Everyone wants attractive yards and green areas in their neighborhoods. We can have them and save water too. All we have to do is water wisely by practicing various water-saving techniques out-of-doors.
Large amounts of water are consumed through the watering of landscapes. Outdoor watering is estimated to account for as much as one-half of the water used by each residence per year. Efficient watering or irrigation practices are essential to conserve water. Over watering not only reduces our water supply but can result in excess water that runs off carrying fertilizers and pollutants into our bay. Over watering could result in disease such as fungus and in the excessive growth of weeds and pests.
Timing Is Everything
The best time to water is during the early morning hours when temperatures and wind speeds are at their lowest. Water evaporates quickly in the heat of the day. When it is windy, water may not reach targeted areas or may fall unevenly onto paved areas. If you cannot water in the early morning hours, the next best time to water is in the early evening.
Before watering, check the soil below the surface. Just because the surface is dry doesn't mean that the roots need water. There may be moisture below the surface. There are tools (such as soil probes or soil sampling tubes) that can be used to obtain soil samples to check for moisture. Be sure to water the lawn only when it shows signs of needing it: edges of the blades will begin to roll, fold or look wilted; grass will not spring back when you step on it; or the color changes from bright green to dull gray-green or blue. It is recommended that lawns be watered so that the soil is moist to a depth of four to six inches. It is better to water your lawn thoroughly (so water reaches the root systems) once each week than to water it lightly each day. Watering lightly could actually harm your lawn because only the surface, rather than the roots, may be reached. Watering should be done slowly to avoid runoff.
Knowing Which Irrigation Methods to Use
Use trickle, drip or soaker hose irrigation systems where possible. They use less water than sprinklers. These methods are particularly effective with areas that require more water such as trees or gardens.
When sprinklers are used, select one that releases water slowly and close to the ground as contrasted with one that releases a mist which tends to evaporate more easily. Place sprinklers at the top of sloped areas so that the water that does run off ends up watering the entire slope. Check your irrigation system to be sure that the areas you want to be watered, and not the surrounding paved areas, are being watered. Irrigation heads should be aligned with the areas they are intended to water.
In general, use sprinklers for lawns, bubblers for trees, drip irrigation systems for gardens and shrubs and soaker hoses for flower beds and ground covers. Don't forget to turn drip or soaker hoses off. A timer will help eliminate this frequently occurring problem. Irrigation systems also can be metered and set to deliver a specified amount of water or be time-controlled. Any new irrigation system is required by law (Chapter 373.62, Florida Statutes) to have a rain shut-off device or sensor that will override the system if sufficient amounts of rain have fallen.
Checking for Leaks
If water drips or leaks from a faucet after being turned off, it could mean that the washer is worn out and needs replacing or the faucet may be broken. Replace the washer first before calling the plumber to replace the faucet.
Use washers between faucets or spigots and water hoses to reduce the loss of water between connections.
Improving Your Lawn
You can take several steps to improve the appearance of your lawn. Watering is not the only solution. For example, aerating lawns to allow water more and easier access to the root systems can do wonders to improve your lawn's appearance.
Cutting your lawn higher encourages a stronger root system. Set the mower to a higher level (two to three inches) when cutting the grass. This will help reduce evaporation when the lawn is watered. A mower that leaves grass clippings on the lawn helps mulch the lawn and reduces the need for watering.
Understanding Your Soil
Be sure the soil contains enough organic material such as peat or compost so that water can penetrate to the root systems of plants easily. This will result in less water being used. When the soil has a high clay content, it will absorb water slowly. Sandy soil absorbs water quickly but won't retain moisture. Adding organic material will help correct these problems.
Mulch to retain moisture in flower and shrub beds. Shaping the soil around trees or other large plants into basins will help catch and retain water. Mulch also increases the attractiveness of these areas, reduces unwanted weed growth and insulates plants from changes in temperature. As the mulch decomposes, the organic content of the soil is increased as well.
Selecting the Right Plants
Select plants that require less water. Many of these will likely be native plants. An additional benefit to using native plants is that they tend to attract wildlife. There are various guides available that contain listings of plants, shrubs and trees that have less water requirements. They are frequently referred to as drought-tolerant, drought-resistant or Xeriscape™ plant guides. The Northwest Florida Water Management District has such a guide available for residents.
When planning your landscape or garden, select and group plants according to their needs for sunlight and water. Obviously, plants in the full sun will require more water than those in shaded or partially shaded areas.
For additional information on watering and landscaping for water conservation go to Waterwise Florida Landscapes .