Month: April 2014

Common Question: How to Water Behind Trees?

A couple days ago I was talking with a friend who moved into a new house late last year and will be putting a sprinkler system in over the next month.  He’s gotten a landscape architect to come up with a plan and now it’s down to designing the sprinklers around that.  He raised a question that we get frequently enough that we figured a short post would be helpful.

200281047-001His yard plan calls for shade trees to be planted at various spots and, for the next few years at least, these won’t be much of a problem to the sprinklers because they’ll be small.  But the question is what will this mean for the sprinklers as they grow? How does one water around trees and is it okay if sprinklers are behind the tree?

The answer is that nothing needs to be done differently in planning your sprinklers (with a caveat).  Assuming you’re yard has correct head-to-head coverage, the grass is getting plenty of water, so obstructions from one angle aren’t really a problem.

Sprinkler Wiring Done Right

A few years ago, I noticed some of my valves weren’t turning on. All these valves were in one sprinkler box and I could soon tell the problem was with the wiring. The wire for this particular valve box started at the valves, snaked its way through a rock retaining wall and under a deck (filled with creep-crawlies) and then under a rock walkway before being buried in a few inches of dirt and entering the garage where it was joined with timer. Needless to say, repairing it wasn’t a pleasant experience and I discovered the perils of a contractor who cuts corners.

Sprinkler wire is a vital part of an underground system. If it breaks, the system won’t work, negating all the benefits of having it in the first place. And because timers and valves are often separated by some distance, it can be a bit pain to repair. I asked some pro installers to share a few tips on how to easily install sprinkler wire and futureproofing against damage and repairs.

The one tip that stood out above all others was to bury the wire inside conduit. The time and costs of installing conduit are nearly identical to doing it without, but the benefits really pay off if you ever need to make repairs. Conduit is pipe meant for electrical wires and cables. It’s usually cheaper than sprinkler pipe because it doesn’t need to withstand internal water pressure. The fittings are often larger and curved so that you can feed a cable through the pipe without running into a hard stop like a tee junction. The pipe is durable, UV resistant and completely waterproof when installed correctly. Like sprinkler pipes, you should bury the conduit at least 6 inches deep (sometimes more if municipal code requires). This will protect it from shovels and tillers.

Conduit is not just for underground, though, and should also be used as you feed wires above ground. Because UV rays can damage the plastic shielding and decrease the lifespan of exposed wires, the conduit will keep from growing brittle and breaking. Plus, it just looks neater and cleaner.

On the topic of conduit, when possible bury it in you’re already sprinkler trenches, thereby saving yourself time and energy digging other trenches.

57505_actionIf you have multiple strands of wire for various sprinkler boxes, it’s okay to feed them through the same conduit because the voltage isn’t high enough to cause interference. Pull yourself an extra few feet of wire so you’ll have spare in the event of repairs.

When wiring the valves, use wire nuts and grease caps. The wire nuts create a secure connection between wires and the grease caps will ensure a waterproof seal. Water getting into the wiring often damages the solenoids beyond repair, so this small investment will prevent extra expense and hassle.

Wiring can be pain free if the proper steps are taken in planning.  Follow these tips and you’ll have no problems at all.


Earth Day 2014: A Reminder of All Earth’s Valuable Resources

It’s Earth Day! Any day is a good day to start conserving energy, water, and natural resources, but Earth Day serves as a reminder that we only have a certain amount of all the good things our planet provides and we should be careful with it all. At Orbit, we’re especially concerned about using water. The Earth may seem like it has plenty of water, but in reality only about one percent of it is available to humans for things like bathing, watering our lawns, and doing the dishes—oh, and drinking. So here are a few tips for conserving our much-needed water:

Water only when necessary. You probably didn’t know this, but more plants die from over-watering than from under-watering. When is it necessary? Use a shovel to take a look at the depth of the soil moisture. If the top 2 or 3 inches are dry, it’s time to water.

Be on the lookout for signs of overwatering: leaves turn lighter shades of green or yellow, young shoots wilt, and sometimes algae or fungi grow. Check your sprinkler system frequently and adjust it so only your lawn is watered, not the sidewalk or the street. Don’t water on windy days where most of the water blows away or evaporates. Use drip irrigation where possible. It uses just a fraction of the water of normal sprinklers and can prevent weeds from growing in flowerbeds. Remember to be careful when using a hose. Set a timer when using the hose as a reminder to turn it off; a running hose can waste up to 10 gallons per minute.

