Using and Wasting
There is a lot of talk about saving water these days. And while this is important, it is also important to realize that landscape irrigation utilizes a minuscule amount of the total water withdrawn from Florida aquifers each year. So, if you water your garden with a well, I can make the case that your effect on water availability isn’t even measurable.
In either case, though, wasting the gifts of mother nature isn’t nice. And while we want to be responsible stewards of her resources, we want to be very clear that using water is not the same thing as wasting water.
Not very long ago, irrigation systems with huge amounts of overspray would cause rivers of water on adjacent asphalt. It is probably a good thing that asphalt doesn’t grow.
Image: Use Acalypha hispida | Chenille and other tropicals without 'water guilt' by careful water application.
And, not so long ago, irrigation systems were seen running in the rain or shooting jets of water straight up for days at a time. Yes, you can still see this around, but compared to ten years ago we have come very far. The black eye remains, though.
Some ask why we don’t simply use the water provided by Mother Nature; she doesn’t need water pipes all over the place. But she provides most of the water in
Of course there are times when you want to recreate a native planting, and you can tolerate a diminished appearance in the winter. The question of just how diminished you can accept is your own flinch point.
Changes You Can Make
The goal of irrigation is to supply what’s needed and not a single drop more. Here are eight simple things you can do:
- Get a rain sensor: which shuts off the water when it rains. These devices are very reliable.
- Modern controllers apportion water by horticultural and seasonal need.
- Plant full beds: plants spaced to completely shade the ground will help control soil moisture. It also looks better.
- Use modern spray heads. Heads at the big boxes simply are not of sufficient quality: try the Hunter Pro Spray or the Rain Bird 1800 Series. Never mix head types on the same zone.
- Limit sod: Lawns have a rightful place in garden design but to be fair they do require more water than shrubs. The answer? Use less lawn. One rule of thumb: don’t use more turf than you could cut with a hand mower. Replace your turf with massed shrubs..
- Be Aware of Micro-climates: Every site possesses small pockets where the prevailing conditions are different. Perhaps one part of the site is more exposed to drying winds, for instance. These conditions affect water requirements.
- Know your plants: Regular readers have heard this mantra many times. Google is your friend. No excuses.
- Don’t fall prey to the ’natives hoax’: According to the University of Florida, native plants have no inherent water or fertilizer benefits. Do not be fooled.
- Group your plants: Create separate zones for turf, because it requires more water than shrubs. Do not mix hydric and xeric plants on the same irrigation zone. Don’t mix, for example, Boston Fern and Euphorbia, because the results will break your heart.
What about drip irrigation, you ask? For a variety of reasons I don’t recommend it in residential settings, and I'll talk about it in more detail in a future column.