My earlier comments about lack of water pressure problems for irrigation systems were premature. The reclaimed water system is experiencing pressure problems and this is affecting a lot of Marco Island properties supplied by the reclaimed water system. I thought I was not going to have to discuss those dreaded brown spots which would appear on our lawns every spring.
Inevitably as everyone needed to water their lawns, due to the dry weather, the water pressure would dip and sprinkler coverage problems would become wide spread around Marco Island. The City of Marco Island utilities has been working to resolve these pressure problems with the potable water system and it seems they have done a great job. This is the first April in years that we have not seen pressure low enough to cause damage to lawns.
However, neighborhoods using reclaimed water are drying up fast due to the pressure problems. I spoke with Marco Island Utilities last week and they felt the demand was exceeding the supply. The remedy was to add potable or drinking water into the mix to increase the supply. We were still having pressure problems last week through Mother’s Day so there may be another problem. The watering restrictions do not apply to the re-use water supply. Perhaps they should.
We need rain. The last six months have been the driest since 1932. This much needed water would help to refresh our drought stricken lawns and gardens. Irrigation systems alone will not be able to renew these stressed areas. It will take the rains of June to turn things around. These summer rains will activate the fertilizer applied this spring which will add strength to help lawns regenerate.
Here are some tips to help your lawn get through this difficult time.
With the temperatures getting hotter and the air becoming drier your grass will turn to a golden brown without the supplemental irrigation from your sprinkler system. Most brown spots indicate a lack of proper coverage by your irrigation system. Homes with newer systems did not have as severe a problem with lowered pressure as those with older systems as there may be more accumulated gunk and debris in older valves and other system parts. If you think pressure may be a problem call an irrigation company to clean your system to help prevent future problems.
The first thing you should do is run the sprinklers manually and visually check for proper coverage. During the day pressure is fine with the reclaimed water. But the lack of pressure was confirmed by a customer who is up at 2 and 4 a.m. The sprinklers were barely able to pop up, never mind spray water properly. You should also go further and clear any heads which are clogged and adjust any which are misaligned. Check for shrubs and trees which may be blocking the water and trim them as necessary.
The worst thing you can do is run your sprinklers for more days trying to green up the brown spots. First of all you are exacerbating the shortage of reclaimed water and second the spots are still not getting coverage and the rest of your lawn is getting too much water. This can also needlessly drain our water reserves and bringing us closer to salt water intrusion. Remember they add drinking water when demand exceeds supply.
Watering during the midday hours is another water waster. You will lose over half of the water to evaporation into the atmosphere due to heat and wind.
I recently changed timers to water during the afternoon hours looking for better pressure. I figure something is better than nothing.
So what else should you do?
Water the dry spots with a hose whenever you can find the time, preferably in the morning hours to help prevent disease problems. Remember the rules say you have to be at the end of that hose personally watering. These stressed areas are more susceptible to disease problems and insect infestation. For disease prevention apply a fungicide like Daconil to the spots and a foot or two beyond the edges.
As for insects, keep a close eye on your lawn for chinch bugs especially if it rains. I have seen chinch bugs for the last month. A very hot, dry period followed by frequent afternoon rain showers creates a climatic period that is perfect for the breeding of a generation of chinch bugs. They like to lay their eggs when it’s dry and then they hatch with the rains. Watch for the telltale yellowing at the edges of the brown, damaged areas in your lawn followed by the increase in size of your brown spots or new areas.
Part the blades to find the little black bugs with the white wings running in the soil or on the base of the grass blades. The newly hatched are tiny orange specks.
Another problem likely to arise with these dry spots is an inability of the soil to absorb water. The soil has been adversely affected from being dry for so long. The grains of sand in our sandy soil tend to accumulate oil around them. This prevents water from penetrating the soil and so it just runs off these areas rather than being absorbed and used by the grass roots.
Applying a surfactant to the dry spots will help them more readily absorb water and thus enable them to green up again. A good surfactant which most of us already have around the house is liquid dish detergent. Or you can buy a surfactant in the garden center. Mix one tablespoon of dish soap to one gallon of water and drench these dry spots.
And finally, the most important way to help your lawn survive drought is to prepare it by watering deep and less often all year. It is possible to water once a week year round once your lawn has been conditioned. Also cutting the grass at a higher depth will grow a deeper root system which will help the lawn to sail through with little or no damage when your sprinkler coverage is inadequate.
These brown spots from inadequate irrigation can become the breeding ground for problems which need chemicals to correct. And we all know where our chemicals and fertilizers end up. In the Gulf of Mexico.
Eileen Ward and her husband, Peter, own and operate Greensward of Marco Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company. Besides completing horticultural courses from the University of Florida, she has a commercial maintenance spray license and is a registered dealer in agricultural products in Florida.