Homeowners in coastal areas of Florida are becoming accustomed to restrictions that limit irrigation to certain days and times. Still, most of us are watering too much. Overwatering depletes our water supply, often makes plants pest prone, and add to storm-water runoff which pollutes our lagoon. A sure way to reduce the need for watering is to choose drought-resistant plants, especially those native to your part of Florida, and plant them in the right spots. If you group plants according to their water (and light) needs, your irrigation methods and systems can be simplified. For example, turf irrigation zones should be separate from tree-and-shrub zones.

By choosing and operating a watering system correctly, you can reduce water bills, fungal diseases and maintenance requirements. Remember, the more you water the faster your lawn grows and the more it needs to be mowed.

Here are some tips on irrigation that may help protect your plants, your pocketbook and our precious natural resources:

If you have an automatic sprinkler system, install a rain shut-off device or sensor that will override the system when adequate rainfall has occurred. Your water management districts, Cooperative Extension Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service or an irrigation professional can provide technical assistance.
For best results, water in the early morning (4-7 a.m.). This is the most efficient time because temperature and wind speeds are at their lowest and evaporation is reduced. Also, grasses will be less susceptible to fungus if water is applied at the time dew normally forms.

Here's a simple watering schedule for grass:

Apply 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch of water when the grass shows signs of distress (bluish-gray color, folded leaf blades). Don't apply more water until symptoms reappear.
Experiment with gradual reductions in irrigation to see if plants can tolerate less water. Some people use no irrigation, yet have healthy plants. Water less in cooler months (November-March), and turn off automatic systems in the summer if rainfall is consistent.
For more information go to:
A Guide to Environmentally Friendly Landscaping: Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Handbook
Allen Garner, John Stevely, Heidi Smith, Mary Hoppe, Tracy Floyd and Paul Hinchcliff. Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Agriculture Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: May 2001