An efficiently irrigated lawn in Gainesville, Florida

Save Money (and Water) with a Sprinkler-Free Lawn Irrigation System

Spring is in the air, and those daffodils have been telling you it’s time to think about your lawn. With April upon us, we think it’s a great time to think about water conservation too. Not only is April Lawn Irrigation Month; here in Alachua County, it’s also Water Conservation Month.

Many Florida homeowners and property managers believe that irrigating a lawn is as simple as setting up an automatic sprinkler system and forgetting about it. That may have been sufficient in the past, when water was more abundant and costs lower. But with yards accounting for 60% of all residential water use, lawn irrigation is the best place to start conserving water and reducing utility bills.

The good news is you don’t have to upgrade your lawn irrigation system to save on water (though we’ll make a case for why you might want to invest in a sprinkler-free lawn irrigation system). Read on for tips on proper lawn irrigation, water conservation, and alternatives to automatic sprinkler systems you may not have thought of.

Traditional Automatic Sprinkler System v. Other Irrigation Systems

There are a few types of irrigation systems to choose from when irrigating your lawn. The most common and least expensive is the sprinkler system. This system consists of a network of plastic or metal pipes that are laid out in your yard. When the water is turned on, it flows through the pipes and sprays out of the sprinkler heads. Sprinkler systems are the least costly to install but the least efficient due to water lost to evaporation.

Another type of irrigation system is the drip system. This sprinkler-free irrigation system delivers water directly to the roots of the plants through small tubes or hoses. A drip system is more expensive than a sprinkler system, but it uses less water and is more efficient.

Soaker hoses are another efficient type of irrigation system, arguably the most efficient of all from a water conservation standpoint. A soaker hose is a long, thin hose that you lay on the ground. The water seeps out of small holes in the hose and wets the ground. This is a slow, steady way to water your lawn.

You can attach a soaker hose to a garden hose. Turn on the water and let it run for a few minutes to get the hose wet. Then turn off the water and leave the hose on the ground. The water will slowly seep out of the hose and water your lawn.

Going Sprinkler-Free

For homeowners who travel a lot, especially during the summer months, a properly programmed sprinkler system can be worth it. However, if you really want to save on water consider shifting to a sprinkler-free landscape.

As the name suggests, a sprinkler-free landscape is an area of land that does not rely on a traditional sprinkler system. Instead, the landscape thrives with rainfall alone, or with supplemental watering on an as-needed basis.

A sprinkler-free landscape can combine alternatives to automatic sprinklers systems with the intentional cultivation of drought-resistant plant varieties to maximize savings and foster biodiversity in your yard. We’re going to focus on the irrigation part. (Check out this article for more info on choosing drought-tolerant plants for your Florida landscape.)

Water Savings

Sprinkler-free homes use 50-60% less water than homes that use automatic sprinkler systems. That’s a savings of 140-160 gallons a day, or 2.5 bathtubs full of water.

As full-service Florida property managers, KnR is always looking for ways to save our owner clients money. One way we do that is by scaling up the water savings of going sprinkler-free. Scaling up our example to a 250-lot subdivision, the potential water savings add up to 37,500 gallons of water a day. Remember, that’s water that stays in the aquifers, where it feeds our springs and the beloved underwater ecosystems they support.

Financial Savings

According to a UF/IFAS study, developers who opted for sprinkler-free landscapes saw savings of $4,000 per lot. For a 250-lot subdivision, the financial savings from going sprinkler-free would equal $1 million.

According to the same study, sprinkler-free homes retained their property values and provided enjoyable outdoor spaces for homeowners. These property owners spent two-thirds less each year on landscape maintenance costs, used less synthetic fertilizers and chemicals (which make their way into the aquifers), and had to mow less. (If you’ve ever mowed a Florida lawn in the full heat of summer, you know just how taxing that can be.)

Sprinkler-Free Landscapes in Florida, by the numbers

Why Is Water Conservation So Important?

