be ready for rain when it does fall
Rain barrels are great as long as there's rain. Get ready for summer rains by installing one or more rain barrels to reduce stormwater runoff and save water for dry periods. Connected to gutter downspouts, each barrel can easily collect up to 55 gallons of water during a ½-inch rain. You'll find ready-to-go rain barrels from garden suppliers for about $100, or you can DIY with an inexpensive 50-gallon food-grade drum. Go to the Southwest Florida Water Management District's Web site at www.swfwmd.org for detailed instructions and a how-to video. Or go all out with a 1,000-plus gallon rain tank connected to every downspout from your roof. Tanks start at $3 per gallon, with gutters and irrigation at an additional cost. Contact Rainwater Services in St. Petersburg at (727) 388-2655 or go to www.rainwaterservices.com.
if you go: Rain barrel workshops
Learn how to make a rain barrel and get other water conservation tips at bay area workshops. Upcoming classes include:
• Rain Harvesting: 10-11:30 a.m. March 28, Pinellas County Extension Service, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Free workshop, $30 per barrel. Registration required. (727) 582-2100.
• Rain Barrel Workshop: 10-11:30 a.m. March 28, Brooker Creek Preserve, 3940 Keystone Road, Tarpon Springs. Free workshop, $30 per rain barrel. Registration required. (727) 453-6800.
Go with the low flow to cut use
You can cut outdoor water use in half by modifying your traditional irrigation with a low-volume irrigation system. Hire a professional for the job or, if you're handy, find do-it-yourself kits at hardware stores and online sources. Look for drippers, bubblers and rotating and stationary micro-sprayers that use only 10 gallons of water per hour, with little if any evaporation. Compare that to a regular sprinkler system that sprays 100 gallons of water per hour.
Keep turfgrass in tip-top shape
Low volume is ideal for garden beds and containers — but not turfgrass. Help the soil retain more moisture by adding a polymer-based soil additive that suspends solids in water. Used by the agriculture, construction and horticulture industries to conserve water and reduce erosion and runoff, additives can reduce water needs by half according to the manufacturer of Soil Moist.
A 1-pound jar of Soil Moist crystals costs about $12 and should be worked into the soil. It softens and swells when water is added and absorbed, then releases water when soil is dry. The company claims its product stores more than 200 times its weight in tap water and lasts for up to five years for all indoor and outdoor plantings. Go to www.soilmoist.com.
Don't create mosquito breeding ground
Tampa Bay water restrictions limit the running of water fountains to just four hours per day. That means pooled water will sit stagnant for most of the day, providing the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. To prevent larvae from forming, add a product that contains bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti), a bacterial toxin that kills mosquito larvae but is safe for birds and pets. Granular and doughnut-shaped pieces are available at garden centers and online suppliers, including Mosquito Dunks, Quick Kill and Aquabac.
Yvonne Swanson, Times correspondent