Smart Gardening

Gary and Sharon Petterson at Gardeners World make it easy to know which plants grow in the shade.

Submitted photo

As spring temperatures warm, be ready to increase the irrigation cycle on some watering zones around your house. To make sure your spring-summer garden transition happens easily, complete a thorough irrigation check-up to detect any existing and potential problems — before temperatures rise and timely watering becomes a crisis.

Inspect emitters and zones

First conduct an inspection of your drip irrigation system. In many cases, homes only have one drip valve for front and backyards, which makes it more difficult to manage your irrigation. Drip systems should ideally be zoned by micro-climates, i.e. sunny, shady, partly-sunny, etc., because the sunny side of the house will need more water than the shady side. So in cases where there are only one or two irrigation valves (zones) for the yard, you may consider adding separate valves if you have a large yard, or if you have a small yard or perhaps if you just have to live with the situation, change the emitter size so the shady areas have smaller emitters and the sunny areas have larger emitters. Emitters regulate the volume of water and are installed on the spaghetti tubing that brings the water to the plant. Emitters vary on volume of water from half-gallon per hour to more than 10 gallons per hour. So there’s a wide range of water delivery capabilities with that quarter-inch spaghetti line.

Water requirements

Plants are much like human beings, the hotter it gets the more water they need to stay healthy. Plants require different watering during the different seasons we experience here. The goal is to get just enough water delivered to the plant for the plant to thrive. If the plants wilt, start to turn yellow or drop their leaves, check to see if you’re over-watering by sticking a screwdriver or trowel in the ground to see if the soil is wet or if there’s a swampy, sewer smell. The symptoms of over-watering are somewhat similar to under-watering, both cause wilt as the first symptom of a problem. Over-watering displaces the oxygen in the soil and sours the ground causing the roots to rot, leaves to wilt and eventually drop off. Under-watering will cause wilting, leaf margin burn, and dropping of leaves.

Time clock

Next, inspect the time clock. Is it functioning correctly? Make sure the back-up battery is good so if you lose power you don’t lose your programming. And it’s a good idea to lock your clock for safety purposes.

Check emitters and apply first step to leach soil

Another important item on your irrigation check-up is to turn on your irrigation and visually inspect that each emitter is operational. After years of use they will clog with salt buildup. You will see white deposits that plug up the emitter. Pull the faulty emitter off and soak in vinegar, CLR or some other solution that will dissolve hard water deposits. Rinse with water before installing back on the quarter-inch tubing. Then apply First Step soil acidifier around plants according to the directions on the package. Leave the water on for double or triple the normal time to do a “leaching cycle” of the soil and increase the depth of the water penetration. For example, if you normally irrigate for a half hour leave the water on for an hour to leach the white salts away from the roots. Ideally, a leaching cycle should be run once or twice a year when there has not been a lot of rain. During that process look for areas of standing water that will indicate main line leaks.

Sprinkler irrigation system

Also on the check-up is the sprinkler irrigation system. Observe whether they are popping up right. If not, check to make sure the riser doesn’t have a hole in it. Unscrew the heads and clean out the screens and rinse out any sand and dirt. Readjust the heads for optimal spray pattern. If the spray pattern doesn’t look good, check to see if the nozzles (the plastic insert that dictates the pattern) have worn out. If you are under-watering lawns, the grass will turn a bluish-gray or start severely wilting and dying. If the grass is being over-watered, it will tend to rot out in spots.

With a quick check-up your irrigation system will be problem-free this spring and summer.

• Gary and Sharon Petterson own Gardener’s World and Gardener’s Eden Landscaping in Phoenix. Reach them at (602) 437-0700. For the nursery, call (602) 437-2233 or visit, and for landscaping, visit

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