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Conserving water in the home garden, a fluid situation

By Ray Bodrey
Gulf County Extension Director  UF/IFAS  Special to The Star

Water is a precious resource for Floridians, even if the last couple of months of rainfall may make you think otherwise. As home gardeners, we should keep in mind to conserve water and be careful not to waste.  

It is a reality, that wasting water now may cause restrictions in the future, as basic water needs of the community and state grow with increases in population. Of course, we all hope that’ll never happen, but it is possible.   

Home composting

As we start planning for our fall vegetable garden, let’s think about conserving water usage. We can start by putting our “plant biology” cap on. A great way to save water is to plant fast growing, early-maturing vegetables. The strategy, of course, is the sooner a plant matures the less water it will need. 

Gardening periods in Florida vary, too. So, there are a broad choice of planting dates for many vegetables. For us in the Panhandle, the current trend has shown dry periods in the spring, but adequate rainfall in summer months. Usually with the seasonal change to fall, soil moisture holding capacity is not a great struggle in Panhandle. However, much of our soils consist of coarse sandy particles, which are not ideal for water holding capacity. Amending garden soils with organic materials such as compost, manures, and cover crops, will help the soil hold water better. 

Selecting the right irrigation method is also a great way to conserve water. Overhead sprinkling is not ideal for most gardening applications, in this sense. This method generally will wastefully project water into areas between rows, outside of root zones and much of the water will be lost to evaporation. Drip irrigation can help solve these issues, by concentrating water directly to the root system, with little evaporation potential. IFAS research has estimated an 80% reduction in water usage when utilizing a drip system. 

If drip irrigation isn’t a method you’re interested in, overhead watering the garden thoroughly twice weekly would be beneficial. Remember, there’s a limit to how much water plants can use. Excess water can cause runoff and consistent heavily saturated soils can cause root rot. Finally, mulch can be a great management practice in conserving water, by holding soil moisture. Examples of mulch include hay, straw, leaves or plastic.   

Supporting information for this article can be found at the UF/IFAS gardening solutions website: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/watering-the-vegetable-garden.html 

For planting information, please see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf 

For more information, contact Gulf County Extension at 639-3200 or email at rbodrey@ufl.edu.

*Due to COVID-19, our physical office location is closed to public traffic at this time. However, please call or email us for assistance with extension related needs. Sorry for the inconvenience.  

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.