Get the Rx for thirsty lawns this spring
Spring has arrived.
So has the driest, hottest time of the year.
The warm, arid conditions — coupled with the recent tightening of permissible irrigation to once a week — aren't doing any favors for homeowners who want their lawns green and flowers blooming.
So how to cope for those with an itch in their green thumbs?
“Once a week, with a good, deep watering, is more than enough,” said Mark Duquesnay, owner of Landmark Nursery in Tarpon Springs.
Duquesnay and other landscaping experts offer the following tips on how to work with the watering restrictions to keep grass and plants from wilting.
Plant early. Start in the cooler months — like now. That gives plants time to be established in the soil, Duquesnay said, and once that happens, once-a-week watering will be enough to get the flora through the summer months.
Use good plant mix. Duquesnay recommends using a mix with 60 percent peat. A good 2 to 3 inches of the mix helps retain moisture in the soil.
Irrigate at the right time. When it's your day to water, do so in the early morning hours instead of the evening. As temperatures climb during the day, water evaporates. If you irrigate at night, the water pools, which could give plants diseases.
“Don't put your plants to bed wet,” said Brian Grieves, owner of Keep It Green Nursery in Apollo Beach. “At dusk, those plants will sit in water and fungus could grow.”
Water for a longer period of time. It trains plant roots to go down deeper, which makes them heartier, said Patrick Rey, owner of Green Thumbs Nursery in Tampa.
Rey said a shallow dish is perfect for gauging how much water your lawn or flowers are getting.
“Put out a butter dish in your yard,” he said. “Let your sprinklers run until it's filled.”
That's about an inch of water, he said, which is more than enough.
Additives can help. Use a special liquid compound that helps lawns retain moisture. One of the most popular is called Hydrotain, Grieves said.
It's a liquid polymer you apply to lawns after they're watered. The compound seeps down, then stays in the root system for about a month, he said.
“It's like a little reservoir,” said Rey, who also recommends using the technique.
Install a drip irrigation system. Such systems use a series of hoses with strategically punched holes several inches apart. They work great in plant or flower beds, Grieves said.
“Put them underneath the mulch and it gives plants water directly,” he said.
Switch to Zoysia grass. It's soft on the feet. It's nearly weed- and insect-proof. It's beautiful when in full bloom and doesn't need as much water as St. Augustine or Bermuda grass, Grieves said.
Zoysia grass' one drawback is that it goes dormant in the winter and stays brown during colder months, he said.
Consider xeriscaping. Getting plants that need less water and are more drought-tolerant is a viable option, Rey said.
People often assume that a xeriscaped lawn doesn't need a lot of work, which isn't the case.
“There's still a learning curve,” Rey said. “It does take some maintenance. No one should go into it thinking you don't have work to do.”
The drought-tolerant flora still attracts weeds and bugs, he said, which means gardeners still have to apply fertilizer and pesticide.
And at first, a xeriscaped yard needs a fair amount of watering.
“You do have to water them regularly for that first year to get them established,” Duquesnay said.
Use rain barrels. That's extra water you can use any time, Rey said.
“It's what everybody should have,” he said. “I have three at my house. If I didn't, then when it rains, it just goes down the gutter and goes away.”
Rey said each of his rain barrels hold 55 gallons. But homeowners with a smaller budget can buy a few seven-gallon pots.
“Anything will work,” he said. “It ain't pretty, but it's useful.”
And if the rain barrels aren't filling up as fast as homeowners would like?
“You can just do rain dances,” Rey said with a laugh.
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