Death by water intake is a real thing. There are documented cases where people have died from drinking too much water, which is called water intoxication, either because of coercion or drug-induced excess thirst. Mama always said that too much of anything, even something good, is bad. And she was right. Drinking too much water is rare, but when it comes to plants, too much water is all too common.
Plants don’t need as much water as you think. In south Florida, we have the luxury of a true rainy season. Our average rainfall is just over 43 inches during the months of May through October. In contrast, our November to April dry season has an average of only 14 inches of rain. This semi-monsoon climate gives our plants plenty of water during the summer months when they are growing and withholds it in the winter and early spring, as the plants slow down due to declining temperatures and humidity.
A very high percentage of the plants that reside in south Florida can survive quite well, with little to no supplemental irrigation. Sod is a big water consumer, especially during the dry season, but most palms, ornamentals and fruit trees will do quite well with just what Mother Nature provides. Less water on your plants means more water for everything else, and water conservation is extremely important, not just for south Florida, but for the entire planet.
Too much water is sometimes worse than too little, especially when a plant is young. Over-watering can cause roots to suffocate, rot and eventually die. Fungi are also known water dwellers and can easily take hold in a plant that is overwatered. Strong, healthy roots are the literal foundation for a good plant, and over-watering will not allow roots to properly develop.
Watering new plants is a must, as they have not yet developed enough feeder roots or storage roots to find and store the water they need to survive, but just don’t water on a rigid schedule—water with intelligence. If you have a new plant, put your finger in the soil above the plant’s roots each day. If the soil is dry, water it. If it is wet, do not. It’s that simple.
If you get on a schedule of watering a new plant every day, especially if the soil is already saturated, then you can kill, or severely weaken the plant. And don’t get me started about watering right after a good rain. The bottom line is that roots need oxygen, and too much water deprives them of that. Harming a plant’s roots when it is young can negatively affect the plant for the rest of its life.
Many fruit and flowering trees actually need a dry period to properly fruit or flower. The magnificent mango, Mangifera indica, is native to India where there is a monsoon climate similar to ours. In south Florida, mangos start preparing for bloom when the rains stop in early November. Our prolonged dry period, coupled with a minor cold front, helps to initiate a synchronized mango bloom, and you will often see a large bloom about 30 days or so after a cold front. Multiple cold fronts can bring multiple blooms. South Florida has a true mango season from June to August because of the dry and cool winters. Hawaii has mangos as well, but they bloom sporadically throughout the year because their trees don’t get the proper triggers.
If your mango tree is sitting in the middle of your lawn, and your lawn is watered twice a week, then your mango tree will not bloom and fruit as it should because it isn’t getting the right signals to know what to do. The same can be said for many tropical fruit trees including avocados, lychee, and longans.
UF/IFAS Miami-Dade County Extension has an irrigation conservation program called the Urban Conservation Unit (U.C.U) for homeowners and large properties. This program provides free irrigation assessments, and participants can receive rebates for retrofitting their irrigation systems to improve water efficiency. For more information about the U.C.U. program contact Dalton Goolsby at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-679-0236.