Less water, better landscape

Excessive or inefficient watering of a landscape can be just as harmful as giving too little water. The best Florida-Friendly Landscapes only put water where it’s needed, when it’s needed. Check out these simple tricks to help save water, reduce runoff, and have a healthier landscape.


Simple steps, BIG savings:
Leaking sprinkler head near sidewalk.
Leaks don’t always look like a geyser. Watch for pooling water, low pressure, and washed out areas.









Rainy day - no watering needed
Friends don’t let friends run sprinklers in the rain. Turn ’em OFF and save water!



  • Avoid watering when you’ve received at least ½” of rain. Central Florida typically receives between 46″ – 56″ of rain per year. During those wet summer and cool winter months, you often need little or no supplemental watering.





dripping rain shutoff device
Example of a typical roof-mounted rain shut-off sensor.









SMS too wet
Soil moisture sensor display showing full saturation. Watering would be skipped.


  • For even better water savings, upgrade to “smart irrigation technology” like a soil moisture sensor (SMS). When properly installed and calibrated, these sensors give the irrigation controller real-time information about soil conditions, and let it “decide” if your landscape needs water! (For more about soil moisture sensors, check out our multi-part blog series – SMS Part 1SMS Part 2SMS Part 3.)







Sprinkler controller knob pointing at "Start time number 1"
Adding extra start-times actually tells the controller to run all the zones again (and again…) Most controllers only need one start-time to run through the entire program.



  • Periodically check sprinkler controller programming for duplicate programs, multiple start-times, excessive run-times, etc. These issues are easy to overlook, but can easily cause water usage to double, triple, or worse…






A combination of high pressure and insufficient head height can cause severe “misting” issues, as in the above landscape. More water is lost to wind drift and evaporation than is reaching the intended turf.



  • If pressure is too high, switch to pressure regulating heads. These can help reduce water lost to “misting” and wind drift.







Pressure-washing plants
This landscape bed should be converted to micro-irrigation and run separately from the turf zones. Currently, most of the water from this rotor is being wasted “pressure-washing” this poor tuft of ornamental grass!



  • Keep turf and landscape beds on separate zones. Group plants with similar water needs together. That way, you can only water the plants that really need it, rather than soaking everything.






Mulch piled in a heap around the base of a young tree.
Mulch is good, but DON’T pile mulch around a tree’s trunk! This is commonly referred to as “volcano mulching.”
PLEASE. DON’T. DO. THIS! Read more at the blog post “Mulch 101.”
Image source: https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/not-recommended.shtml










Controller display shows 4 a.m. start-time and notes that "Each start runs all scheduled zones"
This program will begin watering at 4 a.m. and will water all zones.
  • TIP: The best time to irrigate is in the early morning hours, from 4 a.m. until 8 a.m. Since there’s less wind and sun in those early dawn hours, you’ll lose less water to evaporation. That means more water landing where you want it – at the roots. (Source: “A Better Lawn On Less Water”)






Rain barrel
Rain barrels can reduce stormwater runoff and save rainwater for later use.


  • Install micro-irrigation in landscape beds, or water by hand as necessary. And remember – if you follow the FFL principle of “Right Plant, Right Place,” many of your mature landscape plants won’t need supplemental irrigation once established (except maybe in severe drought.) Bonus points if you collect rainwater with a rain barrel or cistern!






With mature oaks providing dense shade, this landscape has replaced turf with dwarf asiatic jasmine and other shade-loving plants.
With mature oaks providing dense shade, this landscape has replaced turf with dwarf asiatic jasmine and other shade-loving plants.
  • Compared to turf growing in full sun, turf growing in shade typically needs much less water (and fertilizer). Irrigation can often be greatly reduced, while mowing height should be increased. The following link contains tips for growing turfgrass under shady conditions. LINK: Growing Turfgrass in the Shade.
  • NOTE: Under dense shade (i.e. underneath large mature oaks, etc.) you will likely have difficulty growing dense, healthy turf. As trees mature, consider allowing your landscape design to adapt accordingly. UF/IFAS Extension and the Master Gardeners can help you come up with ideas that will be attractive and follow the principles of “Right Plant, Right Place.”




