About 900 residents move to Florida each day, and each person represents an opportunity to teach how to better conserve water as they plant and maintain their landscape, say UF/IFAS researchers.
The latest annual survey of 3,596 Florida residents shows that not everyone follows the same best practices to preserve water, according to a UF/IFAS Extension document. In fact, fewer than half the survey respondents said they practice every UF/IFAS water-conservation initiative.
But this doesn’t mean Floridians aren’t conserving – it shows they are reducing water use in different ways, said Laura Warner, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural education and communication and lead author of the document
“Out of 18 possible water-conservation strategies, it would be unlikely that someone would report that they did all 18,” Warner said. “But more than 93 percent said they engaged in at least one of the water-conservation practices.”
“Almost everyone is doing something, and while few are doing everything – it wouldn’t make sense for everyone to do all of the UF/IFAS-recommended water-conservation measures,” she said.
For example, if someone uses a gauge to manually track rainfall, they might not use a soil moisture sensor to ensure irrigation won’t turn on when it isn’t needed. That’s because these are two ways of essentially achieving the same thing.
While many are using some water conservation methods, 86% of survey respondents said they’ve never asked UF/IFAS Extension to help them improve their landscape to protect water resources.
UF/IFAS experts see this as a chance to educate homeowners, especially those new to the Sunshine State.
“In the six years we have conducted this research, we have seen trends among Floridians such as more positive attitudes toward water conservation, greater awareness of water issues, more support for protecting water, etc.,” Warner said.
In the survey, Floridians answered numerous questions about how they take care of their yards. Queries included how they irrigate their plants and grass.
They were also asked whether they hire professionals or plant and maintain their yards themselves. About 80% said they bring in a professional for at least one task – the most common are maintenance, pest management, fertilizer application, tree pruning and weed management.
The survey questions are based on UF/IFAS, science-based best practices to conserve water in landscapes. UF/IFAS faculty and staff asked about best practices in applied terms. They even let a panel review the questions to ensure they were worded in practical, non-academic terms, Warner said.
In addition to how — and how much — residents conserve water, the survey showed a huge diversity in the plants Floridians put in their yards.
Just more than half the respondents said they have a lawn in their landscapes, but one-third planted shade or palm trees, and another 10% to 20% planted pollinator gardens, fruit trees or vegetable gardens.
“There is an opportunity to increase the use of these types of beneficial plants,” said AJ Reisinger, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of soil and water sciences and a document co-author.
Other authors who helped write the document were Esen Momol, director of the Florida Friendly Landscaping ™ program; Claire Lewis, Statewide Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Coordinator with FFL; Wendy Wilber, statewide Master Gardener Program coordinator and Tom Wichman, Statewide Green Industries-Best Management Practices Program Coordinator.