January 22, 2018

Recent cold weather has taken a toll on Florida plant life and may have damaged area sprinkler systems too. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) has a few simple steps that residents can use to help their plants, lawns and irrigation systems recover from freezing temperatures.

Wait to Water and Prune

The need for watering decreases dramatically with cooler temperatures. Overwatering in the winter can encourage pests and disease in your lawn. According to research by the University of Florida, grass doesn’t need to be watered as often during the cooler months. In fact, one-half to three-quarters of an inch of water every 10-14 days is sufficient.

Residents should wait a month or more before pruning or replacing damaged plants, including lawns, until the threat of freezing temperatures passes. And fertilizing should wait until the growing season.

Check Your Irrigation System

Irrigation systems may have freeze damage that will appear as leaking pipes or fittings. Pipes could have split during the recent cold weather. Check for broken or split pipes and fittings and repair or replace as necessary. The water pressure will appear lower in a zone with leaking pipes and fittings. Here’s how to check your system:

  • On your irrigation day, manually start your irrigation system for each zone to check for leaks, broken pipes, damaged or tilted sprinkler heads, blocked sprinkler patterns and overspray onto impermeable surfaces such as roads and sidewalks.
  • Check for soft, wet spots that are around the inground sprinkler head. If consistent, these spots could indicate a leak that is being absorbed into the ground. Contact your irrigation maintenance specialist if repairs are needed.
  • Look for dry spots. They are a sign of one of the following: the sprinklers may be placed too far apart; the water pressure is low; sprinkler patterns may be blocked by overgrown grass; shrubs or low-hanging limbs may be blocking the sprinklers; or the screens inside the sprinklers are clogged. The sprinklers may need to be adjusted, moved or additional heads added. Check with a qualified irrigation contractor if needed.

Inspect Your Rain Shutoff Device

If you have an automatic sprinkler system, be sure it is equipped with a working rain shutoff device to override the system when enough rain has fallen. As water evaporates from the device, the irrigation system will resume normal operation. Rain shutoff devices, also known as rain sensors, are required by Florida law on all automatic irrigation systems.

  • Make sure the rain shutoff device is located away from overhead obstructions, with a clear view of the sky and at least five feet away from air-conditioning units or pool heaters.
  • Check the rain shutoff device regularly to ensure the device is working properly and that the corresponding switch in the control box is set at on. Test the device by wetting the sensor to verify the system won’t operate when the controller has received the set amount of water.
  • Adjust the sensor to interrupt irrigation after one-half to three-quarters of an inch of rain. If there is a vent ring located just below the cap, the vent can be closed or partially closed to restrict air flow through the discs. Make sure the vent is closed so it will allow the disks to dry more slowly, thus keeping the system off for a longer period. This adjustment is used to compensate for an overly sunny location.
  • If you need to add or replace a rain shutoff device, you can purchase one at home improvement stores for between $17 and $60.

To learn more about Florida-Friendly Landscaping, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Yards.

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