Mark Govan, Host of “Florida Gardening” heard on NewsRadio WFLA
Every time I write an article, I try to give you the best information I can to help you in your garden. However, as I write this article on ways to keep your landscape properly watered, I ponder, what will the weather be like in a month henceforth? I know that right now as I look outside, I see browning lawns and wilting plants. Nevertheless, by the time this article is published, our summer rains may have started. That means many of us could receive the water necessary to keep our plants healthy but, with two or three days of ninety-two-degree temperatures without a rainstorm, we will be right back to where we are today. In this article, I will teach you about several tools you have at your disposal to keep your landscape from drying out whether or not we have rain. Let’s get started.
Proper watering is probably one of the most important things you need to do to keep your lawn and landscape plants healthy. The minute plants sense there is not enough water available, they go into a protective mode. This can include shutting down new growth areas of a plant, folding or curling of the leaves, shedding flowers to conserve moisture, and finally dropping leaves to limit water loss. Ultimately, if no water is added, the complete shutdown or death of the plant will occur. In order to ensure our plants continued health, we need to water our plants properly and regularly. This means your plants should be on a routine watering schedule by either a sprinkler system or by hand watering, whether or not we are receiving summertime rains. This should include all your landscape plants, trees, hanging baskets, and containerized plants. Your lawn requires additional care we will go over below. Please be aware that if you do not have a sprinkler system, you are going to have problems.
Turf grass requires a minimum of at least one-inch of water two times per week. Here is a simple way to find out how much water your sprinkler system is putting down. You will need several empty tuna fish cans or other measuring devices placed in the lawn where your sprinkler system will be watering. Now you can turn on your system and time how long it takes to fill the cans with one inch of water. Make sure you repeat this for each zone you have. Several cans should be used in each zone as different nozzles apply varying amounts of water. You should have the identical amount of water in each can when you finish each zone. If you find that you have unequal amounts of water in the cans, then your sprinkler heads need to be adjusted. You may have to call in an irrigation specialist to adjust your system, so each zone applies equal amounts of water. Once all the heads on the zone are putting out one inch of water, you can then set your time clock to run for that amount of time. Each zone may be different. Why do you need one-inch of water?
One inch of water will penetrate our Florida soils to a depth of about eight inches. The deeper you water your turf, the further down your roots will grow. This is important because you need moisture in this area for the roots to elongate. If the roots do not reach down into the soil, then they will not have the ability to pick up the water it needs during the hot summer days ahead. Please note as I said above, you may need to run your system in both the morning and in the afternoon in order to provide enough water during the hottest part of the day.
The second most important tip I can give you is to mow your lawn at the appropriate height. If you take care of your own lawn, then you must mow at the highest setting available or three and one-half inches. If you pay for this service, then mandate your lawn maintenance people mow at this height or find another company that will. Turf grass mowed too low or scalped, will die in the summer heat. Maintaining lawns at three and one-half inches will reduce stress on the lawn, increase root length, and fight drought conditions. Remember, this measurement is of the blade only and not from the concrete. A good example of how long roots can grow is the median strips in the roadways. These strips of grass can grow to a height of eight inches or better with seedpods on top of that. With little or no water available to them, they continue to grow because of their long blades and roots. Talk to your maintenance people today or look up “turf management mowing guidelines” published by the University of Florida.
For those of us without sprinkler systems, you need to try products like Hydretain. Hydretain is a moisture management product that once applied to the lawn or flower beds; it binds with the roots and acts like little water magnets pulling water vapor out of the air and directing it to the plant’s roots system. Even though this product must be reapplied every three months, the application is easy and for most lawns or flower beds, it only takes about five minutes to apply. Many of my customers use this product to aid them in caring for their plants and lawns. Another way to save water is to purchase drought-tolerant plants or indigenous plants. Native plants require less water than nonnative plants but unfortunately, like all plants, they still require water occasionally. Rain barrels can also help you save many plants by giving you an additional source of water to draw from.
Water is essential for all plants, and proper watering can mean the difference between a healthy plant and a sick one. Beware of the summertime showers that may inundate your yard early in the week allowing you to turn off your sprinkler system only to forget to turn it back on. I believe that if it rains on your irrigation day, then turn your system off for that day, but you need to turn it back on the following day. Leave yourself a note to do this and enjoy your garden. Thanks for your time and remember, without plants we would not be here!