Friday, May 26, 2017

Setting Your Irrigation Controller

residential irrigation controllerWhen water restrictions are in place, it's best to shut off your automatic landscape irrigation controller and run the system manually. Only turn on the system when the grass shows at least one of the three wilt signs. But if you choose to use the automatic setting, follow the simple tips below to conserve water.

Days of the Week to Run

You can set your controller to irrigate every day, every other day, every three days, and so on. Most controllers offer a "custom" option that allows you to select certain days of the week to water, which is the option that should be used during watering restrictions. Make sure to check with your water management district or municipalities for local watering restrictions.

Run Time

You can set your controller to water each irrigation zone for a specific amount of time, depending on your system application rate. This information can be found in "Operation of Residential Irrigation Controllers."

Amount of Water

Many factors determine how much water you should apply. You should adjust your controller at least seasonally. For example, irrigation can be cut back during the rainy summer and colder winter months, particularly in North and Central Florida, where lawns and landscape plants go dormant. You should never water to the point of runoff (excess water that your grass's roots can't absorb), as this wastes water, may cause disease, and can contribute to pollution. However, no less than a 1/2 inch of water should be applied at any one time. Deeper, less-frequent watering promotes deep root growth, which contributes to a healthy lawn and landscape capable of surviving dry spells. For specific information on run times for your irrigation system, see this urban irrigation tool.

Programming Your Controller

Controllers typically have the capacity to run multiple programs. This means that your irrigation controller can be set to water different parts (zones) of your home landscape at different rates. For example, program "A" might have the controller set to water six rotor zones for sixty minutes twice each week. If new plants are planted in a landscape bed, they may need more frequent watering until they are established. In such a case, a second program, "B," can be used to water that zone every day of the week (water restrictions permitting). For your normal, weekly 2-day maintenance watering, only one program is necessary. In that case, it's a good idea to verify that other programs are not running.

Microirrigation Zones

Microirrigation systems (sometimes called "drip" or low-volume irrigation systems) are becoming popular for landscape plants because they are easy to use and can conserve a lot of water. There are several types of microirrigation systems; all deliver water directly to a plant's roots, so that less water is lost to evaporation. Microirrigation systems can be easy to install and can save a homeowner money while keeping landscape plants healthy.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Preserving your landscape during drought

Dr. Michael Dukes, director of the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, shares these tips to conserve water and maintain your current landscape during drought conditions.  For full article click here.
  1. Delay big landscape modifications that require establishment watering until the rainy season.
  2. Establish priorities. Water drought-sensitive plants first. Grass should be a lower priority—it can be trained to be fairly drought-tolerant, and is cheaper to replace than trees and shrubs.
  3. Consider replacing drought-sensitive plants with more drought-tolerant species. Click here for a list of drought-tolerant plants.
  4. Mulch planting beds and areas around trees and shrubs. Mulching helps the soil retain moisture, moderate soil temperature and keeps weeds down. The mulch should be about 3 inches deep.
  5. Run your irrigation system only when your landscape looks dry. Hand water when possible, or consider using drip irrigation.
  6. Water in the morning so less moisture is lost to evaporation. Examine your irrigation system and repair leaks promptly.
  7. If you fertilize, use low nitrogen and low phosphorus fertilizers. Fertilization stimulates growth and increases water needs.
  8. Avoid unnecessary applications of pesticides that require “watering in”—you can find pesticides that work without added water.
  9. Move container plants to shaded areas to reduce their water needs.

    - See more at:

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ten Ways to Save Water

Water is the lifeblood of all plants, including turfgrass. But many Florida homeowners aren't aware that watering their lawns too much can be as damaging as not watering enough. These ten Florida-Friendly tips will help you save water in your landscape.

