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Programming an irrigation controller can be very frustrating. The most important thing to do before you attempt to perform any programming is to read the owners manual.   Many of the manuals, however,  are overly complicated and confusing.

I sit down with all my customers and write down on paper what is it we want the controller to do. For instance how long to water the various zones, what time to start and what days to water. So start with a written watering schedule, often times there are three different pages. One page for program A, a second page for program B, and a third page for program C.  More about this ABC program stuff later.

All irrigation controllers popular today have the ability to  control or turn on several different valves or zones. Often times here in Tucson homeowners have seperate zones for trees, for shrubs, lawn and potted plants. When I teach my customers to program their new irrigation systems, I first stress that each zone should be known by it’s zone number. For instance zone #1 trees, #2 shrubs, #3 potted plants etc. Of course not always in that order. It is important to learn each zone by it’s number so when we begin to assign our zones to various programs (ABCD) there is no confusion between a zone and a program.

A valve(zone) is a physical thing. What I mean by that is each and every automatic control valve has a hot wire and a common wire connected to it. Wires are connected from the various valves to the controller. At the controller they connect to various terminal positions numbered one, two, three etc.  So these various valves or zones are assigned numbers which will not change.

Irrigation controllers have multiple programs. Some controllers have two programs the Raindial controller, very popular here in Tucson, has three programs ABC. These various programs give us the ability to program a valve or group of valves for watering on specific day schedules.  This can be a very important water saving feature. For instance some plant material need water much less frequently than others. Lawns and shrubs are a good example. For instance if we only used one program for both the lawn zone(s) and shrub zone(s) what day schedule (program) would we select. If we set the day schedule (program) for daily watering, that would be fine for the lawn but the shrubs would receive water more frequently than needed. We could set the watering schedule for watering three times a week. A schedule more suited for irrigating shrubs, but the lawn would probably burn up. This is why we need to use multiple programs.

So now how do we know what valve or zones go into what program? This assignment is made based on whether or not different zones can water on the same day schedule. For any one particular landscape several different programs or day schedules may be required. It is pretty easy to understand that all of the lawn zones would be programmed into one program for watering one a specific day schedule. Likewise most shrub zones could water in another program for their specific watering day schedule. Any valve or zone can be programed into any one of the various programs. I will use the Raindial controller for my example. It has three programs A,B,C. I tell my customers this is like having three separate irrigation controllers all with total independent control. I start out with three separate pieces of paper. One for program A one for B and a third for C. On all of the pages I write three things; what zones to water and for how long, a start time, and what days to water.  The frequency or days to water is the real key to correctly programing your controller. As an example program A might be used to water all lawn zones for frequent watering, program B might be used for shrub watering a couple times per week. The remaining programs could be used to irrigate valves or zones that require watering on a even different watering day schedule.

One common problem people have is confusing valve numbers with programs. No matter what program we are working in ABC, the valves or zone numbers remain unchanged. For instance as we move from program A to program B customers often times assume since we have moved to a new program say from program A to B no matter what zone number we want to program they move the program dial to zone #1. When in fact the correct zone to water in program B might be #4. Caution must be taken as we move from program to program not to inadvertently assign a watering run time to a zone or station that has already been programmed in another program, or the incorrect valve or zone altogether.


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