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Details and Diligence:  A Guide to Seasonal Rotor Maintenance

An irrigation system's overall efficiency is directly related to how well it's adjusted and if repairs are done correctly and in a timely manner.  If the systems is not properly maintained water waste and inferior appearance of turf and landscaped areas are a sure bet.  During the inspection we check each rotor for proper arc- adjustment, thatch build up, proper rotation, worn nozzles, and worn seals.  Occasionally, we may also find cracked cases and clogged screens.  Most of these are simple to detect and fix.  However, it requires time spent to watch each rotor operating.  The following is a checklist for for items we review for seasonal rotor maintenance:

  • Arc Adjustment-- It's important to spend the time to make sure that each part-circle rotor moves completely through its properly adjusted arc pattern.  Children playing and vandals sometimes change the rotor's arc setting.

  • Thatch Build Up-- As grass grows it develops thatch.  Thatch is partially decomposed organic material between the grass blade and the soil.  If the grass and thatch interferes with the water stream from the nozzle it may need to be removed and thinned.  In older systems it may be necessary to dig up the rotor attach a riser and physically raise the height of the rotor.

  • Rotation-- As with arc-adjustment it's very important to observe each rotor in operation to ensure that it rotates.  If the rotor does not rotate it must be replaced with a comparable rotor and nozzle.

  • Worn or Clogged Nozzles-- If a nozzle is worn and/or clogged the rotor will have a reduced radius of throw and the water stream will appear rough.  Worn or clogged nozzles usually occur in older systems or systems that have a dirty or gritty water source.  Nozzles must be replaced with the manufacturer's recommended nozzles.

  • Worn Seals-- A rotor with worn seals may display a flow of water between the rotor's turret and the cap.  However worn seals may only exhibit a slight weeping between the rotor turret and the cap.  In either case the rotor internals usually need to be replaced.

  • Cracked Case-- This problem can be difficult to detect.  It will appear as an unusually wet area at the rotor.  This problem is usually found along a driveway and is the result of the rotor being run over by a vehicle.  Sometimes it is also the result of an improperly winterized system.  To correct the problem the rotor must be removed and the case replaced.  However there may be hidden damage to the rotor turret or the drive mechanism.  It is generally more sensible to replace the entire rotor.

  • Clogged Screens-- Manufacturers provide screens at the base of the rotor or turret to trap dirt and debris that would otherwise clog the nozzle.  When enough debris is trapped the blockage will cause low pressure, restrict flow, and reduce the radius of throw.  Clogged screens are commonly caused by:
  1. A buildup of dirt and debris that has been introduced to the irrigation system as the result of a repair.
  2. Broken pipes downstream of the rotor that can pull dirt into the line
  3. Algae buildup
To correct a clogged screen, the rotor internals must be removed and the line completely flushed.  Any debris must be removed from the screen.  It is important to take care while flushing the line so that no additional debris is washed back into the system.

Rotor maintenance is fairly simple if you follow a few simple steps.  In fact the time spent inspecting the system and making minor adjustments and repairs will help an irrigation system perform well for many years.  Moreover your efforts will not only ensure that the landscape remains healthy and beautiful it will virtually guarantee a satisfied customer.

*adapted from John Deere Landscapes Issue Number 2

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