April showers bring May flowers, the saying goes. If only it were that easy. More likely, you need to set up an irrigation system in the spring to ensure that your lilies and irises get sufficient water, not to mention the lawn and vegetable garden. Even if you're enjoying a wet spring, you'll need those hoses and sprinklers soon enough, so now is the time to check and make sure everything is functioning properly.
Mindful Preparation is Key
If you live in a colder climate and you're a savvy homeowner, you shut down your outdoor spigots over the winter to prevent frozen pipes. Now is the time to get things flowing again, but make sure you don't jump the gun – if you have pipes or hoses buried underground, be sure that the soil is free of frost to at least a one foot depth before you turn on the water, or you’ll risk damaging your equipment.
Next, manually inspect all your sprinkler heads and spigots and clear away dirt, leaves and other debris. Check the nozzles, hoses and valves for any visible damage and replace any parts that are in poor condition. If your system uses a timer or electronic control device, make sure it's clear of dirt and cobwebs and is functioning properly.
Maintain Proper Pressure Levels
When you're finally ready to get the irrigation system up and running, the first step is to close any outdoor drains or spigots that you left open to drain the previous winter. Next, you can open the main outdoor valve – very slowly. You want to fill the system with water gradually to eliminate the risk of a crack or burst pipe due to high surge pressures and a “water hammer” effect.
Once the water is back on and the system is filled up, inspect the lines again for leaks and repair or replace the affected areas. It's also a good idea to use a pressure gauge to regulate the water pressure; if the pressure is too high, it can cause ruptures or leaks over time and create a misting effect from sprinkler heads. If your pressure is above 65 PSI or so, it's a good idea to install a regulator to prevent damage and conserve water.
Fully Armed and Operational
When you're satisfied that the irrigation system is properly arranged, it's time for a test run with all systems in operation. With a little bit of up-front diligence, you can ensure that your hoses and sprinklers will keep your yard and garden looking great all season long.