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Work with the drought

Tips to keep your garden and lawn from dying of thirst.

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2000


With watering restrictions in place throughout the Tampa Bay area, many homeowners are concerned that their lawns and gardens will be victims of the drought.

Some folks ignore the restrictions, giving their greenery a drink whenever they please. Others, like some people in Hillsborough County, force officials to consider stricter regulations because they water so much on legal days.

Aside from flouting ordinances or becoming a legal water hog, there are ways to keep drought damage to a minimum. They include:

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1. Water in early morning as opposed to late in the evening to prevent fungus from growing on grass and plants.

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2. When you cut the lawn, try to keep it about 3 to 4 inches high so the grass retains more water. A sharp blade produces a cleaner cut that heals more quickly and loses less water.

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3. Scatter 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the bottom of shrubs and trees to retain water. Folded or droopy leaves indicate the plant is thirsty.

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4. Fertilizers promote growth and increase a plant's need for water, but annuals and vegetables need food to help them produce flowers and vegetables. Use a water-soluble fertilizer, a 6-6-6 or 6-8-8, at half strength about every two weeks.

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5. Move container plants to shaded areas to reduce their need for water.

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6. Flower beds, vegetable gardens and other non-lawn areas may be irrigated as needed using hoses with automatic shut-offs, hand-watering, micro-irrigation and other low-volume watering methods.

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7. "Gray water," or recycled rinse and bath water can be used on plants; however, avoid water containing bath oil, foam or salts. Plants in containers can be damaged by alkaline build-up. Do not use gray water on indoor plants.

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8. In desperate times, stop irrigating Bahia grass and allow it to go dormant. Bahia grass will turn brown but recovers well when irrigation resumes. St. Augustine grass will die if not irrigated.

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9. Thin dense beds of plants to reduce competition among them.


-- Sources: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, the Scotts Co.

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Gardeners, do you have other suggestions for surviving the drought while still obeying water restrictions? Please send them to DROUGHT TIPS, Newsfeatures, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail to features@sptimes.com

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