Water Woes- The War for More Water

drip irrigation lines

soaker hose

Centuries ago, and up to the present time, water has been a valuable commodity. Wars have been waged over it, states have suffered from the lack of it, and politics can revolve around it, almost anywhere in the country. Some foreign countries have "died" from the lack of it. We hear so much about water saving appliances, conserving water in the environment, rainbarrel workshops for gardeners, and a new push for water-thrifty plantings. Every step we can take to save water helps in the war against water hogs. These are large ideals. On a more personal, smaller scale, can residential-scale tactics really help in the larger picture?

These publicly promoted steps sound wonderfully effective, and to some extent they are, but in the real world, water is akin to electricity and oil as a precious commodity. We can conserve water or electricity in our homes, but does it really make a difference in the national or global scale of consumption ? The debates could go on endlessly, whether we talk about oil, electricity or water conservation. .

Rather than write an expose about the truly giant consumers of water or fossil fuels, let's look at what we can do to make our individual gardens look better. For a few minutes, let's set aside the global good, and look at our "home garden good". One at a time, we can make our gardens look better, and by default, we'll save resources as a group. In a battle of any sort, sometimes the most effective tactics are waged on a one-by-one scale, and the common goal is thereby achieved. For an experiment, let's be the Garden Resistance, rather than the Allied Army.

First and foremost, let's stop watering our lawns every day. If we did just that one simple step, we'd save billions of gallons water in Florida every year. That's a serious  amount of  water by any accounting. The Water Management Districts of Florida and other states have made a plea for decades to conserve water. Yet we have as much a love affair with water as we do for big cars, golf courses, and extravagant electrical usage. Perhaps we should look at our needs carefully. We should stop watering lawns every day, look closely at our fertilizer usage, and take another, longer look at water conservation in our landscapes. The sage advice of the "right plant in the right plant" transcends the idea of exotic or native plants, and rises to the idea of intelligent plant design.

Let's look again at easy-to-use drip irrigation for really tangible water savings, for slow-release or organic fertilizers for pollution reduction ( and slower growing, more solid plants) and for grouping plants together for water savings, as well as making a better garden design. I used to fear drip irrigation, thinking it was fussy, hard to assemble, and hard to install. The truth is exactly the opposite ! The newer consumer-grade kits at big box retail stores are simplicity itself. Even a "soaker" hose strung along the base of trunks in a hedge is a better idea than spraying water all over the foliage. There are some facts that most residential and even some commercial gardeners don't often realize. Here are a few:

1.  VERY few plants absorb water through their leaves. To that point, it seems sort of wasteful to spray water all over the place, and have it hit the ground after it splashes water over every surface of a plant.

2.  Unless the plants really need water every day ( e.g. ferns growing on  rocks, or rainforest plants), most landscapes can grow well with a heavy watering every few days or less often.

3.  Most turf grasses have deep roots, and if the grass is allowed to grow a bit ( excluding golf or sports field turf), then watering a few minutes every day makes for very shallow roots, whereas deep watering encourages deep roots.

4.  Very frequent fertilizing with a lot of nitrogen ( a nitrogen number over 15) will make very lush and very green plants and grass, but possibly at the expense of solid root development.

5.  Residential landscaping gets the brunt of water restrictions because there are so many homes ( millions) who use water so poorly, even when they pay for municipal water. We have such a demand for perfect landscapes at any cost ( possibly to foster real estate sales) that we are rapidly consuming a limited water supply to make green grass to keep up our home appearance.

6.  here is one of the most sobering thoughts for the people who live within 5 miles of the coastline of southern Florida, on either coast:  if we keep sucking fresh water out of the porous aquifer rock, the closest sources of water to replace it are the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.

There are numerous flaws in our efforts to conserve water and on many, many levels. If Floridians want to see their 20- or 30-year future, look at Arizona or California or Colorado in the present day. In some areas of California, you have to buy a truck full of water for your landscape. Imagine buying a truck full of water for your lush landscape in Miami ?

battery-operated valve timer
( courtesy of Rainbird )

battery operated hose controller

battery operated hose controller

I would agree that in some cases, overhead watering is more practical than drip or soil-surface irrigation. Here at Pinecrest Gardens, we use a combination of overhead watering plus drip irrigation. Both for convenience and for water saving, we have tried to keep water on the planting areas and off the walkways. Drip irrigation lines can run anytime during a day, even with people nearby. In a dense forest environment with complicated topography, the old-fashioned impact heads are still worth using, but with careful attention to using them in the early morning hours to minimize evaporation.

In many programmed communities, watering is controlled by a governing board or committee. This style of water management is sometimes wasteful or ignorant of the realities of water waste, but progress is happening.We can make a difference if we work towards a common goal, but as always politics infuses such decisions. We can side-step politics in our own homes, one by one, community by community, by looking anew at our home water needs, and using a little common sense. To borrow and modify an old expression from the Air Force:  "building better communities, one household at a time".        


  1. We need to all do our part to conserve water. Engaging yourselves in an environmental awareness activity is really an act that should be shared with others. It is a good deed indeed for many of us inhabitants of the planet earth. I hope lots of people will mirror this act and also share it to youngsters.

  2. I agree ! Water is the most valuable commodity of all, and we all need far better education of its role in our lives. Thanks for the comment !

    Craig Morell
    Pinecrest Gardens