Sprinkler checkup time!

As we approach the “dry season” here in central FL, you’ll want to be 100% sure your sprinkler system is working properly and putting water where it’s needed.


Photo montage of various sprinkler issues
Clockwise from top left: 1) Missing nozzle = parking lot “geyser;” 2) Pooling water & washed-out sand – telltale signs of a damaged head; 3) Rotor with a leaking seal has water pooling around base; 4) When a head isn’t tall enough to spray ABOVE the turf – it sprays INTO the turf, effectively “pressure-washing” the adjacent grass; 5) Spray pattern is obstructed by a new fence. This might keep the fence clean, but is not an efficient way to water the lawn…


So put on your bathing suit, and get ready to run through your sprinklers… Here’s your DIY irrigation “wet-check” check-list:

(NOTE: For viewing the following table on mobile devices, a horizontal screen orientation will work best!)

  • Misdirected heads
  • You’re watering something other than your grass/plants (i.e. the street, pathways, driveway, joggers, etc…)
  • Re-align head(s), increase/decrease spray radius, adjust angle (Helpful DIY tutorial links located at the end of the post!!)
  • Replace nozzles w/ custom spray patterns (available for corners, angles, narrow curb strips, etc. – cheap & easy fix!!)
    • PRO TIP: Different brands use different thread patterns, so be sure to get the correct ones!
  • Leaking seal(s)
  • Water pools around the base of the sprinkler. (Example)
  • Spray seems weak
  • Head only pops up part-way, or not at all
  • “Exercise” the head up and down a few times. (Sometimes, after non-use, the seal is just stiff…)
  • Check if turf overgrowth is preventing full extension. If needed, cut away turf to allow head to pop up freely.
  • If unable to resolve, it’s easier to replace the head than try to repair the seal.
    • PRO TIP: Be sure to match spray pattern & precipitation rate.
  • Missing nozzles/ broken heads / broken pipes
  • Missing nozzle = “Old Faithful” is erupting in your yard.
  • Broken head or pipe = Water is pooling / gushing / gurgling. (Example)
  • Other heads in the zone have low pressure / low output
  • Locate/repair broken pipe(s)
  • Replace broken head(s)
    • PRO TIP: Be sure to match spray patterns & precipitation rates.
  • Head(s) too low
  • Rather than spraying water across the entire lawn, the head is basically pressure-washing the nearby grass.
  • Minimal spray/mist gets beyond the adjacent turf.
  • Uneven coverage results in dry patches of turf.
  • Install taller heads. For example, replace a 4″ riser with a 6″ riser.
    • PRO TIP: This may require a ‘swing joint’ to keep the retracted head flush with ground-level.
  • After repairs, perform a “catch-can” test to ensure even coverage throughout the zone.
  • Clogged nozzles
  • Head pops up, but spray is weak or absent, WITHOUT water pooling around its base
  • Carefully unscrew the nozzle, remove debris, clean or replace the small filter.
    • PRO TIP: When removing a nozzle, be careful not to lose any small parts – springs, filters, etc.
  • Uneven coverage / a.k.a. poor “distribution uniformity” for reasons NOT listed above
  • Part of the zone is receiving much less water than the rest (Verify with a “catch-can” test)
  • Option 1: Obstructed Spray – Looks like: An object (i.e. shrub, new fence, etc.) is blocking spray pattern. Sounds like: You’re pressure-washing your plant, fence, etc.
  • Option 2: Trapped head – Looks like: A head “should be there,” but isn’t. – Sounds like: Odd gurgles, squeaks, squeals (or sometimes silent…)
  • Option 3: Mixed heads – Looks like: Combo of different brands/models, or rotors/sprays present in a single zone applying water at very different rates.
  • Obstructed spray: Relocate the existing head – OR – cap off existing head and add a new one in better location.


  • Trapped head: “Rescue” trapped head(s) from below turf stolons by cutting away turf overgrowth.


  • Mixed heads: Replace with heads that apply water more uniformly. (Best solution depends on individual situation.)
  • Damaged drip tubing
  • Totally cut = Water pouring out as if from a garden hose (Example)
  • Partially cut / missing emitter(s) = Narrower, high-pressure stream spraying out of drip tube. (Example)
  • May be causing erosion or washed-out area in landscape bed.
  • Repair drip tubing with appropriate “goof plugs” or other fittings as needed.
  • PRO TIP: If trees and/or shrubs are well-established (greater than 5+ years old), determine whether continued drip irrigation is still necessary. Drought tolerant trees and shrubs may be self sufficient once fully established, reducing or eliminating the need for regular watering except in times of prolonged drought.


NOTE: In addition to the basic wet-check items listed above, there are a number of timer programming issues, rain-sensor issues, valve-related issues, and landscape tasks (mulching, etc.) which are worth checking as we approach the dry season… but to keep this post manageable, I’ll be covering some of those other issues in upcoming posts. Check back soon!

Rain sensor dangling by wires below roof overhang.
Preview: How much rain can a rain sensor sense if the rain sensor can’t catch rain?
REMEMBER: #SidewalksDon’tGrow #JustWetYourPlants


Adjusting Heads

The following online tutorials demonstrate how to adjust several common types of spray and rotor heads. (Inclusion does not represent endorsement of specific brands/products):


A note on “mixed heads” (sprays/rotors)

When sprays and rotors are combined in a single zone, it can often result in uneven or inefficient watering. Typically, in order for rotors to apply sufficient water, the sprays will end up running far longer than necessary. This can waste water and contribute to runoff or nutrient leaching. The following video from UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade discusses an easy option for retrofitting spray heads with “multi-stream” rotating heads. https://youtu.be/TEpsJjBmt-M


See also: UF/IFAS Publication – “Basic Repairs and Maintenance for Home Landscape Irrigation Systems


About the Author: As Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL) Program Coordinator in Pasco County, Frank helps residents, homebuilders, and businesses of Pasco to create attractive, resilient, low-maintenance yards and communities while reducing over-reliance on irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides. (Click to learn the 9 Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping!) Through an innovative collaboration with the County Utilities, Frank provides on-site assistance to individuals and communities identified as high water users. He can be reached at (813)929.2716.

Not in Pasco County? Not a problem! Click here to find your local UF/IFAS Extension office!

About UF/IFAS Extension: UF/IFAS Extension serves as a source of non-biased, research-based information for the residents, businesses, and communities of Florida, providing educational materials and programs for adults and youth. We proudly “provide solutions for your life.”


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Posted: September 19, 2018

Category: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes, Lawn
Tags: #SaveWaterFL, Irrigation, Landscape, Saving Water, Sprinklers, Water Conservation

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