1. Choose the right plant for the right placebutterfly on firebush

All plants must get the right amount of sun, water, and nutrients to thrive—even natives.
  • Select plants suited for your area
  • Place plants in the landscape where site conditions match their needs
  • Group plants with similar water needs together

2. Water thoughtfully

A drop here and a drop there can add up to a lot of water.
  • Always follow water restrictions
  • Water early in the morning
  • Irrigate plants and grass only when they start to wilt

3. Handwater when possible

Handwatering is usually allowed during water restrictions, because it uses less water than an automatic irrigation system.
Woman using a watering can to water flowers
  • Use a watering can, pail, or hose with an automatic shutoff nozzle
  • Handwater potted plants, shrubs, trees, vegetables, and flower beds, and new lawns
  • See if your water management district (WMD) limits handwatering

4. Perform regular irrigation maintenance

An irrigation system is only as efficient as it's maintained to be.
  • Check for and repair leaks
  • Unclog and replace broken heads
  • Point heads at plants, not driveways and sidewalks

5. Calibrate irrigation system

Even an efficient irrigation system can waste water if it's left on for too long. The ideal amount of water to apply is 1/2 to 3/4 inches. Figure out how long to run your system by doing a test:
  • Place multiple coffee/tuna/other straight-sided cans throughout each irrigation zone
  • Run your system for thirty minutes
  • Average the depth of the water in all the containers
  • Multiply running time as needed for 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water

6. Make a Rain Barrel

Rain barrels capture rainwater that flows off your roof for use in the landscape. They're easy and inexpensive to make and can have a big impact on your water bill—instead of watering your plants with water you're paying for, you're using free water!

7. Use microirrigation

Drip or microspray irrigation systems apply water directly to the roots of plants, where it's needed, and lose minimal water to evaporation or wind drift.

8. Mulch plantsman spreading mulch

Mulch helps keep moisture in the soil around your plants. Choose from many different kinds of mulch and apply 2 to 3 inches around trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables.

9. Mow correctly

How you mow your lawn can have a big impact on how much water it needs.
  • Mow high; mowing your grass to the highest recommended length encourages a deep healthy root system
  • Keep your mower blades sharp; dull cuts make grass more disease-prone
  • Cut no more than one third of the leaf blade each time you mow

10. Be a weather watcher

Rain is irrigation, too. Use it to your advantage—it's free!
  • Don't water your landscape if it's rained in the past twenty-four hours
  • If rain is forecast in the next forty-eight hours, hold off on irrigating
  • Purchase a rain gauge to track how much rain your plants are getting
  • Install a rain shut-off device to override your irrigation system when it's raining

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What is Drought?

A drought is a period of abnormally dry weather that causes a water shortage or jeopardizes our water resources. We tend to expect that every time we turn on the faucet plenty of fresh, drinkable water will flow out. But Florida's population is growing quickly, and at the same time, we've been experiencing dry years. As the population grows, our water demands increase, too.

Where We Get Our Water

The water most Floridians use for drinking, showering, watering the lawn, washing the car, and many other things comes from the Floridan Aquifer, an underground cave system made of porous limestone called karst. This groundwater comes to the surface naturally via the more than 600 springs throughout the state. And, of course, we pull it into our homes with pumps and wells.
Florida's aquifers depend on rainwater to keep it recharged. In dry years, the water level in the aquifer system goes down. Streams, lakes, and wells can dry up. But many areas of the state are near sustainable limits of water withdrawals even in normal years, so dry years can stress the system even more.

We Need Rain

In a typical year, Florida gets an average of 53 inches of rain per year. The dry season in Florida usually starts in November and continues through May. Typically the summer is the wet season, but the past few summers have been dry. This means that water levels in the aquifer system are especially low, making water restrictions a necessity in several of Florida's water management districts, which manage the state's water resources.
As Florida's open spaces are increasingly paved over by new development, there's less ground for rainwater to soak into. Rain that lands on pavement evaporates into the air or flows into stormwater drains that flow into streams or stormwater collection systems that drain into the sea. This water does not replenish the aquifer.
It's always important to conserve water, and there are many ways to use less water in the landscape. You can find tips for saving water in your landscape in Dealing with Water Restrictions.  In Polk County, our watering restrictions follow those of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.  
Join us on the blog as we continue to post relevant drought-related information.  If you have questions as they relate to your lawn and landscape, contact the Plant Clinic