Winter Maintenance on Irrigation Components

For most golf course superintendents in our region, the golf course is considered to be put to bed for the winter when a number of items on their "to do" lists have been crossed off: blowing out the irrigation system, applying a late fall or dormant fertilizer application, making that final fungicide application to protect against the ravages of grey and pink snow mold and, making your travel and educational arrangements for the GCSAA show in Orlando. Good for you. After this season, you deserve it. However, make sure one task that is crucial to protecting the single most important investment on your golf course, the irrigation system, is not overlooked: winterizing the on-course controllers.

If the face plates inside the controller can be removed, do so and store them safely inside for the winter. Steel wool should be stuffed into the wire conduits entering the base of the controller from the valve box to prevent mice from nesting in the box for the winter and having a party with the multitude of wires inside. Many superintendents place a few moth balls in the base of each controller as added insurance against mice. The school is out on whether to leave the power to the controllers on for the winter. What is generally agreed upon is that the power should not be turned on and off throughout the winter. That same freeze/thaw cycle you dread taking place on your greens can also wreak havoc with the components in the controller. For what it's worth, I used to religiously leave the power on to the controllers over the winter. One year the main power switch to the entire front nine of the irrigation system was inadvertently turned off when an employee forgot to turn it back on after some late season maintenance to the system. Thank goodness, because during a mid-winter thaw one of the controllers became immersed in over 4 feet of water. Had the power been on, the resulting damage could have been very expensive to repair.

Before the faceplates are reinstalled in the controllers the following spring, they are taken apart and inspected for any damage to the ribbon cables, circuit boards, etc. Very minor nicks or scratches to ribbon cable can usually be wrapped in electrical tape to prevent further damage, but it is often recommended to simply replace the damaged cable. When the cable decides to cause problems in the controller, inevitably it will be on the Friday of a long weekend during the middle of a hot, dry summer. Why take that chance? As well, insects tend to congregate inside the controllers in the summer and they can make a real mess on the inside of a faceplate, which in turn can be damaging to the circuit boards themselves. The boards are gently but thoroughly cleaned with a very soft wire brush and repaired if necessary. A soldering iron can be used to make minor repairs if necessary.

Taking a few minutes at the end of the season to properly winterize and maintain some of the key components of your irrigation control system may wind up saving your department and your club a lot of money and a load of stress in the seasons to come.