Sprinkler systems eliminate one of the most laborious tasks when it comes to maintaining a healthy lawn and garden. But they’re only truly getting the job done if all your thirsty plants and grass are getting the right amount of water; a few dry spots here and an overwatered patch there, and you could end up spending more time out in the summer heat trying to correct the problem.
It’s important to have your sprinkler system calibrated for your unique landscaping layout, and it should be inspected periodically to check for necessary adjustments. But if you’re not sure how effective your sprinkler system is, there’s a low-tech test you can use to find trouble spots.
You Can Do It
The key piece of equipment for this experiment is an empty soup can. But you can use a variety of other containers -- milk cartons with the tops cut off, wide-mouthed rain gauges or even measuring cups, provided they’re all the same size. The idea is to scatter containers of the same size around your lawn and garden watering area so you can verify how much water is landing in each location.
Place cans near thirsty or sensitive plants to measure irrigation in your most important areas. For your lawn, spread the remaining cans out as evenly as possible. It may be helpful to draw a diagram of your lawn and garden with these locations marked, just in case you decide to conduct the test again later with the cans in different locations.
With the cans in place, run your sprinkler system for at least 20 minutes. Afterward, use a ruler to measure the water depth in each can. You can take the average of all the measurements to determine how many inches of water your system is distributing altogether. But you should also compare the depth of each can to that average to find out if certain areas are getting too much or too little water.
Getting It Right
A common mistake homeowners make when they discover that they’re overwatering or underwatering some areas is to increase or decrease the amount of water used across the entire system. This will only create problems in areas that were being properly watered before the change.
To get the right amount of water to every area of your lawn and garden, you’ll need to inspect each sprinkler head and make repairs where needed. Underwatering issues can easily be caused by clogged nozzles and sprinkler heads, which can usually be cleared with a little gentle brushing. Other imbalances may be caused by rotating heads that become stuck, causing overwatering in one area and underwatering just a few yards away.
If you conduct your own soup can experiment and find that your sprinkler system is out of whack, call a licensed plumbing professional to inspect your system and make the necessary adjustments.