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Saving Water Outdoors
By Jody Haynes, Florida Yards & Neighborhoods 
Program Extension Agent, Miami-Dade County

Indoor water use in an average Florida home ranges from 60 to 70 gallons/person/day. So in a typical household of three, this would amount to about 180-210 gallons/household/day. Conversely, an average irrigated lawn in Florida uses between 2000-2500 gallons of water per application. At just 60 applications per year (which is equivalent to watering only once every six days), this amounts to 325-400 gallons/ household /day. At 180 applications per year (which is equivalent to watering your lawn every other day), the amount of water used for irrigation jumps to 980-1230 gallons/day, which is 10 times the amount of water being used indoors!

One way that Miami-Dade County has tried to conserve water is to institute an ordinance that prohibits the use of water sprinklers between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. This permanent watering restriction prevents the use of irrigation systems during the hottest part of the day, thereby reducing the amount of water lost to evaporation during our hot south Florida days.

The University of Florida's Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program teaches water conservation as part of its comprehensive program involving 'Florida-friendly' landscaping principles. Below is a list* of twelve things that each of us can do to 'save water outdoors:'

1. Don't over-water your lawn. As a general rule, lawns only need watering every 5-7 days in the summer, and every 10-14 days in the winter. A heavy rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks. Buy a rain gauge and use it to determine how much rain your yard has received. Most of the year, lawns only need 1" of water per week.

2. Plant it smart. XeriscapeTM landscaping is a great way to design, install, and maintain your plants and your irrigation system. More importantly, it will save time, money, and water.

3. Water lawns during the early morning hours, when temperatures and wind speed are the lowest. This reduces losses from evaporation.

4. Don't allow sprinklers to water your street, driveway or sidewalk. Position them so water falls on the lawn and shrubs, not on paved areas.

5. Install irrigation devices that are the most water efficient for each use. Micro- and drip irrigation and soaker hoses are examples of water-efficient irrigation methods.

6. Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly. Florida law now requires that "anyone who purchases and installs an automatic lawn sprinkler system MUST install a rain sensor device or switch which will override the irrigation cycle of the system when adequate rainfall has occurred". To retrofit your existing system, contact an irrigation professional for more information.

7. Raise your lawn mower blade to at least three inches, or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture better than a closely-clipped lawn. 

8. Avoid over-fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases your lawn's need for water. The best fertilizers contain slow-release, water-insoluble forms of nitrogen.

9. Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil. Mulch also helps control weeds that compete with landscape plants for water.

10. Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees. Once established, they do not need water as frequently and usually will survive a dry period without any supplemental irrigation. They also require less fertilizer and pesticides. Also, group plants together based on similar water needs.

11. Do not hose down your driveway or sidewalk. Use a broom to clean leaves and other debris from these areas. 

12. Do not leave sprinklers or hoses unattended. A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons or more in only a few hours. Use a kitchen timer to remind yourself to turn sprinklers off.

For further information about the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program in Miami-Dade County, please contact Jody Haynes by phone at (305) 248-3311 x246, by e-mail at mmbecford@ifas.ufl.edu, or by regular mail at 18710 SW 288th St., Homestead, FL 33030.

* List modified from South Florida Water Management District website, http://www.sfwmd.gov/newsr/3_conserve.html
TM "Xeriscape" is a registered trademark of the Denver, Colorado, Water Department

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