GAINESVILLE — April is Water Conservation Month. A typically dry month in Florida, April is also when consumer water-use is highest in the state.
Science tells us that residents often use more water than needed in home landscapes, though using Florida native plants and following Florida-Friendly Landscaping TM principles can help. In a recent experiment led by UF/IFAS Extension Broward County, nine homeowners learned how they could potentially save as much as 1.7 million gallons of water annually just by adjusting their plant selections along with how often and how much water they used in and around their homes.
“This is based on planting behavior changes reported by the participants and our water ambassadors,” said Lorna Bravo, director for UF/IFAS Extension Broward and an urban horticulture agent. “This is enough water to supply nearly 20 households with water per year that results in an annual value of $5,541 in water bill savings for participating households.”
Bravo led the experiment with a handful of UF/IFAS Extension Broward Master Gardener volunteers who serve as water ambassadors. “These savings can be duplicated in other counties by contacting your local UF/IFAS county Extension office,” explained Bravo.
Bravo answers common questions about conserving water in Florida.
Q: Why is water conservation in Florida so important?
A: Meeting future water demands in Florida can only be met in two ways: by increasing our water supply or decreasing its use. That’s according to the South Florida Water Management District. As Florida’s population growth increases so do water demands. The Florida residential landscape will play a vital role in our future water demands and how we ultimately manage our water resources.
Q: How will landscapes play a vital role in future water demands?
A: Our urban yards and landscapes are the first line of defense in preserving Florida’s fragile environment. Recognizing the home landscape as part of a more extensive natural system will help us make sound decisions in creating yards that are designed for Florida’s weather and natural resources. This will help protect Florida’s natural environment for future generations.
Q: What is Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM?
A: The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) program operates under the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation & Ecology (CLCE). It is supported by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The mission of the FFL program is to educate Floridians about science-based and environmentally friendly landscaping practices. It demonstrates ways to conserve and protect our water resources by applying nine landscaping principles.
Q: Who are water ambassadors and what do they do?
A: Water ambassadors are statewide stewards of our waterways. In Broward County, they are certified UF/IFAS Master Gardener Volunteers who attend a six-week advanced water conservation training to assist Extension agents in gaining homeowner engagement in urban environments and educate the public on the importance of applying FFL principles. Water ambassadors conduct annual FFL community trainings and assist with 12 annual Florida-Friendly Landscaping yard recognitions in Broward County. To become a water ambassador, reach out to your local UF/IFAS Extension office to learn more about course offerings and requirements.
Q: What are some changes consumers can adopt immediately to conserve water on landscapes?
A: We can all start by adopting three key behaviors:
1- Become familiar with the FFL basics and how it works,
2- Learn about choosing the right plant for the right place,
3- Follow your local water irrigation mandates.
Q: What are rain barrels and how can they help in adopting water conservation practices?
A: A rain barrel serves as an efficient system that collects and stores Florida’s rainwater from your roof. This is rainwater that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Recycled watertight food-grain barrels are used to collect rainwater from the roof of a building via the gutter and downspout. Extension Broward County has quarterly rain barrel programs. If you are interested in obtaining one, contact our office. Each 55-gallon rain barrel comes with a spigot installed for $55 each. For more information, Florida-Friendly Landscaping: Adopting Water-Conservation Practices with Rain Barrels – UF/IFAS Extension Broward County provides additional details.
Q: I have read about smart irrigation controllers recently. How do they work, and can consumers use these?
A: Smart irrigation controllers have been on the market for use in residential and commercial applications since the early 2000s. The Irrigation Association defines “smart controllers” as controllers that reduce outdoor water use. The controllers monitor and use information about site conditions such as soil moisture, wind, rain, slope, soil and plant type. These conditions are used to apply the right amount of water based on those factors. Weather-based irrigation controllers (WBICs) are our new generation of smart irrigation controllers. They use current weather data to adapt irrigation schedules appropriately. Learn more:
Florida Friendly Landscaping: How to Save Water through “Smart” Irrigation systems – UF/IFAS Extension Broward County (ufl.edu)
Q: Are there any short courses, programs, or resources that consumers can register for in April?
A: Yes. I am hosting a free webinar on April 12 called “Florida-Friendly Landscaping in and Urban Environment” that is designed for all levels of consumers and landscape professionals. The webinar will provide the nine principles of FFL and how to become certified for FFL residential landscapes. You can register here through this link: Meeting Registration - Zoom
Q: How can UF IFAS Extension Broward help me when it comes to my landscape?
A: In addition to conducting free FFL educational programs throughout the year, we have a consumer recognition program for property owners who establish the nine FFL principles on their landscapes. We also have a dedicated email address BrowardMG@ifas.ufl.edu where consumers can ask all types of landscaping questions. Our Master Gardener Volunteers manage the helpdesk by assisting our Broward County community with landscape inquiries. We also have free monthly lectures series on the first Tuesday of every month. For more information, visit our website or call our office at 954-756-8519.