NORTHWEST FLORIDA — There are a number of things you can do to help make your landscape more water-efficient without having to resort to the extreme of nothing but cacti and rocks.
Landscape planning and design are keys to a more water-efficient landscape. An efficient water use design includes dividing the landscape into three water-use zones: low, medium and high.
Low water-use zones require little to no supplemental water after establishment. Moderate water-use zones contain plants that require some supplemental irrigation during hot, dry periods. High water-use zones should be limited in the landscape to small high-impact or most visible areas of the home such as the entrance.
Use practical turf areas. Locate turfgrass in areas of the landscape where it will provide the most functional benefit such as recreational areas or on slopes to prevent erosion. Separate turfgrasses from ornamental plants in the landscape so they can be watered separately.
Most turfgrasses can be located in any of the three water-use zones but the amount and frequency of irrigation should be adjusted accordingly.
Only water plants that need to be watered. An irrigation system is nothing more than a tool to supplement rainfall, not to water in addition to rainfall. Daily watering is bad for plants. It encourages shallow root systems and causes plants to demand more water.
Midday watering of lawns is not recommended because much of the applied water can be lost to evaporation and wind blowing the water off-site. Water between 2 and 8 a.m. to minimize evaporation and foliar diseases.
Consider use of drip or micro-irrigation in ornamental plant beds, vegetable garden and fruit garden areas. Drip or micro-irrigation uses less water and is more efficient than traditional irrigation systems.
Mulch is vital to a water-efficient landscape. Mulch helps conserve soil moisture and keeps the root area cooler during hot, dry weather. A two to three-inch layer of organic mulch such as pine straw, pine bark mini-nuggets or woodchips helps create a more water-efficient landscape.
Try to match the right plant for the site conditions and preserve as many of the native plants as possible. Native plants are generally well adapted to the environment and may require no supplemental irrigation.
During dry weather, mowing turfgrasses so that no more than 1/3 of the leaf tissue is removed at each mowing will reduce plant stress and water demand. Reduce fertilization during dry weather because it can damage plant roots in dry soils.
For additional water-saving ideas, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit the following UF/IFAS Websites.