Sprinkler Scheduling Basics

While many homeowners would appreciate a simple answer to the question of how long to run sprinklers, there isn't a single schedule that applies from spring to fall for all sprinkler types and all kinds of plants in all locations. Print our Sample Lawn Watering Schedules as a guide to the number of minutes to water per week based on typical weather in our region and average application rates for two general types of sprinklers; sprays and rotors. Also included are tips on how and when to water. For even more accurate up-to-date watering guidelines based on current weather, call our Lawn Watering Infoline at 541-774-2460.

Below are a couple examples of how you might program your controller using the guidelines mentioned above for spray (non-rotating) sprinklers. A key component of these schedules is the use of a cycle and soak method. This involves using two or more short watering cycles, with brief resting times in between, rather than a single long sprinkling time. This is suggested because many sprinklers apply water more quickly than soil can absorb it, particularly clay soils that are common in our region. Non-rotating spray sprinklers apply water especially fast, with runoff occuring after only a few minutes. Using multiple short cycles, water from one round of sprinkling can soak in before the next cycle starts. These short cycles should be spaced only an hour or two apart (not split up between morning and evening) in order to obtain deep watering and healthier roots.

Most good sprinkler controllers (timers) can be scheduled with multiple start times. They also typically have more than one "program" available, so that lawn areas can be scheduled completely differently than shrubs, including different days and number of days per week. Using the following sample controller settings, you might schedule your lawn areas on Program A with start times of 1am, 3 am and 5 am on 3 days per week in May. Shrub zones can be scheduled on Program B for different days of the week and/or with different start times, such as midnight, 2am and 4 am. For further scheduling assistance, you are welcome to call MWC conservation staff at 541-774-2435.

Sample Watering Schedule with Pop-Up Spray Sprinklers*

Lawn in Full Sun**
  May*** July September Nov-April
Days per Week 3 4 3 Off
Start Times per Day 3 3 2 Off
Minutes per Cycle 5 6 6 Off
Total Minutes per Zone 15 18 12 Off
Weekly Minutes Per Zone 45 72 36 Off


Sample Watering Schedule with Standard Spray Sprinklers*

Shrubs with Moderate Water Needs
  May*** July September Nov-April
Days per Week 2 3 2 Off
Start Times per Day 3 3 3 Off
Minutes per Cycle 4 4 3 Off
Total Minutes per Zone 12 12 9 Off
Weekly Minutes Per Zone 24 36 18 Off

* Watering times for rotating sprinklers are different from sprays. See Sample Lawn Watering Schedule for guidelines
** Zones that receive shade should be run for less time than areas in full sun.
*** Reduce sprinkling when rain has occurred, especially in spring when showers are common.

Drip Irrigation is an ideal alternative for shrub areas. Scheduling drip zones varies according to the size and number of emitters serving various plants. Monitor soil moisture around plants using an inexpensive moisture meter to determine appropriate watering schedules.