Steady flow

Contractors share best practices for irrigation maintenance to keep clients happy.

Tony Dilluvio, president of Aqua Turf Irrigation Systems

Dilluvio says one of the easiest fixes – but most overlooked – in maintaining an irrigation system is ensuring your clients aren’t overwatering. If they call and say their systems aren’t working properly, what could be happening is that they’ve set it to a schedule and assumed their plants would get the right amount of water that way.

He recommends telling clients to start with a bit of water and increase the frequency only after plants show some stress. Controllers can also be set to adjust watering times like a bell curve. Start watering in April, then continue to up the amount until the middle of July. After that point, it’s time to decrease frequency through the end of fall.

He also says rain sensors are valuable tools to prevent overwatering, though many clients just don’t use them correctly. “Most of the time, it’s not put in a good place,” Dilluvio says. “It needs to be exposed to the rain from all directions and to the sun and the wind so that it can mimic what’s going on in the environment.”

WiFi controllers that are set up for predictive watering also help, too, so that they will shut the irrigation system off if there’s rain in the forecast.

John Kinsey, president of John’s Landscape Services

Kinsey knows many people are still practicing irrigation maintenance the same way they may have a decade ago, but he says that’s a mistake. Technology has continued to advance and water saving strategies have developed so much that it would be wasting time and resources to keep operations at a status quo.

“Be willing to learn,” Kinsey says. “You’ve got the ones who don’t go outside their comfort zone – they’ll stay in it.”

Kinsey also recommends formulating a list of questions to ask clients when they call with maintenance concerns. “Ask the things that will lead to results,” he says, which include prompts like, Was the system working before? When did you notice it not starting to perform? Is there any construction in the area? How old is the system?

“Use your knowledge to your benefit,” Kinsey says.

Then, follow through. “Even if I think I’ve found the problem, go through the rest of it just to validate because I’ve had it where you think you’ve fixed it, but you created another problem somewhere else, so you have unintended consequences on your repair.”

Gina Neusteter, owner of Romneya Gardens

Neusteter works in California, which has infamously limited rainfall, particularly in recent years. She says ensuring that the client’s controller works is vital to avoid wasting any of that water.

“Good planning in the very beginning and having a controller do what it’s supposed to do is critical,” Neusteter says.

She urges contractors to install rain sensors no matter where they are across the country, but especially in states prone to droughts. She says it’s $20 in upgrades that could save the client hundreds. Most of Neusteter’s landscapes don’t need any irrigation from October to March, not to mention the three times a week she knows some people water their plants. Explaining this to clients is perhaps the best maintenance you can do, she says.

“To think that because your controller is on that it’s totally plug and play, I find stuff is probably either totally underwatered or completely overwatered,” Neusteter says. “And usually, honestly, it’s overwatered.”