University of Florida

Drought in Florida

Watering Wisely

During a drought, Florida's water management districts have the authority to restrict water use. Irrigation for commercial and home landscapes may be restricted.

The following guidelines are given as suggestions for watering during a drought.

General Practices


Water highly visible and intensively managed areas first. Drought-sensitive plants should have high priority, and grass should have lower priority. Although grass is drought-sensitive, it is cheaper to replace than trees and shrubs.

Time of Day

Water early in the morning. Less water loss occurs from evaporation and wind drift in the morning because of cooler temperatures and less wind.


Irrigate deeply at long intervals rather than watering frequently and shallowly. Deep watering improves drought resistance by promoting deeper, more extensive root systems. Depth of watering should be 6 to 12 inches for turf and bedding plants, and 12 inches for perennials, shrubs, and trees.


Examine the irrigation system and repair leaks promptly.

Weed Control

Keep weeds under control; weeds steal water from other plants.


Don’t fertilize or, if you do, use a low nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilization stimulates growth and increases water needs.

Pesticide Application

Avoid unnecessary applications of pesticides that require "watering in."


Irrigation Frequency

Irrigate turf only after about 30% of your lawn starts to wilt. Signs of wilting include footprints remaining in the grass, a bluish-grey appearance to the lawn, and a large proportion of leaf blades that are folded in half lengthwise.

Irrigation Amount

You change your irrigation frequency during drought, but not the amount of irrigation each time. Try to apply 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water each time you water the lawn.

Mowing Height

Cutting more than the top third of the leaf blade puts additional stress on turfgrass. Mowing at a higher blade setting encourages turf roots to grow deeper, which increases drought tolerance.

Mowing Frequency

Drought slows turf growth, so you will most likely need to mow less frequently.

Mower Blade

Use a sharp blade when mowing. Turf heals more quickly and loses less water when cut by a sharp blade than when torn by a dull blade.

Bedding Plants, Shrubs, & Trees


Add mulch to beds to reduce evaporation from soil and to moderate soil temperature, reducing stress on roots.

Irrigation Methods

If possible, don’t use overhead sprinklers for shrub and flower beds. Hand water, flood irrigate, or use trickle irrigation. Greater water loss can occur with overhead irrigation because of evaporation and wind drift.

Irrigation Frequency

Irrigate trees and shrubs after they start to wilt. Drooping leaves and a change in leaf color are signs of wilting. Many trees and shrubs can survive drought without irrigation if they are well-established.


Move container plants to shaded areas to reduce their water needs.

For more information on drought care and ways to manage your landscape during severe drought, contact your local Extension office.

Adapted and excerpted from:

H. Jones, et al, Managing Your Florida Lawn Under Drought Conditions (ENH 157), Environmental Horticulture Department (rev. 04/2006).

"Dealing with Water Restrictions," Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (04/2009).

Garden hose

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