Three ways to maintain your irrigation systems and garden during winter

Updated February 06, 2023
During winter, your lawn will look healthier if you let nature water for you. If your sprinklers are still on, your lawn is receiving too much water, so turn off sprinklers and take advantage of all that free and clean rainwater.

--Justin Black, Roseville Water Efficiency

For efficient year-round operation, your home’s systems and equipment (like your HVAC system) must be maintained regularly. Your irrigation system is no different. Winter brings the possibility of freezing temperatures, meaning it’s time to prepare your irrigation system (also called winterizing).

Why not make the best use of your time while also taking inventory to determine if any parts need to be repaired or replaced so that your system will be water-efficient and in tip-top shape come spring?

One: Walk your garden and prepare to repair

There’s always activity in gardens that can cause breaks and damage to irrigation systems – digging with shovels can cut into irrigation lines, critters can chew on drip lines, sprinklers can get broken, hit, or run over by equipment, or tubing can break away from fittings.

To check for leaks or breaks, turn on one valve (station) at a time and walk around the area it waters. Look and listen for the sound of hissing, leaks, water shooting up into the air (geysers), and puddles or water-soaked areas. Mark these issues with flags so you can return to determine what’s needed to make repairs and turn off the valve.

Two: Take inventory

Now that you know where repairs are needed, revisit those areas with flags and list the parts required. Depending on the weather, you may be able to make repairs now, but you certainly will need to make them before your irrigation system is turned back on in the spring as temperatures rise.

Keep in mind that the lines will need to be flushed when you make repairs to main lines, such as PVC that’s down in the soil and for sprinkler repairs. You can do this by uncapping the main line, removing the flush fitting, and running the valve for a few minutes. Also, clean filters.

Next check to see what irrigation parts you already have and list those you need to purchase. Remember: When replacing sprinklers, emitters, and tubing, use the same brand. You don’t want to mix one brand with another for an efficient irrigation system and use the identical gallon-per-hour emitters already on a drip zone. This will make managing your schedule more manageable.

Check your tools and equipment. You may need pipe cutters, scissors, Teflon tape, pipe glue, or landscape stakes to secure driplines, flush valves, end caps, or figure eight flush fittings. If your system has individual drip emitters, you may need a hole punch to pierce poly tubing, goof plugs (to fix a hole in drip tubing), new poly and 1/4” tubing, and PVC. If you have tubing with emitters built into it (dripline), extra dripline, connectors.

Check out Roseville’s Environmental Utilities Water Efficiency rebates for parts and labor to upgrade your irrigation system, and learn more about irrigation systems and equipment and how to maintain and repair irrigation systems at Water and your garden.

Three: How to flush and clean your irrigation system

When the rains begin, and temperatures are cold, this is a good time to flush and clean your irrigation system and, in freezing temperatures, shut down your system altogether.

Drain water from your irrigation system:

Sprinklers – If your system has a shut-off valve at the low point for each area that an individual valve serves or at the end of the pipes, you can slowly open each valve one at a time and let the water run for a couple of minutes and then close the valve. You can also remove the nozzle and screen in a sprinkler, turn on the valve, and let it run for a couple of minutes until a clean, solid stream of water flows from each sprinkler head, and then turn off the valve. Clean and insert the screen and nozzle back into the sprinkler head.

Drip - Remove end caps from drip lines (e.g., flush valves, figure eight flush-fitting, or manual flush valve) located at the farthest point away from the valve. Turn on each valve one at a time for a couple of minutes until a clean, solid stream of water flows from the end of the drip line. Turn off the valve. Once the water is drained, replace the end caps.

Filters - Filters should be cleaned with each seasonal check of your irrigation system and may need to be cleaned more frequently depending on the amount of debris they collect.

Turn off controller or suspend irrigation schedule – Turn your controller to the “off” position once the rainy season begins. Another option is to shut off the power to the controller, which can save electricity. Whether you will need to re-enter the program when the system is turned on again will depend upon your controller’s features. Does your controller have a battery backup? If so, be sure to replace the battery every year.

Consider adding a weather or rain sensor – Most importantly, during the spring and fall, adding a sensor to your system can save a lot of water. Manufacturers offer various sensors, some wireless ones, making installation even easier. Shown here is the Solar Sync sensor that automatically adjusts your controller’s run times based on local climate conditions.


Unseasonably dry weather - If less than average rainfall occurs for a prolonged period, you may need to hand-water your garden or turn on your irrigation system. Before watering, check the soil’s moisture with a moisture meter or soil sampler probe to determine how far down the soil is still moist. For help with an irrigation schedule, visit our Year-round landscape irrigation watering schedule.

Learn more about gardening, irrigation, and Roseville's Inspiration Garden at

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