Caring For Your Sprinkler System

If you haven't turned on your sprinklers lately, don't be surprised to find your system in need of some repairs. Infrequent use, especially after the winter season, is usually a good reason to check your sprinklers for clogs and broken heads.

Whichever type of sprinklers you have, all systems require periodic checking and repair. Pay particular attention to certain warning signs that indicate needed repairs; dry spots, uneven watering patterns, or even elevated swells in your lawn. All are good indicators of a broken sprinkler line.

Water spraying at an uneven angle, or not at all, is usually a good sign that a sprinkler head is clogged. It's important to routinely watch for any evidence of clogs and leaks in your sprinklers. Many homeowners consider their sprinkler or drip-irrigation system as permanent garden fixtures. As a result, needed repairs often get overlooked.

To help maintain your sprinkler system's good working order, keep these practical tips in mind:


To unclog a spray pattern sprinkler, run a knife blade through the slit in the sprinkler head. If that doesn't unclog it, remove the entire head and clean it. Be sure no dirt enters the riser.

To clean an impact-type sprinkler, run a wire down the hole where the water is emitted. If further work is needed, remove the head for more thorough cleaning.

Replacing a broken sprinkler head can be as simple as removing it by hand, or with a wrench, and then replacing it with another sprinkler head of the same make.

A broken riser may be a little more difficult. A stub wrench, a useful tool that adds additional leverage, can be rented from most equipment rental centers. If solvent cement was used to install the riser, cut the riser pipe off cleanly, and attach a new riser using an adapter fitting.

Work carefully so no soil spills into the line. If soil does enter the line, be sure to remove all your sprinkler heads on the circuit and flush out your water system. This can be done by allowing water to gush out of the open risers until it runs clear.


Regularly scheduled maintenance is the key to keep drip-irrigation systems in good working order. A good rule of thumb is to check your entire watering system on a monthly basis during periods of active use. For areas with a high content of sediment or mineral salts in the water, check the lines more frequently.

Spring is usually a good time to check your drip-irrigation system. Begin by opening the system's end caps and flush the main and lateral lines for 2-5 minutes, or until the water runs clean. Do this to wash accumulated sediment out of your lines.

Try to keep the filter clean at all times. For in-line filters, remove the cylindrical filter screen, then rinse it in running water; use a toothbrush to remove accumulated particles. If it is torn or damaged, replace it. The larger Y-filters, commonly used in permanent drip-irrigation systems, are designed to be self-cleaning by the turn of a valve. Only if it's severely clogged should you remove the filter and wash it.

It's also important to check the emitters - especially after a long period of inactivity. After the system's initial start-up, it's best to check the emitters after the first couple of uses. Be sure the water flow and wetting pattern is as you expect. Look for these trouble spots: the emitter's shutoff valve is in the "off" position, or the emitter is clogged. If cleaning the emitter fails, replace it.