Landscape Mulch 101

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day.

So, how can a conscientious homeowner save water? Think mulch. A thick layer of mulch can help retain moisture allowing you to reduce your outdoor water use. As mulch decomposes, it adds nutrients to help improve the texture and fertility of your soil, improving water retention. Plus, it can also help to create an attractive visual contrast in your landscape.

There are several different types of mulch products on the market. When choosing mulch, you should consider factors like durability and sustainability in addition to appearance. The following is a brief description of some of the common types of mulch available to Florida residents.

types of mulch

  • Pine Bark is a byproduct of the forest industry. It comes in various sizes. It typically has a dark brown color. It is a sustainable product and decomposes very slowly which is a benefit. However, it may float and wash away during heavy rains.
  • Pine Straw typically comes from pine plantations which produce paper and wood products. Because they “knit together,” the pine needles are less likely to wash away than some other mulches. But color options are limited to natural pine needle color and availability is limited in some areas making it more difficult to find.
  • Eucalyptus Mulch typically comes from plantations in South and Central Florida, where the trees are grown specifically for this purpose. The trees grow quickly, so this mulch is considered renewable. It is offered in various colors for attractive landscaping but is low in nutrients.
  • Melaleuca Mulchis made from exotic invasive trees. The product is cured at a high temperature to kill the seeds, so they cannot germinate in your garden. It is also available in various colors. Using Melaleuca Mulch promotes removal of this invasive exotic species, and it is not attractive to termites.
  • Fallen Leaves (including grass clippings) can sometimes be raked up for free in your landscape. This type of mulch is high in nutrients but decomposes quickly. However, many homeowners are not fond of this mulch as it is less tidy looking for formal landscape settings and needs frequent replenishment.
  • Gravel, Pebbles, Shell or Synthetic Mulch can sometimes be useful in borders or pathways, but they do not contribute to the soil’s nutrient content or water-holding capacity. If you use this type of mulch, make sure to first install a woven ground cloth to keep it from sinking into our sandy soils. This type of mulch lasts a long time, but it will need to be cleared of debris regularly to look its best.
rain gauge

Flood Control and Water Conservation

Florida is fortunate to receive over 50 inches of rainfall a year on average. Most of that amount is concentrated during the six-month rainy season (May through October). While some of the runoff from these rains is discharged to the ocean to avoid flooding, a significant amount soaks into the ground and recharges the freshwater aquifers that supply our drinking water wellfields, lakes, and wetlands.

For large populations of people to live safely in South Florida, a massive regional water management system is required to balance the water supply needs of urban areas and agriculture against the requirement to maintain flood protection. If we did not provide adequate drainage to the region, human health and safety would be jeopardized and extensive property damage could occur. Similarly, if regional groundwater levels were not properly maintained, wellfields would be unable to deliver water to our homes and businesses, or worse yet, the underground inland migration of salt water from the ocean could permanently contaminate the drinking water supply rendering it unsafe for potable uses.

Water conservation efforts by the Lake Worth Drainage District (LWDD) help mitigate some of the water supply issues our region experiences.  The large network of LWDD canals plays a critical role in conservation by maintaining groundwater levels which in turn supports the water levels in lakes, ponds, and wetlands. During dry periods, groundwater levels tend to slowly fall in response to low rain and high evaporation. When this occurs, LWDD water managers look to the Arthur R. Marshal Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge or to Lake Okeechobee as a source of supplemental water. Water from these sources is released into the canal network to raise the level of water in the canals. This water in turn seeps through the sandy soils to recharge the groundwater and returns the water table to its normal elevation thus helping to protect drinking water supplies.

LWDD’s efforts, to manage its drainage canals at appropriate elevations, to balance water supply needs, and avoid ocean discharges plays a key role in comprehensive water conservation for the residents of South Florida.

Man with beard

The Good News

Have you heard the good news? You do not have to go to extremes to substantially reduce your use of water. You just need to be conscious of how you use water and the various ways you can conserve water in your daily activities.

