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Cycle+Soak feature explained

June 23, 2023by Peter Hudson

Use this Cycle+Soak  feature if you have the Rain Bird ESP or TM2 Controller. Other sprinkler apps also have this feature including Hunter and Rachio. Today, I am discussing Rain Bird. You will need the wifi module and then download their free app to operate.

Understanding the Cycle+Soak feature in your Rain Bird controller is critical to saving water and improving your lawn’s health.

When sprinklers come on, they can apply water to your landscape at a high rate. Depending on the landscape, the soil may not be capable of absorbing the water as quickly as the sprinklers are applying it.  In cases where there are sloped areas or compacted soils like clay, you may notice water pooling in some areas. You might see water running onto hardscapes or potentially even running into a your yard drainage. The easiest and best solution is to take advantage of  of scheduling features in your Rain Bird controller.


For ESP-ME3 models there is a feature built in called “Cycle+Soak.” When you open a controller in the Rain Bird App and enter the “Edit Schedule” screen, you will notice each station (or zone) has the option for Cycle+Soak.

See picture below. Toggling this on for a station will effectively break up your watering time into smaller cycles. This will allow the water ample time to soak into the ground. Moisture deep in the soil promotes deeper roots, which contributes to a thicker, healthier, greener lawn.


With rising temperatures, your landscape will require more water.

The problem with watering in long durations is you may start to get runoff or pooling if you have heavy soils or a sloped zone that is easily oversaturated. Knowing this, your controller can automatically break the watering up into multiple “cycles” with a period of “soak” in between. Typically, the first cycle will penetrate the surface of the soil and saturate the top layer. The second cycle then infiltrates the soil more efficiently and deeply after the first cycle. A third (and sometimes fourth) cycle is beneficial if a slope is involved or if runoff occurs after the sprinklers run for just a few minutes.

For example, a home front yard has a watering zone (Zone 1) that contains clay soil and has a 4% slope. When watered, the soil takes in as much water as possible. But, with extended watering time the water typically runs onto the sidewalk and down into the storm sewer. Rather than watering that zone for 24 minutes straight, your controller can automatically break the duration up into smaller watering “cycles.” The periods of non-watering will allow the water to better penetrate the soil by not oversaturating it.

How to get started:

Open the Rain Bird App on your mobile device and navigate to your paired Rain Bird controller. When in the Controller Card, click on the appropriate watering program and toggle Cycle+Soak to ON for Zone 1. While there, also indicate the maximum cycle run time (eight minutes in our example) and minimum soak time, or 15 minutes.

With the next programmed start time, your controller will first “Cycle” (i.e., water) Zone 1 for eight minutes. It will then wait the minimally specified 15 minutes to allow the water to “Soak” into the ground. During the “Soak” period, the controller will continue running other zones in order. It will then circle back to Zone 1. Then, it will “Cycle” Zone 1 for another eight minutes, then wait 15 minutes (minimum). If there are other zones within your program that have yet to be watered, the controller will move on to those and then come back to Zone 1 for a final eight minutes. So, a total watering time of 24 minutes.

By breaking up the total watering time into smaller durations, the water can more effectively penetrate deep into the soil. This avoids wasteful runoff or pooling and promotes deeper roots for a thicker and healthier landscape. Note that you will want to avoid long periods of “Soak” time between each cycle, as your soil surface will dry out and will not allow the water to go down deeply into the root system.

While it may seem odd to see the same zone come on multiple times in in a short period, it is a good thing. By doing this, you are preventing run‐off and saving water. 

Stay cool and enjoy your summer. If you have any questions or would like to get your controller “SMART” please give us a call at 281-494-3700 or click here to book an appointment with a licensed technician. You can also learn more about smart controllers here.

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