My beautiful lawn, she is dead!
March 15, 2007 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Please help with my dead sprinkler heads and other lawncare problems in Burbank.

Long time listeners (readers), first time callers (askers).

We moved to our namesake (Beautiful Downtown Burbank) in August of 2005, and the gorgeous lawn we had when we moved in now isn't so gorgeous anymore. I have 3 areas to cover and specific details on any or all of these would be helpful.

1) Dead sprinkler heads. We have some sprinkler heads that no longer spray water. Even when I take the heads out of the ground and run the sprinkler program, no water comes out of the pipes. I'm assuming they're clogged but don't know how to fix them. Anyone have any suggestions on Burbank-specific people we can hire to do this? Or barring that, any suggestions as to how I could fix this myself would be appreciated also, but I'm fairly incompetent in these areas, so the instructions should please be fairly idiot-proof. Also, what would be a reasonable cost for this type of repair? I think it's around 5 to 7 heads that aren't spraying anymore.

2) Dead spot in the lawn. The place where the sprinkler heads no longer fire has subsequently died over last summer's heat wave. It's an area about 12 feet wide and 8 feet long, and it's about 1/5th of the front lawn. Is this something that I should resod to fix, once the sprinklers are fixed? Would I resod the whole lawn? How much would one normally pay for that? If I don't resod the whole lawn, can I resod just the dead part? Could I just put down new soil, fertilizer, and seed to regrow this small spot? And most importantly, does anyone know anyone in Burbank/the Valley that is trustworthy, skilled, and not too expensive to do this for me?

3) Ongoing gardening concerns. I realize after 18 months that I am pretty terrible at this. I love having a yard and a lawn, but it's dirty, sweaty, messy work. I'm just not skilled enough or talented enough to put in the time required to get the results I want. Thus, I'm looking for a regular gardening service. I'm thinking between 2 and 4 times a month. The house is on a 6000 square foot lot, with an 1100 square foot house, a 2 car garage, a shed, a workshop, a driveway, and a back "slab", so I would say the actual surface area of gardenable content is probably ~3000 square feet. What should I expect to pay for this? And does anyone know anyone in Burbank or close to Burbank that I should give my hard earned monies to?

Many thanks in advance. Please be gentle to the newbies!
posted by Beautiful Downtown Burbank to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh, I'm sure you are skilled and talented enough, but as you pointed out it's dirty, sweaty, messy work. I've a tiny garden, and it is driving me crazy to look at because I've neglected it for the last six months. A limescale remover might shift whatever is clogging the sprinklers - just soak the heads in a basin for an hour or so and then try running water through them. As you probably guessed from the six months of neglect thing, I don't have any expert advice except that to keep a garden, especially a big garden, looking well takes constant work and attention. Or if you can afford it, you can hire someone.
posted by Elmore at 5:38 PM on March 15, 2007

When my sprinklers were misbehaving, I bought one of those "all about home irrigation" books at Home Depot, and also downloaded a bunch of stuff from Rainbird (even if your sprinklers are a different brand, a lot of the info is pretty generic). You can trouble shoot it yourself; you may have to dig some holes but it is not rocket science, and you can often find the problem by going step by step. (This stuff is always harder when you weren't the person who installed it, so you don't know exactly where the buried pipes are, or what odd things the installer chose to do.) This is the cheapest option, and if you can figure it out it's the most satisfying. It was frustrating and I'm still irritated at the idiots who installed it in such a weird way, but I did eventually make it work, and the good part is that now I am totally comfortable taking apart and repairing any part of the system. (I did break a couple of sprinkler heads while learning, so there can be some expense on your learning curve.)

However, if you are definitely not handy, or have more money than time, then I'd just call up an lawncare or irrigation company and pay them to solve the problem. How much it will cost will depend on how complicated things are -- blocked lines? a bad solenoid? you just forgot to turn on a zone? -- but since you can install an entire system for a couple of thousand dollars, there is a limit to how much the repairs can cost.

