Expert tips on how to keep your lawn looking its best while cutting back on your water bill.
The first step in saving this limited resource is to follow the watering guidelines established for your area, advises Joseph Barnes, the Central Florida marketing manager for Austin Outdoor, which is part of the Professional Landcare Network. “In most counties here, you can only water twice per week. Check with your local water authority to see what days you can water and what time of day,” he suggests. Barnes notes that the best time to water is right before sunrise so that the water has time to soak in before the sun can burn it off. Avoid watering in the evening, which can encourage fungal growth, or in the bright light of day, since much of the water will evaporate.
And how much to water? “For St. Augustine grass, water twice a week, aiming for three-quarters to one inch of coverage,” Barnes says. A spray sprinkler should reach that level in 40 to 50 minutes of continuous spray; a drip hose will produce enough water in 15 to 20 minutes.
But before setting and forgetting your sprinklers, run through each of the zones to check their functionality. Barnes recommends conducting a zone review each season. “Revisit your irrigation plan and make sure your sensors are working properly and the settings still make sense.” Not only should you adjust your watering frequency—once a week in the winter and as often as watering restrictions allow in the summer—but you should also check to ensure there are no geysers or sprinklers watering the asphalt. Look for broken or off-kilter sprinkler heads and make replacements or adjustments as needed. Also, if any sprinkler sprays are being blocked by overgrown shrubs, you’ll need to either trim the shrubs or replace the sprinkler heads with taller ones. And check the water sensors to make sure your system won’t kick on when it’s raining.
For shrubs and plant beds, there are moisture meters that can give you an accurate gauge of how much water your plants are getting. Moisture meters “are tools that accurately measure the moisture in the soil at the root level—where it counts,” says Todd Recknagel, CEO of AM Conservation Group.
For spot and drip irrigation, rain barrels can provide a ready source of extra water, says Recknagel. Position them to capture rain that pours from your roof during storms and use it to water garden areas. “Water is one of our most precious resources; recycling and reusing is one of the best ways to conserve it,” he says.
Finally, help plants retain moisture through proper mulching, advises Mark Russell, director of horticulture at SeaWorld Parks and Resorts for SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove in Orlando. His recommendation? “Pine straw is an excellent mulch that conserves water, suppresses weeds, and doesn’t float away in a hard rain.”