GAINESVILLE – As drought conditions continue, some Florida yards and gardens may start to look less than lush.
“Certain ornamental plants such as roses, azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas and many annuals are more vulnerable to drought conditions,” said Denise DeBusk, environmental horticulture agent in Alachua County with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension. Lawns with St. Augustine grass, the most common turf grass in Florida, are the most susceptible to water stress, she said.
Summer vegetable gardens may also feel the heat, DeBusk said.
“Periods of hot and dry weather can increase blossom-end rot in tomatoes and squash, which occurs when there isn’t enough water to bring calcium to the fruit,” DeBusk explained. “In general, lack of water will cause fruit and flowers to fall off the plant, reducing yields.”
However, homeowners and gardeners can take several steps to lessen the effects of drought on their landscapes.
- Know the signs of water stress.
“During dry conditions, leaves of grass will fold up lengthwise and turn gray-blue,” DeBusk said. “The leaves of herbaceous plants will droop, taking on a characteristic thirsty appearance. In woody ornamentals, the leaves will turn black at the tips.”
- Irrigate with an eye toward conservation.
“If a plant is showing signs of water stress, water it deeply every few days, or more if needed, though be sure to follow your local community’s water usage guidelines and irrigation restrictions,” said DeBusk.
To save on irrigation costs, consider installing a rain barrel to collect water for later use. A rain barrel also makes it easier to hand water plants and target their roots during dry periods, she added.
- Water at the right time of day.
Many communities only allow homeowners to irrigate during morning or evening. However, “it is also unwise to water in the evening because it increases thechance of fungal problems on plants,” she said.
The best time to water is in the early morning, usually between 4 and 6 a.m., DeBusk said. “This allows the water to get to the roots before it is evaporated by the sun,” she explained.
- Reduce stressors.
“If you can shade the plant or move it to the shade, that will help reduce water stress,” DeBusk said. Mulch can also help keep moisture in the soil. To conserve water, mulch should be two to three inches deep.
Homeowners should also skip fertilizing or pruning live branches during drought conditions, DeBusk said.
For more information on conserving water in your home landscape or using drought-tolerant plants, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.