How To Program a Sprinkler System

When programming your sprinkler system, you must set the days you want the system to water, the start time when the sprinklers come on, and how long to run each station or zone.

Each manufacturer may have slightly different specifications for programming their system, but in most cases, the controllers are pretty straightforward and follow the same basic procedure. The following instructions are general guidelines; always consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions.

Programming Your Sprinkler System

You’ll need to enter all parameters, including days to water, start time, and station run times. Having all the parameters figured out and even written down before you begin programming is helpful to keep it all straight.

Note: For help on how long to run your system, check out our article, How Long to Run Sprinklers

  1. Start by selecting the program you want to set (A, B, or C).
  2. Select the “schedule” function, which sets the days to water. Sometimes, you can choose individual days, such as Monday, Tuesday, etc.; with some controllers, you’ll need to designate the number of days between watering events. When it comes to your lawn, it’s best to break the watering up into two or three days throughout the week. You want to water infrequently, but give the grass more water each time instead of watering a little daily.
  3. Select “start-time” to specify when you want the sprinklers to start. The best time to water your lawn is early morning, preferably before 10 a.m. This timing lets your grass absorb as much water as possible while minimizing the risk of fungal diseases.
  4. Select the “run time” or “station time” and specify the run time for each valve. The run times will likely vary depending on the individual zone and will be based on how many sprinkler heads are in the related zone and how much water they emit. On average, expect to set spray heads for three to 10 minutes and rotary heads for 20 to 40 minutes.
  5. Toggle through the stations, entering the run times for all of them. If there are unused stations or stations you don’t want to be watered on this program, set the run time to zero so the valve doesn’t turn on.
  6. Set the sprinkler system to “run.”

Sometimes, you can set a second or third watering event in a program. If you have newly planted grass seed, it is helpful to water a couple of times a day to keep the soil and seed consistently moist.

Setting Additional Programs

To set up additional programs in your system, select a different program (A, B, or C) than the one you just programmed and repeat the above steps. Add only station run times for the zones you want this program to water; set station run times to zero if they’re running on another program.

Important Sprinkler System Terms to Know

To be better equipped for programming your sprinkler system, it’s critical to understand some of the standard terms used to describe components outside.


The valve in a sprinkler system is what opens and closes to let water flow through the system. It receives a signal from the controller or timer, telling it when to open and operate. Sometimes, there is a single valve box on your property; sometimes, you have multiple.


A zone is an area in your yard receiving water at any given time. A flowerbed may be a single zone; a large expanse of lawn might be another. These regions are typically known as a “station” on a non-Irrigreen controller.


A program on your sprinkler controller or timer is what stores the settings. It tells when each station or zone comes on and how long it operates before shutting off. Most controllers can store three different programs. Having numerous programs is helpful—you can set one to water the lawn two or three times a week, one to water shrubs and trees once or twice a week, and one to water flowered areas more often.

Understanding the Basic Features of Your Controller

Start Time

The start time feature on your controller allows you to choose the specific time of day a designated program starts. Once the program begins, it works through all of the associated stations or zones in the program and stops watering when they’re all finished.

Run Time

Depending on the controller, this is sometimes called “run time” or “station duration.” No matter the name, it is the time a valve remains open and waters a zone.


When the system is set to “run,” all scheduled programs run as planned and programmed. You want to keep your system set to run during the active growing season.


If you don’t want your programs running for one reason or another, you’ll toggle the system to “off” or “stop.” Many homeowners turn their system to “off” during the winter months or if they’re experiencing heavy rainfall and don’t have a smart controller that adjusts for weather or soil moisture.


The manual function or feature on your controller lets you run a specific valve for however long you want outside the standard program. It doesn’t affect the system’s program at all. It’s helpful when running a system audit, checking for broken or misaligned heads, or when you have an area that needs extra water.

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