Landscape and Turfgrass Management - Univ. Florida - Fort Lauderdale
Landscape and Turf Management
University of Florida at Fort Lauderdale
February 17, 1999
Sprinkler Irrigation in the Landscape
Irrigation is one of three powerful landscape management tools. (The others are
fertilization and cutting, e.g., pruning or mowing.)
Landscape irrigation provides year round plant growth in warm climates, assists
establishment, and effects a shift in the climax vegetation on a site to more long-lived
and woody species. Xeric sites that would be naturally dominated by annuals and
herbaceous plants, e.g., grasses can be made through irrigation to support a denser,
more luxuriant canopy, which many clients favor.
Plants have inherited cycles of leafing, flowering, and seed dispersal, compatible with
annual cycles of rainfall in their natural habitat. Irrigation, the artificial watering of the
soil, drastically changes where and how plants grow.
The most widespread landscape plant in North America, Kentucky bluegrass (
), is a Eurasian plant which naturalized in urban lawns due to irrigation. For all
practical purposes it wouldn't be here without irrigation. When people talk about having
a "lawn as green as the Joneses" they are quoting an expression that originated in the
Kentucky bluegrass belt, and this arose from sprinkler irrigation.
Ecologically, irrigation interacts with other major landscape management tools. Close
cutting of turfgrass, which weakens the plant and prevents adequate root development,
leads to minimal available soil moisture reserve. Therefore, close-cut turf wilts and dries
out more readily, and more frequent irrigation is required. In using irrigation to maintain
close-mown, luxuriant stands of turfgrass throughout the growing season, turfgrass areas
demand more frequent irrigation than wooded areas. This is the opposite of the natural
occurrence of grasslands in drier areas, and woodlands in wetter areas.
In a negative sense, the practices of mowing, watering, and fertilization act in a vicious
cycle to weaken and change natural ecosystems. Plants such as the slash pine (
) that are adapted to a wet-dry cycle often show decline and death under
irrigation. In a positive sense, irrigation coordinates with other tools, so people can
accomplish the kind of landscape that they like. Performed with precision and good
judgement, irrigation can be quite efficient in providing a healthy landscape, with
reduced impacts on natural resources and ecosystems.