Saving Water Outdoors

Programming Your Irrigation Controller / Timer

An irrigation controller or automatic timer directs when, how long, and how often your irrigation system will operate. If properly programmed, a controller can keep your plants healthy and save a lot of water. If you are purchasing a controller select one that is easy to use and look for these features for optimum programming flexibility for our desert landscapes:

  • Multiple station capacity – a station is how most controllers identify a valve. It is generally a good idea to buy a controller that will handle more valves/stations than you need.
  • Multiple program capability – will allow you to run different stations or valves on different schedules or frequencies. It’s like having several controllers in one box.
  • Watering intervals of 14 days or greater – work best for our desert plants since they can go long periods of time between irrigations. This feature defines the maximum number of days that you can skip between irrigation cycles.
  • Run time options of 2 hours or greater – are needed for drip systems that apply a small amount of water. If you have a plant with a 1-gallon per hour drip emitter, you may need to run the irrigation up to 4 hours to apply the needed amount.
  • Battery backup – will maintain your programs and clock during a power outage.

How to Program Your Irrigation Controller

You can save thousands of gallons of water in your landscape, and save your plants from drowning, with the proper setting of your irrigation controller. Just remember that controllers only save water when programmed properly. A ‘smart’ controller will adjust the watering frequency with the seasons, but if you have a regular timer, here’s a guide to help simplify your setup process.

Basic Controller Features

  • Stations control the valves that release the water to the irrigation Zones in your yard or garden. Put plants with similar water needs on the same station or zone. This allows for more efficient watering since all emitters and/or sprinklers on a single valve will run for the same amount of time.
  • The Start Time is the time at which a specific valve will open to irrigate a station or zone.
  • The Run Time or Station Duration is the time, in minutes, a specific valve will stay open and therefore water a zone.
  • Semi-Auto lets you run through an entire program (A, B, or C) whenever you want a supplemental watering.
  • Off or Stop will stop programs from running until you toggle back to ‘Run’. Your programs will be saved. This is great during rainy periods.
  • The Manual Button allows you to run a single valve for the amount of time you select. This is helpful when you want to tune-up your irrigation system and check for leaks, misaligned sprinkler heads or clogged drip emitters.
  • A Program is where you store all of your settings. It consists of a set of stations or valves set to specific start times and frequencies. Here, multiple programs A, B, & C allow you to run different valves on different days with different run times. Make sure each program runs stations with similar plant water needs to maximize irrigation efficiency.

Programming your Controller

  • For easy programming, first slide the “Set Program” (1) toggle to the middle, and then start in the upper left corner of your controller and move clockwise through the settings. Start with program A (2).
  • Set the dial to current time and use the +/– buttons to locate the current time of day. Turn the dial one click to the left and use the +/- buttons to locate the day of the week. You only have to do this once (3).
  • Turn the dial to the “valve run times” to select a station and use the +/– buttons to enter the amount of watering time for that valve, which sends water to a particular zone in your yard or garden (4).
  • Turn the dial to start times and use the +/– buttons to select time you’d like your irrigation to begin. You can have three different start times per day, but typically you only need one (5).
  • Now turn the dial to “schedule” the days you want your irrigation to run or the numbers of days to skip in between watering. Use the +/- buttons to enter this information (6).
  • Now repeat steps 3, 4 & 5 for each station/valve you are controlling, and program A is complete. Use programs B & C for other zones that require difference frequencies of watering, such as turf, Xeriscape, vegetable gardens, etc.

Programming Tips

  • Different plants have different watering needs. Find out how much water your plants need with our Interactive Landscape Watering Guide.
  • Group stations or valves that require similar watering frequencies on the same program (such as A, B, or C)
  • Enter only one start time for each program even when there are multiple stations or valves
  • Enter different start times on different programs (A, B, C) to avoid overlap of water times.
  • Use multiple start times if excessive runoff is a problem

Irrigation Timer Program Example – Summer Watering Schedule