by Brad Buck, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences experts suggest ways you can maintain your landscape during this drought, including an irrigation audit and knowing the watering laws in your area.
UF/IFAS Extension agents in your county can conduct the audit, said Mary Lusk, an UF/IFAS regional specialized agent in the Tampa area. Agents will walk you through your system and point out conservation potential. They’ll give expert advice on the days and times that your irrigation program runs, how the sprinkler heads are configured and landscape plant choices that will maximize water use efficiency.
“They will help you troubleshoot spots where perhaps the sprinklers are not wetting the soil uniformly,” Lusk said. “It may be tempting to run the sprinklers more often when we see dry spots in the lawn, but the problem may be more related to how uniformly the sprinkler heads are covering the lawn than to the amount of time they run. For this reason, a check of your system by an UF/IFAS Extension agent can really help increase watering uniformity and keep you from feeling the need to run the sprinklers more than necessary.”
An irrigation audit can help you find problems with your outdoor watering system. Many issues can lead to this, said Jason Kruse, an UF/IFAS associate professor of turfgrass science. In some cases, the rain sensor may not be functioning properly. In other cases, the system may suffer from neglect, and you get broken heads or leaky valves and fittings.
Some communities have access to reclaimed water, as an alternative to using potable water, for lawn irrigation, Lusk said.
“While using reclaimed water is a great way to conserve potable water, we still need to remember that even reclaimed water can be over-used,” she said. “Even if you use reclaimed water, remember that over-irrigating can damage your lawn and make it less drought-tolerant.”
“Sometimes we feel that because reclaimed water is recycled water, we should be able to use all we want without consequence,” Lusk said. “But overwatering actually makes lawns less drought- tolerant and more susceptible to diseases and pests.”
You should follow UF/IFAS recommendations for watering your lawn and your turf variety. For most residents, this means half to three-fourths of an inch of water per week.
Lusk also recommends using micro-irrigation systems for landscape beds. While traditional rotor sprinklers used for turfgrass deliver water at rates close to 3 gallons per minute, micro-irrigation systems will deliver water at 0.5 gallons per minute or less. They allow for precise and efficient watering right to the root zone of landscape plants like shrubs and annuals.
One last tip: Know the watering laws in your city and/or county. They can vary by city, and cities may have more restrictive ordinances than unincorporated parts of the county. Your utility company or your water management district website will usually be able to provide this information.
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