Pinellas County Extension Service gets it Wrong, Again

PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA

By Rick Orr 02/02/2016

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Irrigation spray head watering a lawn
Our sandy soils determine when, how much and how often you must water – not weather.

What is Wrong With the Extension Service

The Pinellas County Extension Agent Brian Niemann gets it wrong again and again and again. If you were to follow the advice given in his blog Post Skip a Week (or Two) of Watering this Winter, you won’t have a healthy lawn  - you’ll have a dead dying weedy lawn.

Anthropomorphizing  Plants is Poor Science

In the intro of the blog post, Brian wrote: “…and start to train your plants to need less water.”

This is false. You cannot train a plant – you can only grow a plant. Withholding water does not train a plant to do anything – it kills it. When you withhold water, the plant slows its metabolism, which slows growth. St Augustine lawns with slower metabolism and growth creates a thin, weak open turf that is less drought hardy and susceptible to weeds and pests.

The Landscape is Diverse

According to Brian Niemann: “…your landscape only needs water every 7-14 days depending on the microclimate of your landscape.”

Notice he uses the word “landscape” and not a specific plant. The diversity of plants in a landscape range from cacti to exotic tropicals and each plant with its unique water requirement. Advising homeowners to water their landscape every 7 – 14 days is foolish. If a homeowner followed this advice after a few months, the landscape would be divided into 2 groups of plants: Drought Tolerant and Dead.

Sandy Soils Rule the Microclimate

The key phrase is “depending on the microclimate”. And in Pinellas County, that “microclimate” is ruled by the soil. Our sandy soils dry out at the same rate in the summer as the winter. After rain or irrigation, our sandy soils can only hold enough water to sustain turf for about 3 days – not 7 – 14 days. Beyond 3 days and the lawn stresses, reduces roots, stems and leaves, and declines.

Sandy Soils are Like a Bucket with Holes in the Bottom

Sandy soils are like a bucket with holes in the bottom. Fill the bucket (sandy soil) with rain or irrigation water and the water leaks out until the bucket is empty. That takes about 3 days. After 3 days there is not enough water to sustain the grass. The grass goes into water conservation mode – collapsing the canopy (folded leaves), loses turbidity (footprints remain) and starts to shut down metabolic processes causing a blue-gray tint. The grass is now dying of water stress and the biological activity in the soil has collapsed. The plant is shutting down all metabolic processes and starts to slough off unnecessary roots and shoots. It is dying. A dying lawn is not a healthy lawn.

Light frequent Watering is Exactly How You Water a Sandy Soil

Brian Niemann writes: “…you want to increase the amount of time between waterings. Light, frequent watering is inefficient and encourages shallow root systems in plants.”

This may be true with clay soils that can become waterlogged with light frequent watering. But not for our Pinellas sandy soils that drain so rapidly that even heavy rains can’t waterlog the soil. Light frequent watering (every 3 days) in sandy soils is the most efficient way to keep a sandy soil moist and the turf healthy. And a moist soil encourages the plant to grow – grow roots, stems, and leaves. A dry soils encourages nothing but weeds!

Wet Feet

Wet Feet – a phrase used by gardeners to describe a condition of plants grown in waterlogged soils. Few plants like “wet feet” – most plants require well-drained soils to thrive. A plant with “wet feet” will have a very shallow root system, mainly because there is little oxygen in the waterlogged soil and there is no reason to send roots any further to find water – it’s right there. However, to have “wet feet” in a sandy soil is nearly impossible because water drains out quickly.

What Time Should You Water

Mornings are good and so is any other time of the day. It rains any time of the day and no lawn ever died from rains in the middle of the day or from midnight thundershowers. Watering during the day helps cool down the lawn and adds humidity to the canopy reducing the water stress of hot summer days. The idea that watering at night can cause some killer disease is a fallacy considering it often rains at night and no lawn ever died from a midnight storm. The best time to water your lawn is before it is water-stressed.

I am Disappointed

Having graduated from a state university, I’m disappointed to see such poor information being published by this extension service. Their interest is not your landscape or the beauty of your home or the positive environmental impact of a healthy lawn; they just want you to stop using your irrigation.

Rick Orr Owner-Operator APL Pest Control/Creator of ILOVETURF.COM
Rick
Orr
APL Pest Control

Rick Orr is the creator of Iloveturf.com, Owner/Operator of APL Pest Control and a graduate from VA Tech in Agronomy (Turf Ecology).  

Since 1980, Rick worked in the green industry, mostly with golf courses, resorts and large communities. Rick worked as a Golf Course Superintendent of Fripp Island Resort, agronomist for Seaside, FL and the spray tech for Vinoy Golf Course. Rick has been certified as an arborist, landscape and irrigation contractor and adjunct professor for Environmental Horticulture (SPC) in Pinellas County.  

Home Pest Control came naturally. Entomology (bug science) was part of agronomy studies. Nearly every indoor pest problem starts outdoors. Crossing over to home pest control from lawn spraying was a natural process – the technology, methods and materials used for home pest control are modifications of the ones used for lawn spraying. 

The results of that work is a one of the top rated pest control companies in Pinellas County – APL Pest Control. APL Pest Control is a family owned business serving residential and commercial properties in Pinellas County, FL. 

Free Price Quote for Home Pest Control and/or Lawn Spraying CLICK HERE

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Speaking Engagements - Does it seem like you are only hearing one side of water restrictions, fertilizer bans, plant restrictions, and many other urban landscape hot topics? Rick Orr is available for speaking engagements for your HOA, Community or Professional Association or Garden Club about a variety of subjects. To contact Rick you can find him on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Instagram for booking information.