Where we live (far away, but similar climate, so this may or may not have anything to do with where you are), the cheapest lawncare runs about $25/fortnight, which covers just the most basic of mowing and raking for a lawn about the size of yours. Getting skilled workers, or having them do more complicated things (adjusting and maintaining irrigation, caring for trees and shrubs, etc) goes up from there.
posted by Forktine at 6:05 PM on March 15, 2007

1) Sprinklers- there could be a number of things wrong here. Are all your heads operating off one valve? If not, you may need to troubleshoot your timer settings, wires and solenoids (the Home Depot book Forktine mentioned would be helpful here). Are your pipes ancient galvanized, prone to getting clogged, or PVC, prone to split if not properly installed? Is water showing up elsewhere when you run the program, indicating a leak? If you move the sprinkler heads around, does anything change?

2) Unless you know what kind of sod or seeded lawn you have (specifically, what type of grass or grasses), you should not reseed or re-sod yourself. There's a very good chance what you put in won't match. You can wait and see if healthy lawn spreads into the dead area once you have addressed your irrigation problems, or you can consult with a lawn-care specialist.

3) If I were you, I would ask my neighbors and co-workers about their gardening services. Prices range tremendously depending on whether you want a mow/blow/go outfit that is basically just an outdoor janitor, not guaranteed (or even assumed) to have any horticultural knowledge; or real gardeners who actually know what they are doing (As a data point, I am an actual gardener in the Bay Area and I charge 30-45 dollars per hour. That's the high end.) You can get a decent, knowledgeable, self employed gardener for as little as 25 dollars an hour, if rates are anything like what they are here. You can get yard workers for a lot cheaper. If you're on a budget, I'd spend more on getting the irrigation and lawn professionally dealt with, then go a bit cheaper for basic care. Generally, gardeners either charge by the gardener hour or a flat fee based on estimating how much time they will have to spend each visit. I don't know anyone who charges by the square footage, but it's possible that they do things differently down there.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:37 PM on March 15, 2007

Another idea -- would be to take this opportunity to convert some of your lawn to a garden of native plants. Native plants would create a nice home for birds and other wildlife, reduce water consumption (especially if you find drought resistant ones). If you find a nice native tree, it will even create some shade over some of your other lawn -- so it doesn't get scorched (or need so much watering). All this will be cheaper in the long run too. I don't expect Burbank's water rates are going to go down in the next few years...
posted by trevor at 1:51 AM on March 16, 2007

In terms of trouble shooting your non-functioning sprinkler heads, it might help to consider that most (but not all) sprinklers are laid out linearly (some, however, are connected in loops):


With the dashes being underground pipe and the X's being sprinkler heads. So if a set stop working, chances are that the problem is upstream of the sprinkler head that is closest to the control valves. (However, people lay them out in really weird ways underground, so figuring out what is upstream can be a problem.) So the problem is unlikely to be in the nonfunctioning sprinkler heads, but rather a blockage/leak in the line between the last functioning sprinkler and the dead ones, or a non-functioning valve (if it is an entire zone that is dead), or another upstream problem.
posted by Forktine at 2:48 AM on March 16, 2007

Hi, I live nearby to you in the valley, and have had endless issues with sprinkler systems. The sad truth is that sprinklers require relatively frequent fixing - underground pipes split (ours probably got nibbled by the gophers that keep invading), sprinkler heads get blocked, solenoids go bad etc. You have to be prepared to keep an eye on things and learn to do the basics yourself (switching out heads is easy, the pipe fixing is something I prefer not to get involved in).

I asked my neighbors about their gardening services, and now use the same guys as the house opposite me. I'm not clear what their pricing is based on, but I don't think its anything as exact as square footage. I think its based on what things you want done, how high-maintenance your plants are, etc. I pay $20 a week for lawn service - they basically turn up and mow the lawn, edge, trim the rose bushes and water my potted plants when they are looking sad. He also re-seeds and fertilizes the lawn once (or is it twice?) a year, but that costs extra. I would not expect him to look after the mechanics of my lawn sprinklers, but he does recommend how long/how often to water. I am away from home right now, but I can pass on contact details when I get back if you like. He may do Burbank since his address is North Hollywood.
posted by Joh at 11:27 AM on March 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all your help! I will investigate these options and return to mark a "best" soon. Joh, if you could pass along the N. Hollywood gardening service contact info, that would be excellent.
posted by Beautiful Downtown Burbank at 1:53 PM on March 16, 2007

Beautiful Downtown Burbank, please email me at the addy in my profile, so I can reply with his contact details. I don't think I should post them publicly in this thread. Thanks!
posted by Joh at 8:57 PM on March 16, 2007

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