There are many ways you can save water. For example, do not leave the water running while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving. Take shorter showers and use high efficiency shower heads.  Install an inexpensive aerator on your kitchen sink reducing water flow to less than one gallon an hour. Try soaking pots and pans instead of scrubbing them under running water. You can refrigerate your drinking water instead of allowing the faucet to run until it cools. Finally, wash only full loads of laundry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 12% of household indoor water use is lost to leaks. One of the most common leaks is found in the bathroom. Here is a simple dye test you can complete to see if your toilet is leaking.

  • Drip 10 to 15 drops of food coloring into the toilet tank.
  • Wait 10 minutes.
  • If colored water appears in the toilet bowl, you have a leak.
  • Generally, the leak is in or around the plunger ball or flapper valve at the bottom of the tank. This item are inexpensive parts and easy to replace.

Taking small deliberate steps will soon become habits and lead you down the road to water conservation. Share the good news with others that water conservation does not have to be difficult, time consuming or expensive.

Coffee cup with flower on a table

Why Saving Water Matters

Meeting future water demands in Florida can only be met in two ways: by increasing our water supply or decreasing its use. Water is essential to our health, communities, environment and our economy. As our state population grows, the demand for water will continue to rise. The smallest amount of wasted water can add up to big losses. For example, 30 drops of water from a faucet leak can equal 1,752 gallons a year!


Residents of Florida need to remember that water is a shared resource. Other uses include agriculture, fish habitat, industry and recreation. All these water uses can put pressure on local water supplies, especially during the dry season.  Conserving water leaves more of it in the underground aquifer, streams, rivers, and lakes when it is needed most. Using water more efficiently helps maintain supplies at safe levels, protecting human health and the environment. If we do not save water, we can face many consequences such as:

  1. Disturbance in our personal hygiene like bathing, washing clothes, etc. due to shortage of water.
  2. The crop production will decline due to the lack of water for irrigation in fields.
  3. There will be dry conditions leading to more severe droughts.
  4. Lack of water for landscaping and recreation will impact our lifestyle and property values.

No matter what it is you’re doing, always ask yourself, “Do I need that much water?” When you avoid unnecessary water use you contribute to the long-term health and future water supply for everyone.

patio chairs looking out on to a stormwater pond

Stormwater Ponds- More Than Pretty to Look At

Stormwater ponds are attractive enhancements to many residential communities and businesses within the Lake Worth Drainage District (LWDD) boundary. But more than pretty to look at, these waterbodies serve an important public safety purpose as they are part of the overall flood control system for the neighborhood.

In our area, flood control is a shared responsibility. Achieved through an interconnected 3-tiered system, each of the 3 groups must work together and coordinate efforts for effective flood control. The flood control process begins with the neighborhood’s stormwater pond. When the pond water rises in response to rainfall the excess stormwater will flow through underground pipes to the next link in the flood control chain – the LWDD canals. LWDD canals move excess water to the larger-capacity regional flood control system operated by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) where the excess stormwater can be channeled to storage areas or coastal discharge points.

When the neighborhood pond discharges water to LWDD, it does so through a discharge control structure. Regardless of the design of the control structure, or if the structure is in an open or closed position, excess stormwater will continuously drain from the pond until the proper water elevation is achieved.
The LWDD is unique in that we are the only drainage district authorized by the SFWMD to coordinate the opening of operable control structures with residential communities. This authorization may be given before a weather event to increase capacity in a stormwater pond. Authorization may also be given after a storm to help alleviate street flooding for emergency response vehicles. LWDD works closely with property managers and community boards to manage potential flooding. However, residents should note that after a rain event some standing water in roads, sidewalks, yards and other low-lying areas is normal and required to keep flood water away from homes.

Stormwater ponds can be valuable landscape enhancements. Plantings around the pond can provide natural habitat for wildlife and some ponds are designed with fountains and lighting. But as beautiful as your pond may be, its function is to help protect your home from flooding. You can learn more about stormwater ponds and community flood control at