  • TIP: Be sure to check your programming after power outages, power surges, or lightning strikes. For many controllers, the factory default = a DAILY watering schedule. If your controller frequently resets its date and time settings, check to make sure the backup battery was installed / activated! (See example below.)


Instructions to pull the plastic tab to activate the battery.
The above excerpt from one controller’s manual shows how the plastic tab must be removed to activate the backup battery.


The plastic tab wasn't removed
Photo of an actual controller that kept re-setting the date/time. The reason? Because the plastic tab was never removed, so the backup battery was never activated…






  • Let your lawn tell you when to water. Wait for the following signs before watering:
    • Grass blades are folded in half on at least one-third of the site
    • Grass blades appear blue-gray
    • Footprints remain visible on lawn for several minutes after walking on it



Know your watering day - calendar image
Know your watering day!


Live elsewhere in the Tampa Bay region? Try this zipcode lookup tool to help find your watering day: https://www.tampabaywater.org/tampa-bay-area-watering-restrictions-zipcode-lookup

(If you live outside the Tampa Bay Region, check with your local government or Water Management District.)



  • Sprinkler application rates and system design can vary a lot. For example, many pop-up sprays can apply water twice as fast as rotors. That means your spray zone in the front yard may only need to run half as long as the rotor zone in the back! TIP: Learn how to check your sprinkler coverage and calculate the right run-time with a simple tuna can calibration.


  • Duration – Frequent, shallow watering can encourage problems like shallow roots, thatch, and pest issues.


Shallow watering can encourage shallow roots. This makes turf more susceptible to drought, pests, and heat stress.
Deeper roots.
Encourage deeper roots by supplying 1/2 – 3/4″ of water per irrigation cycle.
The above photo is proof that St. Augustine turf is capable of forming impressive roots (when it needs to.) This stolon had “escaped” its lawn and grown into an adjacent vacant lot.




A simple DIY guide to rain barrels from Baker County Extension: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/…/RainBarrelsBuildingInstalli…

UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions – Rain Barrel page: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/…/rain-barrels.html NOTE: At the bottom of that page, you’ll find a link for an in-depth guide called “Rain Barrels: A Homeowner’s Guide”

You can also get a free printed copy of “Rain Barrels: A Homeowner’s Guide” from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Request a copy by visiting – SWFWMD’s Free Publications Listing

Watering tips to establish new shrubs efficiently: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/irrigation/watering-to-establish-shrubs.html

TIP: The best water-efficient landscapes are able to thrive almost entirely on our natural rainfall patterns (once fully established.) Learn how to design for success by following the #1 principle of Florida-Friendly Landscaping – “Right Plant, Right Place.”


Is your landscape water-wise?

If you live in the tri-county Tampa Bay area and answered “yes” – your yard could be a winner!

Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards Logo

Each year, the Community Water-Wise Awards Program recognizes outstanding examples of water-efficient landscapes. For contest details and links, re-visit the post from last year’s call for entries.


Come learn at one of our workshops! Check out our Eventbrite page for a list of upcoming events: bitly.com/eventbritepasco




About the Author: As the Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL) Program Coordinator in Pasco County, Frank works with the residents, homebuilders, and businesses of Pasco to achieve attractive, resilient, low-maintenance yards and communities while reducing over-reliance on irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides. (Click to learn the 9 Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping!) Through an innovative collaboration with Pasco County Utilities, Frank provides on-site assistance to individuals and communities identified as high water users. He can be reached at (813)929.2716.

Not in Pasco County? Not a problem! Click here to find your local UF/IFAS Extension office!

About UF/IFAS Extension: UF/IFAS Extension serves as a source of non-biased, research-based information for the residents, businesses, and communities of Florida, providing educational materials and programs for adults and youth. We proudly “provide solutions for your life.”

UF/IFAS Extension Is An Equal Opportunity Institution.


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Posted: December 11, 2018

Category: Conservation, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Lawn, Water
Tags: #SaveWaterFL, Florida Friendly Landscaping, Irrigation, Rain Barrels, Rainfall, Shade, Smart Irrigation, Smart Water Application Technology, Soil Moisture Sensor, SWAT, Turf, Water, Water Conservation

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