Getting the Most from Your Irrigation System

Adjusting your irrigation controller seasonally can help you manage your water use and your utility costs. Irrigation primarily is needed for lawn establishment and maintenance. The majority of your trees and shrubs, once they have been established and in the ground for a minimum of seven months, can survive on rainfall supplemented with "as needed" irrigation during dry periods. There's a bit to learn, but investing a few minutes now can provide long-term benefits for your lawn and your monthly budget.  Note: The irrigation controller information provided here is generic in nature. Consult the user manual for your controller if it differs from what is provided here. 

Step One

Double check the irrigation allowances for your address. The year-round restrictions in Tampa allow up to twice weekly irrigation with no irrigation between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., but there are times when irrigation restrictions are tightened. You can check your restrictions online at any time.

Step Two 

Take a good look at your controller. Most modern controllers have three programs available for use, and they are named Programs A, B and C. Each program may have the option for multiple start times. The programs tell your irrigation system when to start and stop. When you have a start time, a day of the week and minutes (run time) associated with one or more programs then you will have irrigation events regardless of which program is chosen for display. For best water management, we recommend that only one program be set up with one start time. That will help reduce the possibility that your system is operating more than you realize.  Set established landscape zones to "zero" and add run times only when plants first show signs of thirst. 

Step Three 

Decide which of the program options (A, B, or C) to use.  Select the "schedule" function and select the days of the week your irrigation system will operate. Select "start time" to specify the time that you would like irrigation to begin. Select "run time" to set the number of minutes each zone in your system will operate. You can use our self-calculating irrigation worksheet to estimate the billed units (CCFs and gallons), cost and inches of water based on your run times. The recommended application rate for this area is 3/4" per week, including any rainfall.

Bells and Whistles

Your irrigation system may have one or more of these additional features. 

  • Off/Stop. Use this feature to prevent your system from coming on at all. Just toggle to "off" or "stop." After turning off your controller, always recheck the settings to ensure they are retained when the system is turned on again.
  • Manual. The manual feature allows you to manually operate your entire irrigation system or to selectively operate one or more zones. This feature can be used to spot check the system when performing repairs or to check for broken heads, leaks or other problems.
  • Seasonal Adjust. This feature allows you to make recommended seasonal adjustments to your irrigation run times without requiring you to reprogram everything.
  • Rain Sensor Bypass. A functional rain sensor is required by Florida statute. The rain sensor mechanism should be in the "on" position at all times, including landscape establishment periods.
  • Test All Valves. Use this feature to observe each zone for 2 minutes. Have flags on hand to find, flag and fix problems such as leaks, misdirected or missing heads, overspray or obstructed spray paths.

Pro Hacks

  • In the Tampa area, rain sensors have a limited life span. For best results, check it at least every six months and, if it is a wireless model, replace batteries as needed.  
  • Check your controller manual to learn whether your controller requires a battery to maintain settings in case of power interruption (including cycling your controller to "off").
  • Use the University of Florida/IFAS 30-day Establishment Schedule to reduce your establishment water costs when installing new plant materials.