Another dry spring has left landscapes in many areas parched.
As we move into summer months, traditional afternoon showers should return, but until then landscapes may need supplemental irrigation to survive.Follow these practices to help conserve water in your lawn and landscape during these dry months.
Even if you use a portable system, it should be calibrated so you know how long to irrigate. To calibrate, place five to 10 flat-bottom, straight-sided cans within an irrigation zone. Run the system for 15 minutes and check the amount of water that accumulates. Some will have more water than others based on the distribution. Determine how long a zone should run to apply between 1/2 and 3/4 inch of water. This will wet the top 6 to 9 inches of a sandy soil and will promote a deeper root system. If there is a large difference in water applied, consider hand-watering the drier areas to supplement.
Provide TLC to new plants. To establish new lawns, water two to three times each day for short intervals (10 minutes) for the first week to get these areas established. Then, increase the watering time and decrease the frequency to encourage a deep root system. For more info on establishing lawns, go to edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh013.
New landscape plants also need frequent applications of water. A 3-gallon plant requires 1 gallon of water every three to four days during establishment. Hand-watering or using micro-irrigation will help conserve water and ensure that water is properly applied. Avoid using overhead irrigation for woody plants because there is higher water loss.
Grass, woody plants
Water grass as needed but follow water restrictions of no more than two times per week on your specified day. Water when 30 percent to 50 percent of the grass blades begin to fold lengthwise, grass has a dull bluish-gray color, and foot tracks remain in the grass. The most efficient time to irrigate is early in the morning when dew is on the grass, typically between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Water established woody plants deeply (3/4 inch) and less frequently.
If you have an in-ground irrigation system, hook it up to a rain shutoff device or operate the system manually. Set the system to override your system when there is 1/2 inch of rainfall. Florida law requires that all automatic sprinkler systems have this rain shutoff device installed.
Keep mower blades sharp and raise the mower height. Sharp mower blades result in less water loss from grass. Taller grass encourages a deeper, more extensive root system with increased drought tolerance, and it will also be more effective at shading out weeds in the landscape. Never remove more than a third of the grass surface when mowing the lawn and keep that lawn mower blade sharp. This will reduce stress to the lawn.
Do not apply nitrogen fertilizers during a drought. Nitrogen stimulates new growth, which in turn increases water demands. Many fertilizers also have high salt contents and can burn grass if there is insufficient water. Wait to fertilize when normal rainfall patterns resume.
Inspect sprinkler heads for leaks and coverage. A lawn area that turns brown may indicate a broken sprinkler head instead of chinch bugs. If you have an in-ground sprinkler system, run the system monthly and check each zone to make sure plants are being watered, not the roads and sidewalks. Use a shovel to carefully edge around sprinkler heads in lawns to improve coverage. Clean filters in sprinkler heads to increase irrigation efficiency.
Insect, disease woes
Do not apply herbicides during a drought. Herbicides can damage lawns even when grass is healthy and can be detrimental if stressed.
If insects or diseases become a problem, do not treat the entire lawn. Spot-treat the affected area and a 10- to 15-foot buffer area. Many insects like chinch bugs, spider mites and thrips are more of a problem during hot, dry weather. Scout the landscape weekly.
Use mulch in plant beds and around trees. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around plants to conserve water and reduce soil temperatures. If areas have poor drainage, use 1 to 2 inches of mulch. Mulches also reduce weeds that compete with desirable plants for water. Leave a 2- or 3-inch clear space around plant stems/trunks. For trees, apply mulch out to the dripline.
Install drought-tolerant plants. Water will be required to get them established, but supplemental water needs will decrease as root systems expand. Portions of the lawn can be reduced and replaced with drought tolerant ground covers and low maturing shrubs.
Add a rain barrel to collect runoff from the roof during rain events. This water can then be used to irrigate needy plants.
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