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June 13, 2024 8:50PM
June 13, 2024 20:50PM

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Program Your Sprinkler Timer

Want to be water-efficient but not sure how to program your sprinkler timer? Start with these IRWD videos. And don't forget to turn off your sprinkler system when it rains! 

How to program your sprinkler controller

How to control your controller


How to properly set up your controller for success

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It's important to maintain your irrigation system to avoid over-watering, maintain plant health, and reduce runoff. 

If the power goes out, many irrigation timers revert to the “default” setting, which usually turns on the sprinklers for 10 minutes a day, seven times a week. This can not only cause you to have a very wet yard, but can result in higher water bills and urban runoff.

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

How to reschedule sprinkler run times

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Focus on the importance of what is being watered and where to optimize efficiency. Sketch out a map of your landscaped area and label the different watering zones in your yard.  

  • Identify each watering zone or station by manually turning on the water to each group of sprinklers.
  • Make note of how many zones/stations you have on your map and how many you have on your controller.
  • Ideally, shrub and turf areas should be watered in separate zones because they have different watering needs. Mixed zones lead to inefficient watering.
  • Most controllers have more than one program. Use multiple programs to differentiate between turf and shrub zones, since their watering needs are different.

How to use multiple programs to increase efficiency

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Did you know that the average sprinkler sprays two gallons per minute? If a lawn with 10 sprays heads is over-watered by five minutes that can waste 100 gallons.

Oftentimes, over-watering occurs because an entire yard is watered on the same schedule despite the fact its landscape is composed of different plants with different water needs. This over-watering can be easily prevented.

The trick is to:

  • Have your sprinkler system separated into hydrozones – areas within your landscape divided and defined by grouping plants together with similar needs.
  • 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. For example, in summer, sprinklers in grass areas (Program A) may need to turn on four days a week while shrubs (Program B) only require water twice a week. If these different zones were to stay on the same program, then water-use efficiency and plant health suffer. 

How to use multiple start times

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Using multiple start times to cycle and soak is a smart way to improve efficiency and reduce runoff. Curious how long to water? Let IRWD suggest a watering schedule for you.

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

How to use the seasonal adjust or watering index feature

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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.