Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Tool I Can't Live Without, and General Ruminations on Rain

There is one tool no Florida-Friendly gardener should be without -- a rain gauge.

The lack of rain at my Central Tampa home lately has me thinking about the value of this handy little device. It rules my world in a way no other tool does, especially in the dry months of the year. If I am not home when it rains, all I have to do is check my rain gauge to see how much water I've received. If it's a half-inch or more, I'm in high cotton! My plants are good to go for up to a week -- or longer, for the beds in deep shade.

This is a BIG DEAL for us as we have no irrigation system at all. Our landscape relies solely on rainfall, or hand-watering. Sure, we planted mostly drought-tolerant plants, but even they need some water.

An in-ground rain gauge
A rain gauge mounted on our fence

Standing in the heat after a long day at work and hand-watering (with a shut-off nozzle, please!) is not my idea of fun. Nor is lugging water from our three rain barrels. In fact, we actually have a micro-irrigation starter kit we have yet to install, but that is on our to-do list to help get us through these dry months before the rainy season begins. (I promise we'll install it, Virginia!)

Rain gauges are even more important for people with irrigation systems and turfgrass. If you know it has rained a half-inch or more the day or two before your official lawn-watering day, turn off the automatic timer and save yourself some money and all of us some water for our future.

Last Friday, it rained. Or so I thought. As soon as I pulled into my driveway, I went to check the rain gauge. It showed a paltry one-tenth of an inch. I checked my other rain gauge, hoping that  there was a leak in the first one. No difference. Rain gauges are just not like those mirrors in the department stores that make you look much thinner in that cute pair of jeans on sale. They don't lie.

So, we watch and wait, and hope for dark clouds and thunder any day now. 


  • Even if your rain gauges are bone dry, let your garden tell you when it needs water. This is true whether you have grass or groundcovers. Our landscape is proving to be a lot tougher than even we hoped. I babied everything last year because it was new, but now I am making myself resist the urge to water until I see plants wilting. Then they perk right back up. 
  • Turfgrass needs water when the blades fold, or when you can see your footprints in the grass. 
  • I water selectively. Beds in full sun, such as my butterfly garden, need to be watered more often than those in deep shade. 
Oakleaf hydrangea and caladiums in deep shade are very water-thrifty

  • New plants always need to be watered frequently for the first few weeks, until they get a toehold in their new home. This is true even for our native and Florida-Friendly plants. New trees need LOTS of water. They are major investments; treat them with love.
  • When you do water, water deeply at the root zone. Don't just give the foliage a quick spray and think you're done. Water less frequently, but apply more water when you do. This encourages roots to grow deep and strong so they require less water over time. This is true for grass and ornamentals. If you have an irrigation system, find out how to do a "catch-can test" here to determine how long your zones need to run.
  • Finally, plant the Right Plant in the Right Place and save yourself some trouble from the start. Impatiens in sunny spots need water every day in the summer.My African iris and bulbine, on the other hand, never seem to need supplemental watering, and they bask in brutal sun all day.

Our front yard has a mix of full shade, part shade and full sun.
Plants are grouped according to their sun and water needs.


  1. Wise words! I'm willing to do a rain dance if everyone else will!

  2. I'm dancing with you, Daisy! I think my part of Tampa is an urban desert.

  3. Your yard is looking great in spite of the lack of rain. Love the Oakleaf Hydrangea. Mine is still trying to get established though and is a little water needy right now.

  4. My oakleaf was planted last Spring and it too required a lot of water for several months, but now is sailing along. It seems very happy beneath my large live oak, and I am hoping next Spring it will begin producing those gorgeous clusters of white flowers.

  5. Oh joy! Storm last night over Tampa. My rain gauges showed 1.25 inches this morning!That means NO hand-watering for the O'Haras this weekend -- yeah!

  6. Hey Nanette...Great advice. Our water here in Fla. is a precious resource and we definitely do need to water with care. I've found myself waiting longer and longer between waterings even allowing the grass to stress a bit before watering.

  7. Nanette,
    I check my rain gauges religiously, too. It is my life saver because I like to KNOW how much (or how little) rain we get. All of the good downpours have missed us ~~ even the one you mention that gave you 1.25... making me a little envious.*grin* But we always know someone is getting it as we see the dark clouds and hear the rolling thunder nearby. Surely it will be our turn soon. :-)

    I hope your oakleafs bloom next year for you. I had to wait 2 years for mine to bloom. I just last week planted 7 of them under big oaks in one of my client's yard. I can't wait to see them by next spring even if they don't push out blooms the first year.

    Great informative post!

  8. Thanks, Super-Gardeners Susan and Meems. I got a little too carried away after that nice dose of rain. None since! But shade garden looks great and the only plants I've had to hand water are a few of the butterfly plants in full sun and my herbs