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Ask a Master Gardener: Best Landscape Watering Practices for the Gulf Coast


Calibrating your irrigation system is an important step. Photo by ACES


By: Jack LeCroy, Regional Extension Agent | www.MobileCountyMasterGardeners.org

 

Watering your landscape in south Alabama requires a strategic approach to ensure the health of your plants while still conserving water. Given the region's hot and humid climate, effective watering practices are essential to prevent water waste and promote lush, vibrant landscapes. Here are some key practices to help you achieve the best results.

 

1.       Monitor Your Irrigation System

 

If you are running your irrigation system at 4:00 AM while you are asleep, you cannot see problems, or if water is reaching all the plants that it should. Running your irrigation system while you are at home and can see it operating is crucial. This practice allows you to immediately identify issues such as broken sprinkler heads, leaks, or areas receiving too much or too little water. Visual inspections can prevent water waste and ensure even distribution across your lawn and garden. Make it a habit to check your system regularly, particularly at the start of the watering season and after any significant lawn maintenance or adjustments.

 

2.        Incorporate Drip Irrigation

 

Drip irrigation is a highly efficient way to water your plants, particularly in landscape beds and potted plants. This method delivers water directly to the soil at the root level, reducing evaporation and runoff. It is especially beneficial in Mobile County, where high temperatures can quickly dry out the soil surface. Drip systems are ideal for flower beds, shrubs, and individual plants, including those in containers.

 

Many irrigation products and brands exist that you could incorporate into your landscape. These systems are highly personalized so you can usually find a brand that can be put together to fit your garden. Research is key when determining the emitters that you will use to ensure that the plants will be receiving adequate water during the growing season. These systems can readily be hooked up to a hose bib, and a timer can even be added so it turns on automatically.

 

3.       Calibrate Your Irrigation System

 

Calibrating your irrigation system ensures your lawn receives the correct amount of water. Too much water can lead to shallow root growth and increased susceptibility to disease, while too little can stress the plants. To calibrate, place several empty cans (such as tuna or cat food cans) around your lawn. Run each irrigation zone for 15 minutes and measure the water depth in each can. Use these measurements to calculate how long you will need to run your system to apply the recommended one inch of water per week. Adjust your irrigation schedule accordingly. Irrigation systems need to be calibrated at least once a year to identify any potential problems.

 

4.       Water Early in the Morning

 

Watering early in the morning, ideally between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., allows foliage to dry off during the day. This practice helps prevent the spread of fungal and bacterial pathogens, which thrive in moist environments. Watering in the cooler morning hours also reduces evaporation, ensuring more water reaches the roots where it is needed.

 

5.       Watch the Weather

 

Keeping an eye on the weather is essential for efficient watering. If rainfall is in the forecast, adjust your irrigation schedule to avoid overwatering. Usually, this time of year we can turn our irrigation systems off to prevent overwatering and turn it on when we go a week or two weeks without rain. Investing in a rain sensor or smart irrigation controller can automate this process, automatically adjusting your watering schedule based on real-time weather conditions.

 

General Watering Tips

 

1. Soil Type: Consider your soil type when planning your watering schedule. Sandy soils drain quickly and may require more frequent watering, while clay soils retain moisture longer and may need less frequent watering.

2. Mulching: Applying mulch around your plants helps retain soil moisture, reduce temperature fluctuations, and prevent weed growth. Mulching around plants also helps reduce damage from lawn mowers or other lawn equipment.

3. Lawn Health: A healthy lawn can better withstand drought and disease. Make sure to know what type of grass you have to ensure that you are following best practices for that type. Centipede grass has different requirements than St. Augustine grass.

 

By following these best practices, you can ensure your lawn and garden remain healthy and vibrant year-round. Proper irrigation management not only conserves water but also promotes stronger, more resilient plants, contributing to a beautiful and sustainable landscape.


Using drip irrigation in your landscape can save time and money, Photo by ACES




Knowing your grass type is an important part of lawn maintenance, Photo by ACES



A hardy hibiscus thriving in a landscape bed, photo by Jack LeCroy


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