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Drip trouble-shooting and maintenance.

Well-designed drip systems using good filters and high-quality parts should last for years with little trouble. But they can't be ignored. To keep a system running smoothly, adopt a regular maintenance schedule and learn how to identify problems. Here we offer a set of guidelines you can use as a check list.

"The worst enemy of a drip system is a bad designer. The second-worst enemy is the rake and shovel." So says Vern Matthews, water management consultant at JVL Associates, Inc., in Riverside, California. "If you learn how to recognize and correct problems when they first develop, you'll prevent plants from dying and save yourself a lot of money"

Drip maintenance check list

Flush the lines. Always flush lines after installing a new system and after making any repair. Open all end caps as shown in the photograph on the next page (in a PVC system, open the last riser outlet), including caps on the main line, lateral lines, and J-loops around trees.

Closures vary in design. Some end caps simply unscrew. To open a figure-8 end clamp, slide it away from the end and then unfold the tubing so water can flow out. When reinstalling it, cut off the crimped tubing and clamp a new section if the old section looks brittle.

Clean filters. During the first year after installation, check filters after three months. While the system is running, open the flush valve (if it has one) to clean out grit. Next, turn off the system and unscrew filter canisters; inspect the screens for algae and deposits. If dirty, rinse screens off, if necessary, scrub them with a toothbrush (be gentle with nylon and fiberglass screens).

Before putting filters back together, Tube the O-rings with petroleum jelly. It will greatly increase the filters' longevity.

If screens are clean, wait six months to check them again. If after six months they still look clean, you need inspect them only once a year thereafter. On the other hand, if filters are grimy each time you check them, continue cleaning them every three to six months or as often as needed.

If algae are on your filter screens, they may be growing inside your emitters and eventually clog them. On systems where algae build up regularly, it's best to flush lines once a year with swimmingpool chlorine (check local codes first),

Place a 1/4- or 1/2-inch-diametertablet (not a 2-inch one) or about 1 teaspooon of granular chlorine inside each filter and turn on the system for its full cycle. Afterward, open the end caps to flush the lines of dead algae. Don't use liquid chlorine: it moves through the system too quickly and may harm sensitive plants.

Check emitters and sprays. Several times a year, inspect the entire system while it's turned on to make sure everything is dripping and spraying as it should. Check for displaced or clogged emitters and minisprays that are knocked askew.

If an emitter or spray is clogged, pull it out and replace it. If you can't get an emitter out of the tubing, install a new one next to the clogged one. Before reinserting a part into 1/4-inch microtubing, snip off the old end.

Inspect lines for leaks. Look for breaks in lines and leaky fittings (if lines are buried, look for wet spots); repair them with connectors. Also, keep your eye on the plants themselves. They can be good indicators of problems in your system (see troubleshooting section below).

Adjust automatic controller. Become familiar with the controller so you can adjust watering schedules when necessary. Don't be afraid to experiment: a controller is quite simple to program.

Plants' water needs change with the seasons. In cooler weather, plants use less water and need it less frequently. Adjust the schedule at least four times a year; reducing watering by 1/3 in spring and fall and by 2/3 in winter (in cool or rainy climates, you may not need any watering in winter). An automatic shutoff device will turn off the system when it rains.

Some clocks have a water budgeting feature to adjust for seasonal changes. When you push a button, it reduces the run time by a certain percentage. It sounds useful, but this feature actually makes the wrong adjustment to the clock. In cooler seasons, plants still require the same length of irrigation time to water their root zones, but they don't need water as often.

Flush out salts. If you garden in the desert or other areas where salts accumulate in the soil, flush them out once a year. Run the drip system overnight to leach salts out of root zones,

Trouble-shooting the system

If something goes wrong with your system, don't panic. It may just need a simple adjustment. We describe seven problems to look for and suggest what to do about them. If you still can't figure out what's wrong, call an irrigation specialist (see the yellow pages under Sprinklers).

Only one plant looks thirsty. Assuming you've ruled out disease or insect problems on the plant, check soil moisture by digging down into the root zone. If the soil is dry below one of the emitters, the emitter may be clogged. Turn on the system to see if the emitter is dripping. If no water comes out, replace it or put a new one on the line right next to the clogged one.

If the emitters are working, but there are extensive dry areas in the soil between them, there probably aren't enough emitters around the plant. Add one or more

emitters between the existing ones.

Plants on one line look thirsty. Check for a break in the line. Turn on the system and look for a soggy spot in the soil. If only one group of plants on the line seems thirsty, look for a break between the last healthy plant and first thirsty one (emitters won't be dripping beyond the break). If the line is broken, repair it with a connector and then flush the lines.

If you can't find a break, and the emitters aren't dripping, the line may be crimped or blocked. Cut out the crimp and repair with a connector, or replace the line.

If emitters are dripping, the pressure may be too low toward the end of the line so plants farther out on the line aren't getting enough water. If the line has a screwon end cap, buy or borrow a pressure gauge, screw it on to the end of the line, and check pressure. If it's lower than 5 to 7 psi (pounds per square inch), you have too many emitters or the line is too long. Change to pressure-compensating emitters (if you're not using them) or add another lateral line off the main one.

Plants on one valve look thirsty. If the emitters are dripping and all of the plants watered by one valve look thirsty, you may be underwatering. Check soil moisture around the roots. Increase watering time on the controller, if necessary

If the emitters aren't dripping, make sure the valve is operating correctly and then look for a break in the distribution line that runs ftom the valve.

All plants took thirsty. First inspect the controller to see if it's running. If it's off, check the on-off switch or rain shutoff button; it may just be shut down (it may have been triggered by the rain shutoff device, if you have one). If the controller won't go on, contact the store where it was purchased.

If the controller is working, check moisture penetration around the plants' root zones. If the soil is dry, look for a break in the main waterline before the valves. If the system seems in good repair, you probably just need to increase watering times on all of the valves.

Plants are yellowish and soil is wet. If the plants on one or all valves are yellowing, leaves are dropping off, and the soil is soggy, you're probably overwatering. Reduce watering time on the affected valves. Water puddles on the soil surface. You probably have clay soil (if wet soil holds firmly together when you squeeze it, it's clay) and water is flowing out of your emitters faster than the soil can absorb it. Change emitters to a lower gallon-perhour (gph) rating, or shorten run time and repeat cycles.

One or all valves stay on. Shut down the irrigation system by turning off the controller or closing the main shutoff. If your controller isn't faulty (run through guidelines in the owner's manual), check the valves. The flow rate through them may not be high enough to shut them off.

Add up the total gph of the emitters on each valve. If it's less than 60 to 120 gph on a single valve and you don't have a lowflow shutoff valve, you need to increase the flow (change emitters to a higher gph and reduce watering time) or change valves to a low-flow type.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Aug 1, 1988
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