Figure: Increase water holding capacity through home composting.
Credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS Communications.

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 water conservation in mind.

Wasting water now may cause restrictions in the future, as basic water needs of a growing population outpace capacity. Of course, we all hope that’ll never happen, but it is possible.

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. Thus, there are broad choices of planting dates for many vegetables. For Panhandle gardeners, 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. This method wastefully projects water into areas between rows, outside of root zones and allows for much evaporation loss. Drip irrigation can help solve these issues, by concentrating water directly to the root system. 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 is an acceptable alternative. Remember, there’s a limit to how much water plants can use. Excess water can cause runoff and consistent heavily saturated soils may promote root rot. Mulching also ranks highly among water conservation practices, by allowing the soil to hold more moisture. Examples of mulch types include hay, straw, leaves or plastic.

Supporting information for this article can be found at the UF/IFAS gardening solutions website.

For planting information, please see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.

 

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