Aside from letting your water run, another source of wasted water is leakage. Regularly check for leaks or breaks in your sprinklers. Perform a sprinkler audit by running every zone for a couple minutes every month. Often broken sprinklers are hard to notice because the water dries up before we ever see the traces.

Lastly, keep your drinking water separate from your sprinkler water. Make sure backflow prevention is installed. This keeps polluting chemicals out of our drinking water. Use secondary or reclaimed water for your plants. Plants can’t tell the difference and it keeps the clean stuff for purposes that actually need it.

Water isn’t an inexhaustible resource, but we can each do our part to make sure there’s enough to go around. What are you going do to this Earth Day to save water?

Watering Restrictions in California


No one likes drought conditions. However, it’s fairly difficult to control Mother Nature.

California is faced with drought and record-dry conditions this year and it can be difficult to learn what specific measures and restrictions are in place with so many different water agencies.

Thanks to a digital map put together by the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), a coalition of public water agencies in California, you can easily find out what actions have been implemented in your area.

Check out the link ( for more details and to find your community.

For water saving tips, see our blog posts on sprinkler audits, drip irrigation, water conservation and how to deal with water shortages.

How to Pick the Right Sprinkler for Your Yard

One of the most asked questions from our customers is which sprinkler is right for their situation.  The choice is easy once you know a few basic principles.

As with most decisions related to sprinklers, you need to start by knowing your water pressure.  Water pressure often determines what type of sprinklers may or may not be a reasonable option for you.  Sprinklers that spray farther or which put out more water require more pressure, and if your pressure is too little, you’ll end creating way too many zones.

geardrivesaturnNext, you need to know your watering needs.  Ask yourself what types of areas you’ll be watering.  Typically you can split your yard into two categories: lawn and flowerbeds/garden.  Lawns need a full saturation that can only be provided by rotor sprinklers or pop-ups.  Flowerbeds and gardens may or may not need that, often times using drip watering is the better solution.

Know the area.  This means knowing the size, soil type, and environmental conditions of the area you’re watering.  Large areas of land benefit from rotor sprinklers—either impact heads or gear drives—because they can spray further and with more water, requiring less sprinklers.  The soil type will determine the water saturation rate, and thus how much you’ll need to be watering.  Also, consider if parts of your lawn are on a slope with high runoff.  Though these things don’t directly tell you which type of sprinkler to use, they do help determine watering needs.  The environment can also be a big factor.  Windy areas are bad places for pop-ups because the misty water gets blown around, leading to uneven watering.

pop upOnce you’ve figured out all the above, you can explore your options, which fall into two categories: rotors and pop-ups, including rotary nozzles.  Rotors are great for large areas of lawn because they spray a long way and are totally adjustable.  With rotor’s you have two options: impact heads and gear drive sprinklers.

Pop-ups are a better option for smaller areas of lawn, and areas with different contours rather than straight sections.  They can have interchangeable nozzles to spray different distances and patterns.

Hose End Watering: The Ace Up Your Sleeve

We often see and hear about lawns and gardens that turn out beautiful with the exception of a couple problem areas that end up detracting from the whole. These could be dry spots, wilting plants or flowers or trees that look unhealthy. In all these instances a great solution can be hose-end watering. But this presents a new challenge because hose watering requires homeowners to adjust their schedules to make sure watering happens. Orbit has a full lineup of great hose tap timers which, when used in conjunction with our hose end sprinklers, will give your yard that little push it needs to reach perfect beauty.

The first step in resolving any problem area in a garden is to determine what the problem is. Many times it will be as simple as getting the plants more water and sunlight, but sometimes it can be more serious—things like lawn diseases or insect infestations—and no amount of water is going to solve this. Water is always a good place to start if you’re testing solutions, but the Internet can be a source of great insights into different problems.


