What To Do During Drought
Turf already under drought stress will be even more stressed if mowed. The leaves of the grass support the root system. The shorter the grass is mowed, the shorter the root system. If you must mow, mow at the very highest setting and make sure the blades are very sharp. A clean cut will lose less water than a ragged cut.
Fertilizing will increase the plants need for water. Fertilizer will also promote new growth that is tender and cannot withstand drought.
Do Water Deeply
Apply ½ to ¾ inch of water to the landscape. This amount of water will penetrate about 8 to 12 inches deep in the soil. When plants are watered deeply, they develop a deep root system that is better able to withstand drought. Look for signs of wilt before watering lawns again.
Do Use Mulch
Mulch helps to prevent water loss from the soil, decreases runoff and insulates the soil so it does not get too hot. Using organic mulch like pine bark or oak leaves will improve the water and nutrient-holding capacity of the soil. It will even add nutrients to the soil as it breaks down. Keep mulch away from the base of plants. Large particle mulch, like pine bark, can be put down about 3 inches thick. Mulches that form a mat and don’t allow water to percolate through as easily, like oak leaves, should be put down about 1 inch thick.
Do Remove Weeds
Weeds compete with plants for water and nutrients. Hand pull weeds if possible. Herbicides don’t work well when plants are under drought stress and are not actively growing. Mulching will also help to suppress weeds.
Choose Plants for Wet-Dry Weather Extremes
Replace plants that die or require lots of water with drought-tolerant ones. Try using native plants that are suited to Florida’s extremes in weather. Many are drought and flood tolerant. Wait for the rainy season before re-planting.
If water use is so restricted that landscape plant survival is in question, here are some drastic measures that can be done to save plants:
- Water plants only when they start to wilt.
- Use mulch.
- Prune plants severely to reduce leaf area (if a freeze is possible, wait until after the last freeze).
- Remove weak plants.
- Thin dense beds of plants to reduce competition among plants and pull out weeds.
- For Bahiagrass lawns, stop watering and allow the grass to go dormant. Bahia grass will turn brown, but will recover well once the rains resume.
Compiled by Jane Morse, UF/IFAS Extension, Pinellas County
For more information on lawn and plant care during drought, contact the Commercial Horticulture Department at