Lawns are the indicator of when the landscape needs irrigation. Turf can be acclimatized to be more drought tolerant with several simple adjustments. When the irrigation runs, soak the root zone and do not water again until the grass needs it. Mow high, taller grass promotes deep rooting and keep the mower blade sharp; sharp edges make cleaner cuts that cause less water loss. (Photo: Carol Cloud Bailey)
It is windy, hot and rain has been rare; signs we are in the midst of a typical Florida dry season. On top of that, the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center released a few weeks ago — https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/sdo_summary.php — indicates drought conditions may develop in South Florida soon.
Some landscapes are showing the signs of dry weather and poor irrigation coverage and others are over-watered and full of dollar weed. It is possible to have a beautiful landscape and conserve water.
The tenets of a water-conscious landscape are simple. Plan for no or low water use by grouping plants in beds by water needs. Reduce turf areas, mulch everything and install low-volume irrigation systems on everything but turf. Calibrate the irrigation system and turn off the irrigation clock and water only when plants need it.
In a mature landscape, the lawn determines water needs. For efficient water use, make sure the irrigation system — even if the “system” is a hose and sprinkler — is in good working order. Repair leaks and breaks immediately. Know how much water is applied per given amount of time; in other words, calibrate the system. This can be simply accomplished by placing straight-sided cans throughout the system’s pattern and measuring the amount of water with a ruler.
Then, set irrigation timers to comply with all restrictions and best management practices. Water deeply less often, the recommendation is to apply one-half to three-quarter of an inch of water per application. This amount of water soaks Florida’s sandy soil to about 10- or 12-inches deep, the depth of many plant’s rootzone. Better yet, turn off the automatic irrigation timers and watch the landscape, apply water only when needed.
To determine when to irrigate, watch the lawn grass. Turf will turn bluish-gray, and the leaves will fold in half as it starts to wilt. Turn the irrigation on when 40%-60% of the lawn wilts. Drought tolerance can be built up by the judicious use of irrigation. When water is applied to wet the whole root zone and not again until water is needed, roots grow to the moist soil’s depth.
Help the lawn use less water, raise the cutting height on your lawn, taller grass promotes deep rooting. Keep mower blade sharp, sharp edges make cleaner cuts that cause less water loss than dull blades.
Monitor the weather, don’t water if rain is predicted. Use a rain gauge and do not irrigate if enough rain has fallen. However, if a small amount of rain has fallen, it is an excellent time to supplement nature’s water contribution. It will take less irrigation to wet the root zone after a light rain event.
Carol Cloud Bailey is a landscape counselor and horticulturist. Send questions to email@example.com or visit www.yard-doc.com for more information.
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