Friday, May 25, 2018
Home and Garden

To use less water, use less fertilizer

We're all waiting for the rainy season. It is depressing to walk across the yard and actually hear the crunching of grass.

There are ways to minimize the damage from drought. First, decrease or stop fertilization. Lush lawns look great, but heavily fertilized lawns use more water and are more susceptible to drought stress. Most lawn fertilizers call for multiple steps, including a second application about six weeks after the first one. In a drought, apply less fertilizer or save the fertilizer for fall. Once the rains begin, revert to your normal fertilizer routine to get your lawn back in shape.

Let your lawn grow a little taller then usual, to create deeper roots and provide the necessary soil shading. Try mulching your lawn clippings when you mow. Even if you don't have a mulching mower, you can leave the grass clippings on the lawn.

Water early in the morning for the most efficient water use. Start early enough so you are finished before 8 a.m. to comply with water restrictions. Depending on how many zones you have in your yard you may need to start at 3 or 4 a.m. Make sure your irrigation system works efficiently. Check it at least monthly.

Water where it will do the most good. Sprinklers are not efficient, as much of the water lands on the leaves and evaporates before reaching the ground. The better way to water is slowly and gently at the base of plants, where water can soak into the soil. Consider a drip or trickle system that places water at the base of the plants. Many inexpensive, easy-to-install systems are available.

Water plants that need it most. New trees, shrubs, and flowers with limited roots systems will likely suffer first from drought conditions. Give them priority if water is scarce. Well-established plants, especially those native to the area, are likely to withstand drought with limited damage.

Calculate the amount of water your yard uses and devise ways to cut down. Once it starts raining we seem to quickly forget about the dry period, but we should always think about ways to conserve. The most obvious is to use plants that are drought tolerant. These include ajuga, astilbe, buddleia, coreopsis, dianthus, echinacea, gaillardia, guara, helleborus, hermerocallis (daylilies), heuchera, hosta, lavender, nepeta (catmint), plox, rudbeckia (black eyed Susan), and creeping thyme. This is a short list but may get you thinking about drought tolerant plants.

If you have plants in your yard now that are truly suffering, that's a good indication they are not drought tolerant; do not add more of the same kind to your landscape. If you have not already mulched your plants, start. Mulch helps limit the amount of water that evaporates from the soil. Organic mulches like grass clippings, leaves or wood chips are preferable because they add organic matter to the soil.

Xeriscaping uses less water and chemicals. Low water-use plants and taller grasses reduce the need to mow, weed and water. They also reduce your spending on fertilizer, water and other maintenance costs, making them more economical.

Florida-friendly landscapes are more resistant to pests, disease and drought than other yards, resulting in healthier landscapes with a better chance of surviving a harsh climate. And if you replace some turf, plants and shrubs with decks and walkways, you free up more space for entertainment and relaxation and cut down on water requirements.

Perhaps one of the few silver linings in the drought is the lack of mosquitoes, which take water to breed. It is still good to be aware that they can be terrible. Use mosquito repellents when you work outside.

Focus on mosquito control by removing breeding habitats. That means common-sense sanitation, plus yard care to eliminate areas where water would puddle. A small amount of standing water, just an inch in an unused flower pot, is sufficient for mosquitoes. Sprinklers can provide enough water in an overturned trash can lid or other such container to give the pests a head start. Uncovered rain barrels are a perfect place for mosquitoes. I cover mine with screen.