Make irrigation headaches go away

The right equipment eases hassles, saves time

The right filter is essential when you’re installing or updating an irrigation system. Self-cleaning filters like this one work well and don’t require constant cleaning like sediment screen filters, but they do require a place to purge the water. In this system, the homeowner connected a hose to the filter and sends the purged water to her compost pile.

If you have a pump for irrigation water, it’s essential to include a smart box in your irrigation design. The box will not only tell the pump when to turn on, it will also turn it off if the water runs low to keep a pump from burning out. Although the cost of a smart box ($230) may seem high, it’s cheaper than a new pump.

When designing garden boxes, consider putting in above-ground hoses and micro sprayers, which target a much smaller area and water at the soil level rather than overhead. Vegetables are much happier when they’re leaves aren’t constantly wet or getting sprayed.

If you’re planning a new irrigation system, it’s possible to put all flower pots on a zoned emitter system so you’re not constantly dragging a hose across the yard. If your irrigation system is already in place, it’s still possible to buy a hose bib timer for domestic water and put flowerpots on an automatic system.

Photos by Penny Stine

Irrigation issues can create problems for homeowners this time of year, and with the low snowpack and hot, dry weather this summer, every drop of water is precious.

Although irrigation water can save a homeowner money, it can also create new challenges.

If you have an irrigation system that requires a pump, pay attention to the age of your pump. If maintained properly, a pump should last at least 10 years.

“Today’s pumps would last 30 years, but it’s hard to find an electric motor that will last 30 years,” said Gene Coleman with Western Implement Co., 2919 North Ave.

Although motors can be rebuilt, it can get expensive and some homeowners simply choose to buy a new pump, which ranges from $350 for smaller sizes to more than $500 for a larger pump.

The right filter is essential, since it will keep sprinklers from getting clogged and needing almost constant attention. Without the right filter, micro-sprayers and emitters probably won’t work with irrigation water. Self-cleaning filters work well, if there is an appropriate place for them to purge the water, like an open ditch or a cistern.

A sediment screen filter with a clear, see-through cover can work well in a system where there is pressurized water. These filters have to be cleaned, sometimes on a daily or weekly basis, depending on how dirty the water is. Most have several different sizes of mesh screening from which to choose. Remember the finer the mesh, the more often it must be cleaned. 

“A lot of people cuss ‘em,” Coleman said, “I ask them, ‘Would you rather clean one filter or 40 sprinklers?”

Although manual irrigation systems used to be the most common type, more people are discovering the convenience of automated systems that include a timer and a smart box that will turn the pump on and off. A smart box, which costs around $230, isn’t necessary if you have an irrigation system that doesn’t require a pump or if you’re using domestic water.

“I don’t see as much conversion as putting it in to begin with,” Coleman said. “We draw up systems for people and more people are choosing automatic systems.”

An automatic system allows a homeowner to water in the middle of the night, which not only conserves water but is better for lawns and plants. It also allows homeowners to water when they’re out of town.

Converting a manual system to an automatic system is possible, but it can get expensive when using irrigation water, depending on the number of zones and the whether or not the homeowner needs a smart box.

Drip systems, emitters and micro-sprayers are becoming more popular for use in garden areas, flower beds and xeric landscapes. They don’t waste water, since it’s delivered directly to the plant, rather than sprayed across a 20-foot diameter. Some vegetables will grow better and have fewer problems with disease if they are watered at the ground level rather than an overhead spray.

Flower pots and planters can add the perfect touch to a landscape, but they can also add half an hour or longer to a homeowner’s chore list if they have to be watered daily with a hose. When designing an irrigation system, it’s easy to put an emitter in every planter and include flower pots in the automated irrigation schedule.

If your irrigation system is old and you’re not planning a redesign, it’s still possible to put planters on a timed irrigation schedule, at least if you’re willing to use city water. Hose bib timers are available for about $35 and can work with a drip hose or emitters.

“We seem to be selling more of those than we used to,” Coleman said.

Watering the lawn and garden can be an arduous task when you’re working with a non-existent or inefficient irrigation system, but with the right equipment, it can be something you do while you sleep.


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