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Landscape Water Conservation

plastic rain barrel and work station in yard

Collect water in a rain barrel.

We all have to deal with drought conditions in our landscape at one time or another. This section is going to help you make the right choices if you are planning a new look or enhancing what you have. Conserving water is a good habit to develop. The driest months of the year are March, April and May.

We are going to touch on:

• Watering practices

• Mulching

• Fertilizer and pesticide treatments

• Maintaining your turf grass

• Container plants

Watering Practices

Try to avoid planting during the dry season. Top priority for water are the plants you have recently installed. When you first plant something you need to make sure it gets plenty of water. Building a berm area around the root ball will help contain any water and gives it a chance to soak in. Mulch will help conserve the water also. More on that next.

A great way to save water is to collect it. In the picture above a rain barrel is behind a screen of plastic lattice to dress it up a little.

If you have an established lawn you should get it used to dry periods anyway. This is the responsible thing to do. when you do water make sure it is early in the morning and you water deeply. Your grass really only needs to be irrigated once or twice a week with about an inch of water. It will be ok if you establish a nice deep root system. This is the only way to do that. Too much water creates a shallow root system and a reliance on regular waterings. It also creates problems with certain weeds and fungi.

Watch established plants for any signs of stress. These are wilting leaves, a change in color and dropping leaves. Trees and shrubs that have been in the landscape usually do not require a lot of irrigation. Deep infrequent watering is best for all established plants. The little amount of rain we do get usually is usually enough.

furniture in the landscape outdoor rooms

Outdoor room in the landscape


Mulch provides shade to the soil which helps regulate the temperature. Cool in summer, warm in winter. It also keeps the wind off of the surface and slows down the evaporation of water from the soil. Mulch suppresses weeds that will compete for water.

Mulch can also replace turf grass. In the above picture the whole yard was pine mulch. It was full of drought tolerant native plants and the owner created wonderful garden areas.

The organic material in natural mulch breaks down and enhances the nutrients in the soil. Another good way to help your soil retain water is to add your own compost.There are some really good composters on the market. They make the process easy and fast. Gravel or rubber don't enhance the nutrients in the soil so those plants may require regular feedings.

The depth you want to achieve is 3-4 inches. This amount will last longer and not be so prone to wind and water separation. Don't put it right up against the trunk or base of your plant. Leave a little space according to the size of the plant.

It gives a uniform look to your garden and is a great way to give it a quick face lift.

Florida native plants and pine mulch landscape

Another example of a mulch landscape with native plants

Fertilizer and pesticide treatments

Don't fertilize during a dry period. You will have to water it in well and you do take the risk of burning your plants. It also encourages new growth which will require more water. If you need to fertilize make sure it is a low nitrogen variety.

Pesticides also require being watered in. It is best to avoid both practices during dry spells.

When the time comes to feed your gardens take the time to learn more about organics. They work very well and are better for you and your plants.

Maintaining the turf grass in your landscape

On new lawns, make sure they get regular watering. Do it in the morning when it has a chance to soak in before the heat of the day. Watering before dark can cause problems with fungi and stuff like that.

Water every day for the first week. Then you can taper off as you go though the first month. The sod people will give you specific instructions for your type of grass.

For an established lawn, water when about 30% is showing signs of wilting. The signs are a bluish/gray tint, blades folded lengthwise, and footprints that last. Check the lawn in the morning and water accordingly.

If you have a Bahia grass sod and are using city water or have no irrigation system don't water it. Let it go dormant. It will turn brown but it will come back when the rains return or the irrigation restrictions are lifted. Take care of your landscape plants first.

Raise the wheels on your lawn mower. Taller grass actually creates a little more shade for the soil. this reduces weed growth and looks better too. Only take off about 1/3 of the grass blade when you mow. During a dry spell your grass won't be growing very fast. Keep the blade on your mower sharp. A tattered edge loses more water and gives your grass a poor look. A clean cut doesn't brown as much and heals quickly.

Container Plants

If you have a lot of potted plants you will want to cluster them around each other. This will create shade and help them block the drying wind. If you can move them into the shade even better. Grouping them makes it easier to water them all at once and the drips from the neighboring plants will not be wasted. when you first plant them try the potting soil that has the water retaining gel in it.

These are just a few suggestions for getting through these periodic dry spells. One of our local resources for information about conserving water is the St. John's River Water Management Group. They have a great website for any questions you may have.

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