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Fine Tuning Your Controller Program

Studies show that landscapes are over-watered by 30% to 50%. Hard to believe, but it’s true. How can we conserve water and maintain a healthy, green landscape? What tricks do the pros use to fine tune controller programs?

Try the Triple-A approach. Anticipate-Adjust-Achieve


Forecast seasonal weather changes. Obtain historical ET (evapotranspiration) data for your area and mark your calendar. Almanacs, local agricultural resources, even tourist information can provide weather estimation on a weekly or monthly basis. This is your early warning system. Examine the data and set a scheduling interval. The greatest water savings occur from monthly programming adjustments.

  • Know when to "PEAK UP". Don’t play catch-up with hot weather. Prevention of dry spots conserves more water than reacting too late, attempting to make up for turf stress.
  • Know when to "DIP DOWN". Likewise, anticipate cooler weather.
  • Establish schedules. Create Winter and Summer schedules. Set start(s) and run times with future water budget (%) tuning in mind. Generate the schedule during the off-season. Keep notes from the previous season and revise the schedule as needed.
  • Label each zone. Note the station, or zone information on a programming worksheet or card. Most manufacturers supply these with the controller. Give a copy to the end user. Example:
  Program "A" Program "B" Program "C"
Schedule Winter: M, TH Summer: Mon-Sat Drip: M, W, F
Start 1 6:00 AM** 4:00 AM 11:00 AM
Start 2   6:30 AM  


Front turf / sprays Station 1
10 min
7 min  
Left front turf / rotors Station 2 20 min 15 min  
Right front turf / rotors Station 3 20 min 15 min  
Back roses / drip   **Cancel Winter start if program "B" is active 60 min
Notes: 31st is set as an "off" day. Connected to a rain sensor. MV enabled on all stations except "Drip".


Modify the irrigation schedule, adding watering days or station run time prior to known peaks in temperature. Use "Water Budget" to make quick, global adjustments to your schedules. This is a fast, effective way to fine-tune the system, without the hassle of reprogramming every station. Water Budget increases or decreases the run times of all stations on a program by a selected percentage, say 0% to 200%. For example, the base schedule during Summer may call for a 15 minute run time, twice a day, in July. Set the water budget to 80% on September 1st. The cumulative run time will decrease to 24 minutes total. The time spent to reprogram the controller takes about 1 minute. Let’s say the zone demands 15 gallons per minute. You save 90 gallons a day on just that zone, not to mention the other stations on that program.

Tip! Turfgrass under stress will have a flat, non-shiny appearance. It won’t rebound after stepping on it, and may appear a little bluish in color. Schedule similar turf zones (full to partial sun) on the same program. In this way, your water budget adjustment will have a positive effect on all turf areas without over-watering shrub and flower zones.


The benefits of fine-tuning are wide-ranging. Water conservation is the most important advantage to fine-tuning. Saving water has become a way of life for many Western states. Customers appreciate detailed scheduling. It shows competence and consideration on the part of the contractor or landscape architect. Over-watering can produce huge amounts of grass clippings. Ease off a little on the water and maintenance will become easier. Plants grow to be healthier too.

Water is our most precious resource. Fine tuning your controller helps to use this resource wisely.