Photo by Daniel Helpiansky on Unsplash
Did you know that April is Lawn Irrigation Month? For all of you who didn’t, you do now! It is so important to take proper care of your lawn, especially living in Florida. Because our weather patterns are constantly changing, and because drought conditions can alternate with downpours during the hot months, it’s crucial to find a balance between over-watering and under-watering. And who doesn’t want to conserve water and save money?
Many Florida homeowners believe that irrigating a lawn is as simple as setting up an automatic sprinkler systems and forgetting about it. But determining the correct time and frequency to water your lawn are the keys to having the kind of lawn that will make all your neighbors jealous. Or impress potential homebuyers. (Hey, we’re a real estate blog after all!) And you might want to ditch that sprinkler system altogether.
Read on for tips on proper lawn irrigation, water conservation, and alternatives to automatic sprinkler systems you may not have thought of.
How to Properly Water a Florida Lawn
There are a few things to remember when watering a Florida lawn. The first is that Florida is a very humid state, and lawns here need less water than those in other parts of the country. In fact, overwatering can actually be more harmful to a lawn than under watering.
Water on an as-needed basis.
Given the abundance of rainfall our region receives (50 or more inches of annual rainfall, more than Seattle gets!), you only need to turn on your irrigation system when you see signs of drought. These are the signs to look for:
- Leaf blades folding in on themselves
- Green grass varieties take on a blue-gray tint
- Footprints or tire tracks remain imprinted on the grass long after they are made.
The amount of water used and length of time spent watering depends on the type of grass you have and the area you live in, so don’t forget to do your research before creating an irrigation plan. The University of Florida’s IFAS extension has a great collection of resources available for free on the web, including this scientific article on Watering Your Florida Lawn.
Use a drip system or a soaker hose.
There are a few types of irrigation systems to choose from when irrigating your lawn. The most common and least expensive is the sprinkler system. This system consists of a network of plastic or metal pipes that are laid out in your yard. When the water is turned on, it flows through the pipes and sprays out of the sprinkler heads. Sprinkler systems are the least costly to install but the least efficient due to water lost to evaporation.
Another type of irrigation system is the drip system. This system delivers water directly to the roots of the plants through small tubes or hoses. A drip system is more expensive than a sprinkler system, but it uses less water and is more efficient.
Soaker hoses are the most efficient type of irrigation. A soaker hose is a great way to water your lawn without wasting water. A soaker hose is a long, thin hose that you lay on the ground. The water seeps out of small holes in the hose and wet the ground. This is a slow, steady way to water your lawn.
You can attach a soaker hose to a garden hose. Turn on the water and let it run for a few minutes to get the hose wet. Then turn off the water and leave the hose on the ground. The water will slowly seep out of the hose and water your lawn.
So what type of irrigation system is best? It depends how much you want to spend and how much importance you place on water conservation. Our region is blessed with an abundance of water. However, the population is growing, and with that growth comes higher demand for water and higher costs. We recommend investing in a drip system or a soaker hose. These systems are efficient and future-proof.
Water deeply but infrequently.
It’s better to water for a longer period of time at a lower rate than to water for a short period of time at a high rate. This will help your lawn get the water it needs, grow deep roots, and not cause runoff.
Most Florida lawns only need 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water, so it’s best to water deeply but less often.
This table, from the UF guide we mentioned, gives the number of days that “St. Augustine” grass with 6″ roots can go between watering here in Gainesville, FL.
The authors note that “these frequencies will vary depending upon soil conditions, shade cover, fertilization, and other factors”. Again, these numbers assume no rainfall.
Water in the morning or evening.
The best time to water your lawn is in the morning or in the evening, when the sun isn’t as strong and the air is cooler. This will help reduce evaporation and save water. Avoid watering your lawn during the hottest part of the day. Watering during the day wastes water due to excessive evaporation.
Know your grass type.
Another thing to keep in mind is that different types of grass require different amounts of water. Bermudagrass, for example, doesn’t need as much water as St. Augustine grass.
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Adjusting your irrigation system for the season and other factors
Many people leave their irrigation timer set to the same schedule without changing it seasonally. It’s important to be aware that the water needs of grass varies throughout the year, and not adjusting the time can result in wasted water and poor plant health.
According to UF researchers, the amount of water applied each time you water your lawn should be consistent year-round; it’s the frequency with which you irrigate that needs to be adjusted. During the summer, be prepared to water every 1 to 5 days, assuming no rail fall. In the winter, you can go from one week to three weeks between rain events.
If you choose to grow grass in the shade of bushes or hedges, you should reduce irrigation to this part of your lawn. Growing grass in the shade presents many challenges, so you might want to consider a different groundcover altogether for those areas of your landscaping.
The Importance of Water Conservation
According to Florida 2070, the population in Florida is expected to grow by 15 million people by the year 2070. This increases the importance of water conservation and irrigation because more homes means more in-ground sprinkler systems.
Only watering your grass when it needs it not only reduces your chances of oversaturation but also contributes positively to water conservation.
Collecting rainwater is another way to conserve water. You can learn more about using reclaimed water to irrigate your lawn here.
Consider cultivating a sprinkler-free landscape
If you really want to save on water and create a little pocket of biodiversity in your own backyard, consider designing and cultivating a sprinkler-free landscape. As the name suggests, a sprinkler-free landscape is an area of land that does not rely on a traditional sprinkler system. Instead, the landscape thrives with rainfall alone, or a more targeted drip system.
According to a UF/IFAS study, developers who opted for sprinkler-free landscapes saw savings of $4,000 per lot. For a 250-lot subdivision, the financial savings from going sprinkler free would equal $1 million.
Troubleshooting Common Irrigation Problems
Irrigation systems are notoriously troublesome. Here are some common problems and their solutions.
Problem: The sprinklers are coming on when it’s raining.
Solution: Make sure the rain sensor is working properly. If it’s not, you may need to adjust the settings or replace the sensor.
Problem: The sprinklers are watering the street instead of the lawn.
The most common issue is a clogged sprinkler head. A clogged head will cause water to spray in all directions, rather than the desired pattern. This could also be due to a misaligned irrigation system, which could require professional help to correct.
Further Reading and Final Thoughts
We highly recommend checking out the Univeristy of Florida/IFAS‘s guide to watering your Florida lawn, which we drew upon for this blog article.
We hope you’ve learned something new about Florida lawn care. Irrigating your Florida lawn properly is key to having a healthy and beautiful yard. Check out Rabell’s podcast for more tips on lawn irrigation in Florida.