same program a compromise is being made and efficiency suffers (along with plant health!).

 Step Four: Multiple Start Times

Using multiple start times to cycle and soak is a smart way to improve efficiency and reduce runoff.  Curious how long to water?  Worry not – let IRWD suggest a watering schedule for you.  

Program A – Grass in Summer – 4 days, 3 cycles of 3 minutes.  Select the four days that you wish to water.  Select three start times, preferably in the morning with an hour of soaking in between.  Schedule 3 minutes for each zone.  Example:

  • Watering Days:  Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.
  • Start Times:  5 a.m.; 6 a.m.; 7 a.m.
  • Watering Duration:  3 minutes

Program B – Shrubs or Trees in Summer – 2 days, 3 cycles of 4 minutes.  Select two days that you wish to water.  Select three start times, preferably in the morning with an hour of soaking in between.  Schedule 4 minutes for each zone.  Example:

  • Watering Days:  Monday & Friday
  • Start Times:  5 a.m.; 6 a.m.

“Cycle and soaking” with the irrigation controller results in deeper watering and healthier root growth while reducing runoff.  

 Step Five: Seasonal Adjust

Now it’s time to take advantage of the seasonal adjustment feature (also called the % Adjust or Watering Index feature) on your controller.

The watering index value is a percentage that will change throughout the year and is normally 100 percent for the summer when plant water demands are the highest. The idea is to schedule your controller for the summer schedule and then use the Watering Index adjustment feature to have your controller automatically decrease run times.

For example, if a zone runs for six minutes in summer, the controller would automatically reduce the runtime to three minutes if in March you adjusted the controller to 50 percent using the Watering Index adjustment feature.

To find out more about the Watering Index, how to use it, and receive automatic reminders, sign up for IRWD’s CALscape newsletter by emailing

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