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Lifestyle Stories

3 tips for making your plants grow in wacky weather

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 04:29 AM

Historically, August and September are the two wettest months of the year in the Tampa Bay area, with an average of 7.6 and 6.5 inches of rain, respectively - or 1.6 inches a week.

That's more than enough to meet the needs of our most drought-susceptible turf and landscape plants. Unfortunately, those rain clouds move around - some weeks your landscape may receive 2 or 3 inches of rain and other weeks none.

Here are a few ways to make the most of whatever nature gives you:

1. Buy a rain gauge.

They're inexpensive and available at almost any garden center or hardware store.

2. Know how much water your plants need.

In Central Florida, woody shrubs need only about a gallon of water every four days for the first six months after planting, according to a recent study by Amy Shober and Kimberly Moore of the University of Florida. After that, they need only supplemental water when there's extreme drought.

3. Know when to water.

The best time to run automatic irrigation systems is 4 to 7 a.m. That helps reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation, and minimize disease caused by water sitting on plants overnight. But it's a good idea to have the system running after daylight so you can make sure all the sprinkler heads are working properly. Heads can get clogged or loosen over time and blow off, which can waste a lot of water and cause washouts.

It costs more than $10 to apply an inch of water to a typical residential landscape. Save that money, if you can, and save that water for the days when you really need it.

Don't water if:
• You've received three-quarters of an inch of rain or more within 24 hours of your designated watering day
• The chance for rain is 40 percent or more on your watering day and the few days following, and your lawn and plants look fine

Do water (on your day) if:
• Some areas of your lawn have a blue-gray tinge
• Your leaf blades are folding in on themselves
• Some of your bedding plants are wilting

If your lawn is showing any of the above signs of drought stress, consider spot watering instead of running your whole irrigation system.


Craig Chandler is a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in southern Hillsborough County.

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