Cyclic Water Struggle

At 3 o’clock expect rain. Those were the words I heard over and over when I first moved to the Tampa Bay area. It took time for the wisdom to sink in. Here in Florida we receive the majority of the 54.2 inches of average rainfall during the months of June, July and August.  Here on the gulf coast of Florida, our weather is highly regulated by the surrounding water body; the Gulf of Mexico. As this large expanse of water heats up in the summer months more water begins to evaporate and hang around in the atmosphere. We are also influenced by the ‘sea breeze’ which helps determine when we receive our rainfall. The sea breeze occurs due to the temperature difference between the land and the water; as the land heats up during the day the cooler air over the water moves inland. This is the major cause of our afternoon thunderstorms.  At 3 o’clock expect rain; because midafternoon is when the land reaches the highest temperatures of the day and pulls more of the air mass over the gulf inland. This interactive graphic from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does a great job of illustrating this sea breeze effect.  During our winter there is less of a temperature difference between land and sea which leads to less frequent but often more tumultuous weather patterns. Rain in the winter is usually the result of a cold front (usually the following edge of a low pressure system being replaced by higher pressure air masses).

Florida exists in a sub-tropical climate, with a clear wet season and a clear dry season. This ‘feast and famine’ in our yearly rain cycle adds an additional challenge to gardening in Florida. Not only do gardeners need to worry about the high permeability of our soil, lack of nutrients, alkalinity and salt; sometimes we have too much rain and the rest of the time it’s not enough.

Here in the horticulture department and at the Master Gardener Plant Clinic (plantclinic@scgov.net), we receive requests regarding plant diagnosis and care throughout the year. Several of those questions involve irrigation requirements of gardens and turfgrass. A common answer of; “Constant Vigilance!” is sound advice for the Florida gardener. Not only are our plants receiving large doses of heavy rainfall, they also can experience extreme heat during the day. Understanding the signs of a stressed plant versus a diseased or pest infested plant will help you to determine the best course of action to give your plant the care that it needs to survive. Thankfully for us, UF/IFAS has helped to develop a series of apps that deal directly with irrigation and one in particular that deals with the requirements of turfgrass. This type of technology brings decision making direct to the consumer or industry professional. These smart irrigation apps that are available from UF/IFAS will help you perform smart irrigation throughout our seasons.

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