Dad’s Reliable Sprinkler

If you’ve determined the problem is lack of water, start by selecting the right sprinkler for the job. Orbit has sprinklers for large, medium and small areas, as well as drip watering equipment, which can also be adapted for hose-end use. For lawns you’ll probably want an oscillator or impact head. But these would only be used if your lawn has widespread dryness. As a general rule, find the sprinkler to cover only the problem area.  Otherwise you’ll be wasting water and running the risk of over-watering the otherwise healthy parts of your lawn, creating a whole new problem. For dry spots on a lawn, our turret sprinklers with adjustable patterns are perfect because they allow you to pick the right pattern for the problem. In fact, if that’s all you’re dealing with, Dad’s Reliable Sprinkler is a perfect choice with a proven track record.

With this type of watering, there’s always the risk of forgetting to turn the water on or forgetting to turn it off. Either way, you’re left with undesirable results. The hose tap timer eliminates this. Orbit has timers with up to 4 programmable zones, turning your tap into a powerful, automatic tool.

A few tips: Like with all watering, you’ll want to water in the early morning hours, before the sun comes up, to avoid losing water to evaporation. However, make sure hose watering doesn’t overlap with your underground sprinkler schedule, as this will cause a conflict in water pressure. Also, if you have an underground system, perform a sprinkler audit to see if there’s a more permanent change needed to eliminate dry spots. Follow these tips, adapting them as your situation requires, and you’ll be in gardening bliss.

How To Install Drip For Vegetables and Fruits

Want to water your fruits and vegetables with drip irrigation? Drip irrigation has many advantages for the home gardener, starting with water conservation. 90 to 95 percent of the water goes into the soil, so less water is needed to wet the root zone. Walkways stay dry, so you can work whenever you want without having to worry about muddy shoes.  And by keeping moisture off the plant leaves, you keep funguses and plant disease from developing.  Drip irrigation can be easily tailored to the specific type of plant, and with automatic timers can be incorporated into your regular watering schedule.


The first step is to decide what you’ll be planting.  Drip tubing comes in three basic varieties: soaker tubing, emitter tubing and distribution tubing, which can then be fitted with a full range of drippers and micro sprinklers.  Tightly packed plants, like carrots, radishes and herbs, will benefit from soaker or emitter tubing.  Plants that are spaced more widely, such as corn, tomatoes, peppers and melons, would be better served with emitter tubing or distribution tubing with drippers or micro sprinklers.  As a general rule, make just sure you’re not watering empty soil, because it will waste water and eventually you’ll see weeds pop up.


Next, decide your water source.  You can either tie into your underground system or use a hose tap timer, either way works great.  There are too many details to go into here, but you can check out our other blog posts for an in depth review of both scenarios.


Now, design your layout by drawing the garden space and labeling the plants you want to include, paying attention to the recommended spacing.  In the example pictured to the left, we’re watering some vegetables that need to be closely placed together.  We’ve run a half-inch distribution line and then tied into that with adjustable flow flag drippers connected to soaker tubing.  This will give a deep soak the plants need.  In another example the plants are spaced further apart, so we run a half-inch distribution line down the middle and then branch off with quarter-inch tubing with pressure compensating drippers on the end.


There are so many ways to tailor and tweak a drip system.  You’re able to get a customized watering for each plant.  A well designed drip system is a thing of beauty and the results are outstanding, yielding delicious fruits and vegetables all season long.


Here are some answers to a few common questions.


I have plants that require different amounts of water in the same area.  How can I get them both the water they need?

The best way to do this is using drippers of different flow rates.  For example, let’s say you have pumpkins (with deep roots which require a lot of water) and strawberries (shallow roots, not nearly as much water).  To water both effectively, use a pressure compensated dripper of 2 GPH (gallons per hour) pointing directly at the pumpkin.  For the strawberries, we’ll use some soaker tubing, but connect it to a distribution line with an adjustable flag dripper, which we’ll turn down so that the strawberries don’t get drowned.  This way, I run the drip system for 90 minutes, the pumpkin gets 3 gallons of water directly at its roots, and the row of strawberries get only 1 gallon.


I use secondary water, but this always seems to clog up my emitters.  How can I prevent this?

Secondary water is a great use of resources.  The plants can tell no difference and many municipalities offer huge discounts for the use of secondary water.  But the problem of clogging is a big one.  To combat this we recommend the use of a filter, which can be installed on either underground or hose tap systems.  With regularly cleaning, this will keep a lot of the debris out and your system running well.