How to program irrigation controllers if they are not smart?

It happens if we are scared to open a box. Such the same with the enclosure of our irrigation controller. If I am having a glimpse on that messy control panel I would prefer to run away. The hair is on my back stands up immediately. What are those unfamiliar pictograms? What for the buttons? And especially: where should I turn that rotating switch? There are lots of setting options around that with nearly same denomination and no any help come up anywhere…

We all know this feeling related to those controllers. They are dumb, they are confusing and we always ask: why cannot this be simpler? And the time gave answer to this question finally: the smart irrigation controllers have arrived.

But some of us has to keep living with these outdated controllers together for some time till they all will be replaced to the new ones. This post is for them.

So let’s see how to program irrigation controllers of the past century.

These monsters think in programs. So we need programs. For that we have to look into the framework of our irrigation system.

What and how long?

At first we have different zones in our irrigation system. Generally we have separated zone(s) for the lawn, for the beds, for the pots/planters and for the veggies. Different zones have different type of irrigation. Lawn is irrigated by those well-known pop-up sprinklers, whilst beds get watered by either micro sprinklers or drip pipes. And so on. These different type of water emitters need different period of time to emit the appropriate amount of water based on the demand of plants in the zone. All of these define the running time of those zones. Over the installation process the irrigation engineers define the right period what obviously can be amended based on later experience.

Zones with same properties, like separated lawn zones or for example flower and shrub beds can be irrigated in the same time a day, same day a week. These zones can be grouped to a program. Unfortunately the old fashioned controllers usually have only 3-4 possibility to make groups, say programs.

Which days?

Now we have programs and we have to decide about watering days of programs. Some of the plants are satisfied with a watering once a day, others need twice even others can be watered every second day.

I always advice every second day is enough for lawn because it forces the roots to look for water in the soil between two watering time and that can help the lawn to survive an uxpected drought period. In contrast with it the planters might have to get watered even twice a day, early morning and evening as well. Namely in summer that small amount of soil in the planters is able to get warm fast, get dry easily and all these things are high stress factor for the plants in them.

What else need to know about programs? They are very strict, you cannot ungroup or mix up them so if there are zones in a program they will run in the same order every occassion. There is no possibility to take away one zone from the program so if we want a program running without a certain zone some time but other times together with them, the only option is for detaching that zone into a separated program. It is a shame because we usually have maximum 3-4 programs means not too much chance for making a sophisticated programming.

When to start?

Hereupon we can take into consider our imaginations about starting times of the irrigation. There might be technical viewpoints like if we have small water tank and that needs some time to get filled before the next program starts to run. Or we always have garden parties last late night and you don’t want your gest to get wet. We have to think them over and choose the ideal start times.

Evaporation is the least during the night so the ideal starting time is somewhere around the evening hours. At this case the water emitted will be utilised to the greatest extent. Dawn hours are also considerable especially for planters as they will get some help this way in cooling down the soil before the hot daylight hours. Of course we have to consider even more points but it can be a good itinerary.

We can set 4-6 starting times per each program which seems excessive compared to the options of setting programs. Unless we got steep slopes we have a good chance to this option being unused.

These are the most important settings if you wanted to program irrigation controllers of old-fashioned design.

How can be simpler?

Aparts from changing your controller to a smart one which is an affordable choice (see our offer) there are a possibility out-of-the-box with your old controller.

Most of the time all of us just want to add some extra time to the running time as we think the plants need that. Either the soil looks dry or the plants are drooped and weak. The simplest way is to look for the seasonal adjustment setting on the controller. It should be on the periphery of rotating switch. We have to turn the switch there and will see a percentage. It’s normally 100% and means the running times set originally. It can be raised by the plus/minus buttons upto 150-200%. If that is raised for example to 150% all running times will be increased by 50%. So if we have a zone running 20 minutes after this raise that will run 30 minutes. And that will happen every single zones programmed.

Some of the controllers are able to note seasonal settings for each months so we have chance to set in advance. But this setting is becoming even more useless with the rapidly changing weather circumstances nowadays.

Seasonal adjustment however a primitive solution because it is possible not each beds need the same extra water but this is the only shortcut on warm days. But don’t forget to set the seasonal adjusment back when these days passed away!

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