Standing before a table laden with parts of a watering system, David Ruf, owner of the Greenhouse Garden Center on Curry Road, surprised some of the audience of 50 with the comment that "water metering clocks should be left on all year."
That was just part of the free lecture that the affable Ruf presented last Saturday afternoon outdoors at the Garden Center.
He explained, "If you shut down the system then the sprinkler valves can lock up from not being used. When you turn off the water and leave the clock turning the system on and off the valves are energized and are less likely to get stuck." Of course, the water line should be turned off.
Later he explained what sprinkler-system owners need to do to reactivate their systems for the spring.
"Use the black-handled stop and waste key to turn on the water," he said. That key is a long-handled T-shaped tool usually of blackened iron with a slot in the end. "Turn the key one-quarter turn counterclockwise and you'll hear a hissing noise as the water starts to fill the system."
If there is a pressure vacuum breaker in the system, close the hand cocks with a 1Ú8 turn to open the system, Ruf said.
With the new watering schedule for Carson City, the water system control clocks will probably have to be reset, Ruf said. "It's now Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for odd-numbered homes, and Wednesday, Friday and Sunday for even-numbered homed. No watering on Mondays."
Resetting the clocks can be a problem for many homeowners, he said, unless they kept the directions that came with the system. Even with the directions, "we get calls from people who can't figure the clock setting out."
Homeowners can often get copies of the clock instructions off the Internet by going to the site of the maker of the clock, he said.
Before starting the system Ruf recommended that the solenoids in the system be checked, either by pulling them out of the system and testing them at the clock or turning on the system manually. If the solenoids check out but then don't work when the system is energized, it's probably a case of a cut or broken wire. "Lawn mowers are often the culprits here."
The chief reason for stuck valves, said Ruf, is dirt sucked into the system. Sometimes it is easier to replace the valves than clean out the dirt.
Ruf displayed a wide assortment of valves and emitters for drip systems, emphasizing the way various sprinklers or drip emitters work. He even demonstrated a tool specifically designed to make removal of the large "click" type sprinkler heads, a real boon to someone trying to clean such sprinklers.
Ruf pointed out that many homeowners who decide to give up on grass lawns often pull up the sod and add one or two drip emitters or sprinklers close to trees to replace the water that no longer flows from to the roots from the lawn.
"That's a mistake," he said. "Tree roots often extend for many feet and these are the roots that collect water. A good system to is add more emitters every year in a constantly expanding circular design."
Sprinkler valves are color coded, Ruf explained, and have the radius or shape of coverage engraved. "It's better to get a sprinkler that is designed for a certain coverage than to try to adjust the coverage by the small screw on the top."
With drip systems a common problem is matching screw threads. Several kinds are used in drip systems and often homeowners don't realize that they are color coded and try to jam wrong sections together. Similarly, emitters are color coded with black giving one gallon per hour and green two gallons.
"It's not a good idea to use more than 20 emitters in a loop," said Ruf.
In case nothing works for the do-it-yourselfer, Ruf said the Greenhouse Garden Center is happy to come and repair the system - at $50 an hour, including travel time. But he said he would like to see homeowners be able to do the repairs themselves.
In these systems sprinkler heads are embedded in the earth along a line of tubing. The sprinkler heads pop up when water pressure is applied by the control clock action. When watering is over, the heads sink back into housing. A problem here is that when mowing the lawn the heads often are damaged or the water lines cut. Adjusting these heads to achieve good watering can be a problem, best handled by buying sprinkler heads specifically designed for the lawn needs.
As the name implies, this kind of watering can reduce water use by putting small emitters in a water tube at points where smaller amounts of water are needed. Often emitters are committed to specific plants. By paying attention to the ornamentals and perennials one can adjust emitters. If the plants begin to show general yellowing and a lack of vigor, they are getting too much water. If they begin to wilt and the leaves dry out at the margins between waterings, they need more watering. These problems can be met by increasing and decreasing waterings.
Often sprinklers that pop out just a few inches are not right for the job. Ruf demonstrated some that pop up a foot high, allowing water to go over taller plants.