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Want a Healthy Yard? Water less! with grass, sprinkler, and timer

Want a healthy yard? Water less!

Reduce Your Outdoor Water Use

April is Water Conservation Month. Now is a perfect time to examine our water-spending behaviors and see where we can save big on our water bill.

Sprinkler head irrigating garden

Sprinkler head irrigating garden

Most of our water use is outdoors, spent on the automatic irrigation of our turf. The average Florida household uses about 31,767 gallons per 1,000 square feet every year. That is an average of over 600 gallons per week. Many homeowners take automated irrigation for granted or may not know how to properly operate or maintain their systems. As a result, their turf often suffers from overwatering, leading to shorter plant roots, higher susceptibility to disease, and increased maintenance requirements.

Though it will vary by property, a household that follows watering restrictions will use about 16,198 to 24,297 gal per 1,000 square feet. That amount accounts for a weekly watering routine, so you could be using even less by skipping irrigation on weeks with significant rainfall or by skipping a week or two in the winter when your landscape plants are dormant.

You can be a water conservation superstar by following watering restrictions and performing regular system maintenance. A healthy yard starts with saving just 210 gallons per week. Check our guide below to see easy ways to save big on water with a few changes to your irrigation routine. Then keep reading for some tips to help you get the most out of your automatic irrigation system.

Healthy Yard Checklist

Healthy yard checklist

Calibrate Your System

Calibrating your system correctly is key to maintaining a strong and healthy landscape. By making sure your system is delivering only the necessary amount of water, you are promoting deep roots, drought resistance, and better soil stability.

To calibrate your system, place 5 to 10 empty cans with the tops taken completely off around your yard near your water distribution devices. If you have a multi-zone system, calibrate it one zone at a time. After you have your cans set up, turn on your sprinklers for 15 minutes. Place your cans on a flat surface and use measuring tape or a ruler to determine the depth of water.

Add all of your measurements together and then divide by the number of cans to find your average irrigation rate. The University of Florida recommends 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water per irrigation application. If you already achieved this with 15 minutes of watering, great! If not, divide your average by the desired amount of water and then multiply the result by 15 to get your irrigation run time. For instance, let’s say it takes my system 15 minutes to deliver 1/4 inch of water. If I want to calibrate my system to deliver 3/4 inch of water, it would take 45 minutes. Once you know your time for each zone, you can proceed with programming your system’s controller.

Programming Your Controller
Irrigation system controller

An irrigation system controller (Credit: UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions)

Beyond making the changes above, make sure you are following watering restrictions and maximizing your water use with some simple programming of your irrigation controller.

For residents of unincorporated Sarasota County, there are two designated watering days for your irrigation system to run. Homes that end in an even number must water on Tuesday, and odd numbered homes must water on Thursday. Take a moment to review your county or city’s watering restrictions before programming your controller to the appropriate day.

The next factor to consider is time. There is no watering allowed from 10 am to 4 pm on any given day, so make sure your controller is set to only water outside of those times. University of Florida recommends irrigating in the early morning as to not extend the period that your lawn is naturally wet. Excess moisture from extending wet hours can lead to unwanted mold or disease.

The last factor is your system’s run time, which is directly related to how you calibrate your system. For example, if it takes 30 minutes to distribute 1/2 inch of water in one of your zones in the summer, then you would set your system to run for 30 minutes on your designated watering day. If you want an estimate of how long to run your system based on your location, check out this Urban Irrigation Scheduler tool from the Florida Automated Weather Network.

Rain Sensor Maintenance
Rain sensor in rain

Rain sensor in a storm (Credit: Frank Galdo)

Another important aspect of saving water outdoors is to make sure your rain sensor is working properly. If you are a Florida resident with an automatic irrigation system, you are required to own and maintain a rain sensor or equivalent device.

Once you finish that initial set-up, it can be easy to take them for granted and leave them untouched for years. However, as you may already know, many outdoor fixtures will not stand up to the extreme heat and rain that Florida brings every summer. Therefore, it’s important to add a maintenance day or two to your yearly calendar.

Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to test your sensor. All you need to do is turn on one of your zones, use a hose to spray water directly on the sensor, and then wait for your system to turn off. If your system stays on, then your sensor may need to be cleaned out, moved, or worst case scenario – replaced. However, many models are available from $18 to $30, making it a fairly affordable fix. Remember that your sensor should be calibrated with each of your irrigation zones, and be sure to set it to 1/2 to 3/4 inch to follow the University of Florida’s recommendation.

Note: Tampa residents may qualify for a free cork-disc rain sensor from the City of Tampa.

All of these steps are extremely important in creating a water-efficient and healthy yard, and all it takes is a few minutes to a few days of your time depending on what you choose to do.

More Resources

Saving water is simple! By following a few easy steps, you can set up your yard for success without having to lift a finger for most of the year. Most of these changes take little planning and time, and the results can last you a lifetime. That said, keep on eye on your system and water bill to see if you have any irregular water usage. It may be a leak or other issue that needs to be quickly addressed.

To learn more about water conservation in the yard…

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Tom Obreza, interim dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Sarasota County prohibits discrimination in all services, programs or activities. View the complete policy at www.scgov.net/ADA.

One Comment on “Want a healthy yard? Water less!

  1. Love this blog, it would be awesome to note that irrigation uses 63,534 gallons a year if you are watering twice a week per current irrigation restrictions. I am waiting for our rainy season to add more pollinator plants and that means less grass to water!

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