According to Florida 2070, the population in Florida is expected to grow by 15 million people by the year 2070. This increases the importance of water conservation and efficient irrigation practices, because more homes means more of the water supply going towards irrigating yards and gardens.

Irrigating your lawn and water conservation go hand in hand. Every drop of water saved is money in your pocket. But more than that, water saved is water available for the aquifers that support the springs, on which our thriving inland tourism industry and wildlife depend.

Only watering your grass when it needs it not only reduces your chances of oversaturation, it also contributes positively to water conservation. Using a more drought-resistant grass variety, like Bermudagrass, is another way to do your part.

Collecting rainwater is yet another way to conserve water, though it may not be safe to water vegetables with. You can learn more about using reclaimed water to irrigate your lawn here.

4 More Ways to Save on Water Costs

Switching to a drip irrigation system or another sprinkler alternative is just one way to save water. There are other things you can do that require zero dollar investment, and only require a little more monitoring and planning.

1. Water on an as-needed basis.

Given the abundance of rainfall our region receives (50 or more inches of annual rainfall, more than Seattle gets!), you only need to turn on your irrigation system when you see signs of drought. These are the signs to look for:

  • Leaf blades folding in on themselves
  • Green grass varieties take on a blue-gray tint
  • Footprints or tire tracks remain imprinted on the grass long after they are made

The amount of water used and length of time spent watering depends on the type of grass you have and the area you live in, so don’t forget to do your research before creating an irrigation plan. The University of Florida’s IFAS extension has a great collection of resources available for free on the web, including this scientific article on Watering Your Florida Lawn for the wonks out there.

2. Adjust your irrigation system for the season and other factors

Many people leave their irrigation timer set to the same schedule without changing it seasonally. It’s important to be aware that the water needs of grass varies throughout the year, and not adjusting the time can result in wasted water and poor plant health.

According to UF researchers, the amount of water applied each time you water your lawn should be consistent year-round; it’s the frequency with which you irrigate that needs to be adjusted. During the summer, be prepared to water every 1 to 5 days during periods of no rail fall. In the winter, you can go from one week to three weeks between rain events.

If you choose to grow grass in the shade of bushes or hedges, you should reduce irrigation to this part of your lawn. Growing grass in the shade presents lots of challenges, so you’re better off choosing a different groundcover plant altogether for those areas.

3. Water deeply but infrequently.

It’s better to water for a longer period of time at a lower rate than to water for a short period of time at a high rate. The landscape gets the water it needs, grows deep roots, and doesn’t cause runoff. (Runoff that contains chemical fertilizer is generally bad for the environment.)

Most Florida lawns only need 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water, so it’s best to water deeply but less often.

This table, from the UF guide we mentioned, gives the number of days that St. Augustine grass with 6″ roots can go between watering or rain showers here in Gainesville, FL.

SeasonDays
Winter7-23
Spring3-9
Summer1-5
Fall2-8
Table of days a North Central Florida lawn can go between rain events or watering

Bermuda grass, the most popular variety, if not the most lush, requires even less water.

The authors of the study note that “these frequencies will vary depending upon soil conditions, shade cover, fertilization, and other factors”.

4. Water in the morning or evening.

The best time to water your lawn is in the morning or in the evening, when the sun isn’t as strong and the air is cooler. This will help reduce evaporation and save water. Avoid watering your lawn during the hottest part of the day. Watering during the day wastes water due to excessive evaporation.

Further Reading and Final Thoughts

We highly recommend checking out the Univeristy of Florida/IFAS‘s guide to watering your Florida lawn, which we drew upon heavily for this blog article.

We hope you’ve learned something new about Florida lawn care. Irrigating your Florida lawn properly is key to having a healthy and beautiful yard. Don’t have the time to do it yourself or have more units than you can manage effectively? Get in touch with KnR Property Management to learn more about our cost-saving approach to lawn irrigation in Alachua County.

Photo credit at top: Daniel Helpiansky on Unsplash

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