UF researcher offers Floridians tips for surviving country’s worst drought

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Concern is growing among state residents as Florida experiences the worst drought in the country, according the U.S. Drought Monitor. Sixty-six percent of the state is now in a drought, the highest percentage of any U.S. state, the agency reports.

Scientists and Extension agents with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are answering the call for help.

“A drought is a period of abnormally dry weather that causes a water shortage or jeopardizes our water resources,” said Michael Dukes, director of the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology. “A rapid, ongoing increase in the state’s population has led to more demand for water, and though we’ve had several recent rainy years in Florida, a drought was inevitable.”

According to researchers, many residents’ water comes from the Floridan Aquifer, an underground cave system made of porous limestone called karst. This groundwater comes to the surface naturally via the more than 600 springs throughout the state, Dukes said. “We pull it into our homes with pumps and wells.”

Florida’s aquifers depend on rainwater to keep it recharged, Dukes said. In dry years, the water level in the aquifer system goes down. Streams, lakes, and wells can dry up, he said. “Consequently, dry years can stress the system even more,” he said.

Dukes encouraged residents to conserve as much as possible. “If we don’t conserve water now, and if the drought continues, we will get into an emergency situation where we don’t have the supply of water that we need,” he said.

Most of water used in homes is going to irrigation, Dukes said. He offered the following tips:

  • Delay big landscape modifications that require establishment watering until the rainy season.
  • Establish priorities. Water drought-sensitive plants first. Grass should be a lower priority—it can be trained to be fairly drought-tolerant, and is cheaper to replace than trees and shrubs.
  • Consider replacing drought-sensitive plants with more drought-tolerant species. Click here for a list of drought-tolerant plants.
  • Mulch planting beds and areas around trees and shrubs. Mulching helps the soil retain moisture, moderate soil temperature and keeps weeds down. The mulch should be about 3 inches deep.
  • Run your irrigation system only when your landscape looks dry. Hand water when possible, or consider using drip irrigation.
  • Water in the morning so less moisture is lost to evaporation.
  • Examine your irrigation system and repair leaks promptly.
  • If you fertilize, use low nitrogen and low phosphorus fertilizers. Fertilization stimulates growth and increases water needs. Avoid unnecessary applications of pesticides that require “watering in”—you can find pesticides that work without added water.
  • Move container plants to shaded areas to reduce their water needs.

Click here to for more information from the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology. Or, visit your local UF/IFAS Extension office.

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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