The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is encouraging residents who irrigate their lawns to “skip a week” during the cooler months of December, January and February.
Research shows that grass doesn’t need to be watered as often during the cooler months. This means that watering on your watering day isn’t always needed. In fact, ½ to ¾ inches of water every 10–14 days is sufficient.
Researchers take several factors into account when determining how much water a yard needs. They start with the optimum amount of water needed to keep turf healthy in Florida — about 43 inches of water a year. Then they must consider how much water soils can hold, how much water is lost to evapotranspiration (ET), average temperatures, irrigation system efficiency and, of course, rainfall.
Although Florida’s average rainfall of 53 inches a year would seem sufficient, much of that falls between June and September and most is not available for plant use because of evaporation and runoff.
As a matter of fact, Florida’s high annual rainfall amount and frequent large rainstorms make regular programmed irrigation scheduling an inefficient way to irrigate. Manually activating your irrigation system, on the other hand, just makes sense if you want to ensure your Florida yard doesn’t get too much or too little water.
In Florida, watering every week is sometimes too much. You may be surprised to learn that overwatering your lawn can make it less drought-tolerant and more susceptible to pests and disease.
But how do you determine when to turn on your system to be sure your yard stays healthy?
The simplest way to determine if your yard needs water is to look for these visual clues:
- Grass blades are folded in half on at least one-third of the site
- Grass blades are blue-gray
- Grass blades do not spring back; footprints remain visible on lawn for several minutes after walking on it
If you see signs your lawn is wilting and decide to irrigate, the University of Florida recommends an average of ½ to ¾ inches of water per application. Saturating the root zone and then letting the soil dry encourages healthy, deep root growth.
“A good time to train lawns to need less water is during the cooler months. Using less water will encourage deeper grass and plant roots, which makes them more drought-tolerant,” said Lou Kavouras, a deputy executive director at the District and member of the Florida-Friendly Irrigating Team.
Skipping a week of irrigation when your yard doesn’t need it will also help to conserve potable water supplies. Following this skip-a-week plan saves water that the public needs for other critical uses during the dry season and can help keep your grass roots healthy.
Additional research about efficient irrigation and other landscaping topics can be found at fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/ifaspubs.htm, which is part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension web site.