How to Winterize Irrigation Systems, Hoses and Sprinklers

Learn how to button-up your watering gear to prevent cold-weather damage.

Lawn Irrigation Nozzle

Lawn Irrigation Nozzle

It’s important to remove all water from in-ground irrigation systems prior to the arrival of freezing temperatures to protect lines, heads and fittings from cold-weather damage.

Photo by: Rain Bird Corporation at RainBird.com

Rain Bird Corporation at RainBird.com

Winterizing irrigation systems is most important in Zones 7 and colder, where winter brings prolonged episodes of freezing (or below freezing) temperatures that can damage watering equipment. Even watering cans left outside can crack and develop leaks. Removing water from irrigation gear is the key to avoiding damage. Try these tips to prepare your irrigation for winter.

Sprinkler Systems

If you have an automated sprinkler system, it’s important to get all the water out of pipes and sprinklers before freezing temperatures arrive. Aim to prepare your irrigation for winter about the time that autumn leaves are falling. Choose from several methods to complete this task: manual drain, automatic drain or blow-out.

With all methods, start by shutting off the main water supply to the system. Next, turn off the controller or timer or flip it to rain mode, which shuts down signals to the valves. If your system doesn’t have a rain mode, take time to photograph or write down stations, start times and run times so it’s easy to reset the controller next spring.

  • Manual drain. Open every manual valve, including any near the manifold. Elevate all fittings slightly to ensure they’re fully drained. Fittings can crack if any water is still in the tubing.
  • Automatic drain. Your system may have flush valves installed at low points in the line. Each time the system shuts off, these valves open and drain any water remaining in lines. Double-check these valves to make sure they’re functioning properly.
  • Blow-out. Use compressed air to blow the water out of the lines. Remove all end fittings before blowing out the lines or you'll risk damaging the system. Be sure to close manual drain valves after blowing them out. You can tackle blowing out the system yourself using any typical home-size air compressor (you need at least 50 psi) or hire this task out to an irrigation specialist. Many irrigation companies run winterizing specials in fall that include a general inspection of the system.

After draining all water from the system, remove any faucet assembly, including things like timer, filter or pressure regulator, and store these items indoors, protected from freezing temps. Seal the open faucet end of the system with a female hose fitting or simply cover it with a secure barrier of some type. This keeps dirt and critters from entering the system over winter.

Other Irrigation Tools

Hose Reel With Wand

Hose Reel With Wand

To prep garden hoses for winter, remove watering wands and drain before storing in a non-freezing location. Drain hoses by unwinding and placing the end down-slope from the reel. The hose will empty itself as you wind it. Store in a shed or garage for winter.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Drain and store all other watering equipment, including garden hoses, watering wands, hose-end nozzles and hose splitters. Once items are drained, stow them for winter. It’s best to store watering wands and nozzles in a spot where they won’t freeze.

Shut off water to exterior faucets at the interior turn off. After closing those valves, go back outside and open faucets until water stops running and the line is drained. Cover exterior faucets with an insulated faucet cover. Typically these covers feature foam construction (tightened in place with wing nuts) or insulated bags (tied in place).

Maintain Watering Gear

Before storing watering tools for winter, take time to inspect and repair things. Here’s a checklist to help you get started.

Hose Coupling Replacement

Hose Coupling Replacement

Before storing watering gear for winter, take time to repair hoses. If you have a crushed coupling or leaky hose end, repair the hose instead of buying a new one. To fix, simply cut off the bad end, slip on a new coupling and screw it in place.

Photo by: Gilmour at Gilmour.com

Gilmour at Gilmour.com

  • Inspect fittings. Examine hose ends and quick connects, and replace anything that’s broken, dented, rusty or loose. Remember that you can cut the end off a garden hose, add a new coupling and skip the chore and expense of buying a new hose.
  • Oil seals. A drop of silicone-based lubricant keeps O-rings, gaskets and washers soft and pliable. Look for these parts inside hoses, watering wands and irrigation system parts, including timer, filter, pressure regulator, valves and hose connections.
  • Add covers. Invest in hose-end plugs to cover open hoses and end fittings on irrigation systems. Keep the end caps loose enough that water from condensation can drain over winter.

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