FREE water! Tips for reducing irrigation during rainy season
Rainy Season Here at Last
The pitterpattering of rain against the window is a soothing and welcome sound here in Sarasota County. Though it may have been painfully dry the past few months, June brings with it the start of rainy season. Among the cloudy, blue skies, warm weather, and singing cicadas, frequent rains are what makes Florida such a great place to be in the summer. The rain is a wonderful source of nutrients and water for a thirsty yard, and it makes maintenance much easier. After all, irrigation is just meant to supplement our natural rainfall!
Adjust Your Schedule!
Our outdoor green spaces only require 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of water to penetrate the soil every week. Most storms will easily fulfill that requirement within a few hours. In fact, nearly half of our county received at least ten inches of rain this past week. If you are watering your plants by hand, keep track of upcoming storms to make sure you are not overwatering your yard. Overwatering can lead to runoff into local ponds, lakes, and streams, which could ultimately impact our bay.
Luckily, there is no shortage of ways to track rainfall. One reliable weather source we recommend is the Sarasota County Water Atlas. Rainfall data is uploaded frequently, so you can see an estimate of how much water your yard is getting every week. The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) is also a great place to check for average precipitation, wind, and temperature in your area. If your plants are showing signs of wilt, be sure to check the forecast before watering. By watching the weather this season, we can be sure to save an important resource while making sure our plants get exactly what they need.
Rain Shutoff Devices & Rain Gauges
All irrigation systems in Sarasota County are required to have a rain shutoff device, which will temporarily disable the system if there is sufficient rainfall. Make sure that your rain shutoff device is working properly – that way, you won’t have to do much work adjusting your irrigation schedule. For tips on how to test your device or install a new one, you can visit this resource.
Besides checking the weather, a more accurate way to measure the rainfall in your yard is through a rain gauge. Rain gauges can either be manual or automatic. Manual rain gauges are composed of a tube that collects rainwater from storms. Automatic gauges often track rain events over time, so you can see rainfall patterns over weeks or even months.
There are several types of rain gauges, but the most common kind gardeners use are standard gauges. A standard rain gauge consists of a funnel emptying into a graduated cylinder. Users can keep track of rainfall by measuring the amount of water in the cylinder. These gauges come in a variety of models and types, and you can purchase them online or from most home improvement stores.
Remember to empty your gauge after each rain event to ensure an accurate reading! Some of the higher tech models automatically empty themselves, so it may be worth the investment if you would prefer a lower-maintenance device. Whichever make or model you choose, place your gauge in an area where it can get regular rain exposure.
Signs of Wilt
Curious about when to water your plants? Look out for these telltale signs of drought stress…
- Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on at least one-third of your yard.
- Grass blades appear blue-gray.
- Grass blades do not spring back, leaving footprints on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.
Another way to take advantage of the surplus of rainwater is to capture it using rain barrels! Rain barrels are easy to install and can be a great source of free water when the time comes to irrigate your plants. Not to mention, they are great fun to customize with paint.
Rain barrels usually have a dispenser, mesh screen to keep out insects, and hold about 50 to 80 gallons of water at a time. You can attach them to your downspout to collect any rainwater that comes off your roof. You can use your stored rainwater to water your plant beds, clean your car, or wash your windows. Rainwater is also excellent for orchids and other tropical houseplants, since it contains trace amounts of nitrogen and oxygen (essential plant nutrients)!
There are guides online for building your own rain barrel, but you can often find them for sale at your local home improvement or garden store. Our office will also be resuming its monthly rain barrel workshops later this summer. In case you would like to get your hands on a rain barrel at a discounted price, check out our Eventbrite listings for any upcoming sessions.
For more ways to get involved with practicing sustainable irrigation this rainy season, see the following website from the Southwest Florida Water Management District: https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/residents/water-conservation/watch-the-weather-wait-water.
An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices. Sarasota County prohibits discrimination in all services, programs or activities. View the complete policy at www.scgov.net/ADA.