Smart Earth Sprinklers

Why Do My Sprinklers Continue to Cycle Over and Over? Part One – A Common Problem

This is a common problem. You set the controller to start running at 6 a.m. for five zones, ten minutes each zone. The cycle should be finished at 6:50 a.m., but the zones are still running at 8:30 a.m. Why are the sprinklers repeating runs?

Often the answer is an improperly programmed controller. But before we look at programming, it’s helpful to first understand some of the basic terms and features associated with controllers and irrigation systems.

Basic Terms


A valve is the part of the sprinkler system that receives signals from the controller. These signals tell the valve to open, so water can flow to the sprinklers, or to close, which will stop the water flow.


A station is a circuit on the controller that activates a single control valve. Each valve controls a specific group of sprinklers, sometimes referred to as a watering station.


A zone is the actual area that is receiving water, although on the controller it is called a “station”. It is a section of the irrigation system monitored by a single control valve. Each zone should have one type of sprinkler head suitable for its plant types, soil conditions, and amount of water needed.


A program is where the watering plan or schedule is stored that tells the controller exactly when and how long to run each set of sprinklers. It consists of a set of “stations”, or a certain number of “zones”. Many controllers have three programs available, usually named program A, B, and C. Program A might water lawn areas two or three days a week; program B might water flowerbed areas twice a day; program C might water plants or shrubs with a drip system, if you have one, a couple of times a week.

Controller Features

Start Time

Start time refers to the time of day you want a program to begin watering consecutive zones for the time duration you’ve set for each zone. For example, you have zones 1-5 assigned to program A, which is set to start at 6 a.m. The program will start at 6 a.m., and water each zone consecutively. Once it’s worked its way through all the stations or zones in the program, the controller stops watering.

Run Time

Run time, sometimes called “station duration”, is the time in minutes a valve remains open and waters each zone (e.g. zone 1 = 10 minutes, zone 2 = 10 minutes, etc., until your chosen zones in program A have run their set times).

Run, Auto, or Auto Run

Your controller will have this feature labelled “run”, “auto”, or “auto run”, depending on the model and brand. The setting enables your scheduled programs to run as planned.


If you want to prevent your programs from running, switch your controller to the “off” or “stop” position. Your program settings will be saved. Some people use the “off” position while they’re programming their controllers, and during the winter.


The semi-auto function allows you to run a specific program (A, B, or C) whenever you want. For example, you may want a supplemental watering if the weather’s been very hot and dry.


The manual setting lets you run a single valve whatever length of time you want. For those controllers that don’t have the “semi-auto” feature, the manual feature is used to turn on a zone or run a program to temporarily water any dry-looking areas without having to reprogram the controller. You can also use this setting when performing repairs or checking for leaks and broken or misaligned heads.

In our next article, we will review basic programming.

A properly maintained sprinkler system will help to conserve water and save you money!  Call Smart Earth Sprinklers at (512) 694-1147 for prompt and professional service.

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