Before we get ahead of ourselves and into the checklist, it’s important to determine whether mother nature is as ready as we are for your irrigation system. Thankfully, this is easily done by conducting a simple shovel test. Dig about a foot into the ground. If the soil is frozen at any point between the surface and the bottom of that hole, then it’d be prudent to wait a bit longer before getting to work. Try it again when the ground temperature is averaging fifty-five degrees and you’ll find more luck.
A Spring Irrigation Guide to Opening Your Sprinkler System
You’ll want to start by locating your sprinkler’s main panel. After dusting it off, override the automatic settings to put it into the manual cycling of water. This allows the water to flow through the irrigation system without building up any unnecessary pressure. It also allows any dirt or debris in the system to be flushed out by slowly cycling water through the system. It’s important to record the settings that were changed as they’ll need to be adjusted again in the summer and fall. While you’re at the main panel, see if you have a battery-powered panel or a battery backup for your panel. Batteries on either of these need to be replaced once a year on average. Take a glance at your owner’s manual or search your panel’s model number for more information on your system’s batteries.
Ensure the backflow preventer has been firmly closed. This is what prevents herbicides, pesticides, and lawn fertilizer from entering the drinking water supply.
Checking for Damage
Systematically check all the sprinkler heads for damage or debris obstructing the nozzle. If you find any damaged nozzles, you can easily unscrew the head and buy a replacement at a hardware store or lawn care center. If the head assembly itself was damaged, it’s recommended to contact a professional. It’s also best practice to thoroughly clean the nozzles after every winter to ensure they’re totally free of any debris. This is a labor-intensive task. The bigger your irrigation system, the more nozzles that will need to be cleaned. An old toothbrush serves quite well for the tiny contours of the sprinkler heads. Any obstruction in the sprinkler heads will produce an unplanned spray pattern resulting in over-watering and under-watering of the grass.
Starting Up the Irrigation System
Next, slowly open the main valve until you begin to hear water flowing through the lines. Wait a few minutes then open the valve a bit wider. Repeat this until the main water valve has been opened completely. The slowness of this step is incredibly important. If the valve is opened too quickly, the water will produce a significant amount of pressure across the system resulting in a potential water hammer.
Water hammers occur when water enters the line too quickly forming a seal that creates a high amount of air pressure as the water fills the system. This can mean burst pipes, damaged sprinkler heads, or, in a comical worst-case scenario, simultaneously blowing all the sprinkler heads sky-high. The potential injuries a water hammer could inflict on bystanders and your property isn’t worth the risk, take it slow. If you have a larger irrigation system, then it may have multiple branches. This step will need to be repeated for each branch after the main valve has been completely opened.
Conduct a Final Inspection
Lastly, inspect each hydrozone by slowly turning the water on in each zone while observing the water output over about a 15-minute span. Here are some spring irrigation start-up tips to help deal with common issues:
- Low-pressure nozzle: This normally indicates a leak in the system though it may represent other issues. Walk along the line until you find soggy soil then shut off the system to avoid erosion. You’ll want to call a professional to fix this one and it will make their job a lot easier if you can point out where the issue is.
- Off-kilter spray pattern: This one is an easy fix. Break out a flathead screwdriver and unscrew the ring holding the nozzle in place on top of the sprinkler head. Lift out the nozzle. There should be markings that indicate the pattern the spray is supposed to follow. Fix the nozzle back to the correct direction and screw it back in.