help! overwhelmed w/ complexity of rain bird esp-smte

pbx2_gwMay 7, 2013

We just bought a house & they put in a "state of the art"
Rain Bird ESP-SMTe controller with the weather sensor/predictor.

A bit overwhelmed after reading the manual.

Questions in regards to settings

1) Confused about the Net Application Rate in Inches/hour - as to how much to set it for??

2) Confused about Cycle/Soak setting: is this appropriate for sprays & rotors heads? What does Max/Min time for this setting mean?

Appreciate any feedback!

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These are he words from Rainbird's site:

Proving that extra smart can also be extra simple.
The ease and speed with which you can program a site is remarkable. Simply
input a few key specifics, such as zip code, allowed watering days and the
plant/soil type for each zone; the ESP-SMTe does the rest.

So I am confused that you need to know these hydrological concepts to operate this controller. Have you tried contacting someone at Rainbird for help? If your house is still under warranty, you should be able to contact the builder to explain its operation. they should have explained it all to you when you bought the house.
Here is there website:

HomeOwners Guide Link with Tech support:

Sounds like you need an agronomy degree to set this up. Net Application rate is intensity of rainfall equivalent output minus the rainfall amount of your system.

Cycle/Soak is your controller allows a rest period for irrigation water to soak into the ground before resuming irrigation of that area.

I would set the net application rate at 1.0 inches per hour to start with and then monitor it for awhile to see if it is too much or too little. This should be setting how frequently the irrigation occurs. Trial and error is the way to really match wait you want. Any recommended rate will have to be observed for awhile for your local climate or zone.
Read pages 7 and 10 of the operator's manual.
JMHO Aloha

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 12:02PM
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The ESP-SMTE controller should have already been programmed for you by the irrigation contractor who installed it. And should require little to no interaction all year long... So tread lightly with the changes you make. The SMTe will change its programming all year round to ensure your plants get the appropriate amount of water while encouraging root growth. if you're inclined to learn more then a full contractor's manual is available here

Learn to trust the controller, once adjusted your landscape will look wonderfull all year long.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 10:38AM
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Thank you both for your feedback.

My confusion is that both manuals cited above say to not rely on the default application rate in the controller & to calculate it oneself for accuracy.


The builder is too caught up in the bricks & mortar to know anything more that the shutoff valve on the RB controller.

I've checked with the Irrigation contractor & are awaiting their feedback re: Net Application Rate in Inches/hour.

I will report back with what I find out for common knowledge.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 12:30PM
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@ SaveH2O & lehua13 - UPDATE FOR YOU:
Well I spoke to my irrigation contractor & he suggested the RB method from the RB Contractor's manual below.

Caught some sprinkler water in each of my 9 zones for 15 minutes each.
Took measurements of catch & multiply by 4 to calculate Application Rate per Hour.

So now I am more comfortable putting my own measured app rate into the RB vs. the contractor's settings of 0.25 in/hr - which was inputted across the board during the 1.5 month long grow-in of the sod & overlapping our move-in (gasp!).

That - out of everything - was the cause of my orig. question above. Since I noticed that the sprinklers were running constantly in the month that we had moved in & wasn't sure how to cut things back to save our water bill & yet still have a healthy lawn - all promises of the RB controllers.

So now, I'll then let the RB do its thing - it had better, I paid big $ for it!! LOL!!
Will monitor to see water usage & lawn health under this method for future tweaking.

Here is a link that might be useful: RB Contractor's manual goto Page 82

This post was edited by pbx2 on Wed, May 15, 13 at 11:03

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 11:02AM
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So based on these statement from a well respected poster on the lawn care thread - is there a conflict between the Rain Bird methodology & the deep but infrequent watering methodology?

from dchall_san_antonio's Basics of Lawn Care:
Water deeply and infrequently. Deeply means at least an inch in every zone, all at once. Infrequently means monthly during the cool months and no more than weekly during the hottest part of summer. Do not spread this out and water for 10 minutes every day.
Also from dchall_san_antonio's Basics of Lawn Care:
Watering Measure the output of your sprinkler(s) with cat food or tuna cans. Time how long it takes to fill the cans. This can range from a low of 20 minutes to a high of 8 hours, so you have to find that number for your sprinklers.

Based on dchall_san_antonio's Basics of Lawn Care on watering - Water deeply and infrequently promotes healthy grass roots & crowds out the weeds.


My RainBird controller - which Cycle & Soak Watering system is based on their own algorithm that also has weather factoring into the equation.


I've collected the sprinkler output measurements based on 15 minute scollection per zone multiplying it by 4 to get an estimate of each sprinkler zone per 60 mins.

Fed the assumptions to Rain Bird controller & it variably waters each zone upto 15 mins per zone for 2-3 times per week & less if there is rain.

RB's algorithm is based on run-off & how much water is soaked into the ground & their output establishes what is the 'correct' rate for healthy lawn & reduced watering cost.

Rain Bird is well known supplier in the golf course industry but their Watering in increments seem contradicting to us homeowners & our deep watering philosophy no?

Would appreciate any feedback!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 10:01AM
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I know this thread is old, but here is the answer to cycle-and-soak vs deep watering.

cycle-and-soak is not in conflict with deep watering. It is actually an implementation of deep watering. Based on the zone configuration, the controller estimates how quickly the soil can absorb water. To irrigate a zone, the controller stops just before run off occurs and waits for the water to be absorbed. These two steps are repeated until the total water time is met. Deep watering is achieved because water is allowed to move deeper into the soil instead of running off.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 7:27AM
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I bought a Rainbird ESP-SMTe a month ago and have been exceedingly happy with it. There is a STEEP learning curve to use it. Anybody needing help with it, feel free to post here or send me an email directly. I am more than happy to help anyone purchasing this to set it up. It took me a long while to understand the many nuances, but I think I have mastered most of it.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2014 at 1:34AM
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