FEATURES


Off to the Right Start

Teacher's Landscaping and Irrigation makes irrigation startups part of a total program
By Ron Hall


Several years ago, the Cline brothers began offering water-saving irrigation services to set their Teacher's Landscaping and Irrigation apart from competitors in the Kansas City market. That decision (and a lot of learning and effort) has led to their company becoming recognized as one of the most respected and recognizable of landscape irrigation service providers and educators in the region.

Spring is busy for everyone, so the
earlier you can get on startups
the better. This is your prime time
for upselling improvements to
your clients' systems.

Spring is busy for everyone, so the earlier you can get on startups the better. This is your prime time for upselling improvements to your clients' systems.
PHOTO COURTESY TEACHER'S LANDSCAPING AND IRRIGATION, OLATHE, KAN.

Educators? Yes, that's certainly appropriate in this case.

Matt Cline was a special education teacher and high school football coach before starting Teacher's Water Management Services in 2000. His brother and partner, Les, had been an elementary school teacher in the early 1990s as he slowly began building the landscaping business. Not surprisingly they've continued teaching. They devote time each season to public speaking, putting on seminars and educating customers and prospects on best practices when it comes to landscape and irrigation design and management.

As soon as the snow is gone and the ground thaws (two massive late-winter snowstorms walloped Kansas City), some of their irrigation specialists will be out testing and getting customers' irrigation systems ready for the region's typically hot, dry summers. It's part of what the company describes as its Core 4 irrigation management strategy.

"When we evaluate or manage an irrigation system for a client, we focus on four critical elements: scheduling, the delivery system, soil and monitoring management," says Matt. In other words, with Teacher's Landscaping and Irrigation water management is not a "one-and-done" process. That includes spring startups, with their thorough examination to make sure systems function as they should and backflow testing (strongly recommended).

"We typically start our activations around mid- to late-March. The reason is because of the volume we do in a season," says Cline. "I don't recommend that our clients run their irrigation systems in March or even April, but an early activation gives us the time we need to make improvements and or repairs in a certain time frame.

Spring Irrigation System Startup Checklist

  • Step 1: Before turning on any water to the system, make sure all manual drain valves are returned to the "closed" position.
  • Step 2: Open the system main water valve slowly to allow pipes to fill with water gradually. If these valves are opened too quickly, sprinkler main lines are subjected to high surge pressures, uncontrolled flow and water hammer.
  • Step 3: Verify the proper operation of each zone valve by manually activating it from the controller.
  • Step 4: Walk through each station on the controller, checking for proper operation of the zone. Check for proper operating pressure (low pressure indicates a line break or missing sprinkler), proper rotation and adjustment of sprinkler heads and adequate coverage. Check and clean filters on poorly performing sprinklers. Adjust heads to grade as necessary.
  • Step 5: Reprogram the controller for automatic watering. Replace the controller backup battery if necessary.
  • Step 6: Uncover and clean any inline filters for drip irrigation zones.
  • Step 7: Finish and clean any inline filters for drip irrigation zones.

Checklist courtesy Hunter Industries, San Marcos, Calif.

"Spring is busy for everyone, so the earlier you can get on startups the better. This is your prime time for upselling improvements to your clients' systems. We want to have the time and energy to do this," he adds.

Irrigation activation time depends on the overall health and type of system, he explains. A system with more zones and with gear rotors will require more adjustments than systems with primarily fixed sprays. Most residential startups take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, but a large commercial site is a different story. Depending upon the commercial property or properties, the startup could take a day or, in some cases, as much as a week.

"The startup process is the same for both residential and commercial. Our focus in startup is to prepare and create a strategy for efficient watering all season," says Cline. "Our spring activation process revolves around our Core 4 system."

Once the system water supply is activated, a company irrigation specialist independently operates each zone to identify any issues that will affect the performance of the system. Issues might include leaks, poor hydraulics, poorly aligned spray patterns, damaged or tilted heads or outdated equipment to name the most obvious. The irrigation specialist can take care of some of these issues during the initial startup, but some need to be addressed at another time.

"Contractors can really provide their clients value by addressing small issues during the startup," says Cline. "That can make a big difference in the performance and efficiency all year. If you can do this you will have a client for life."

Dialing in run times is another vital service during spring startups, he adds, along with inspecting each property's turf and recommending soil tests. Ultimately, the goal is to provide the customer the healthiest, most attractive turf possible by employing water management and agronomic best practices.

"The message we convey to our clients regarding spring startups is value. A lot of our clients activate their own systems and we want to show them that this is a mistake because if we do it they will save money and improve their lawn over the coarse of a year," says Cline.

He likens the service to that offered by a trained auto technician. A well-serviced and tuned car runs better, uses less fuel and is less likely to suffer a catastrophic failure than one not maintained properly. The same goes for irrigation systems.

"The fact is that that our clients, the ones that we provide spring startups to, their systems use less water and they save money over those that do it themselves or use less knowledgeable contractors," insists Cline.

Ron Hall has been a researcher, writer and editor in the green industry for more than 28 years. Contact him at rhall@mooserivermedia.com.