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:
- Check for broken, leaking, blocked, or misdirected heads. These not only waste water and cause runoff, but they can also cause problems with uneven watering. (Review how to do a basic DIY sprinkler “wet-check” – click here -or- here.)
- 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.
- Turn on roof-mounted rain shut-off devices. Check for proper operation. (For more about rain sensors, click here.)
- 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 1 – SMS Part 2 – SMS Part 3.)
(TIP: Do you live in Pasco, Pinellas, or Hillsborough counties? You could be eligible for a smart irrigation upgrade through the Tampa Bay Water-Wise rebate incentive program! Check your eligibility at: https://tampabaywaterwise.org/en/rebates)
- 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… (Learn how to check your controller for common programming problems in the recorded webinar – “Controllers & Sensors – Where BIG Mistakes Happen FAST!”)
- If pressure is too high, switch to pressure regulating heads. These can help reduce water lost to “misting” and wind drift.
- 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.
- A thick layer of mulch can be used to retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and reduce weed issues. (NOTE: There’s a right way and a wrong way to do mulch. Learn about mulch in the blog post – “Mulch 101”)
BEST TIME TO WATER?
- 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”)
- 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!
- 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.”
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED:
- 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.)
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I WATER?
REMEMBER THIS TRICK:
- 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
- Find your watering day.(If you live in Pasco County, find your watering day at bitly.com/PascoWatering.
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.)
HOW LONG TO RUN EACH ZONE?
- 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.
A FEW ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
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!
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.