The Key West Mystique

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Key West poinciana with caterpillar damage

Key West rain | Just dry season or is there a drought?

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

03/22/2023

I’m not alone in grinning when I read a weather forecast that calls for rain. Or when I get up to promisingly heavy cloudy skies. Dadgummit! It could rain today.

One needs only eyeballs to confirm it’s been darn dry the past three months. It’s dusty. Everything is covered with a grayish coat of coral. Run your fingers across any old leaf and you’ll see what I mean. Got dust allergies or a touch of asthma? Best dig out one of those old Covid masks and maybe some safety glasses. Otherwise, you’re gonna sneeze and itch and wonder why your eyes are scratchy and your lids are sticky.

The National Weather Service says Monroe County and Key West are “abnormally dry,” but we’re probably not officially in a drought. At least not yet. It just feels like it. Good luck to us non-experts, though, on figuring out when we go from abnormally dry to full blown dry because there’s a rain barrel full of scientific explanations.

Imma gonna go with “Crikey! It’s dry out there.”

On March 6, the NWS said Key West had recorded less than a tenth of an inch of rain since Jan. 1.

Average January rainfall is 2.04 inches; February is 1.49; and March and April are 2.05 inches each. Rain starts ticking up in May as we transition to the rainy season, which is June through October. The dry season is right now, December through April. May and November are toss-up months; flip a coin as to whether they’re rainy or dry.

If I get my math right, we’re about 3-5 inches shy of the rainfall we usually get between January and March. So, yep, I’m going with “Crikey! It’s dry out there.”

Do we care? Well, not really. Most of us aren’t paying all that much attention to the increasing stress on our green stuff. Yellowing, curling or drooping leaves. Lots of brown ones dropping on sidewalks, into pools and around the yard.

For sure our Spring Break visitors are getting up each morning (or afternoon depending on the ravages of the previous night) and yelling “Crikey. Let’s go to the beach.” Well, maybe not crikey. Maybe not beach either, given sargassum, but you get the point.

Key West rain
Native Keys trees and plants don’t need watering during the dry season. They’re drought tolerant.

Key West rain | What to do

I’m sitting here on the porch this morning looking up into the mango tree where flowers are just turning to fruit and I’m wondering if I should ignore Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s water conservation recommendation. Should I drag out the hose? Nope.

Here’s what the University of Florida says:

“Once mango trees are 4 or more years old, irrigation will be beneficial to plant growth and crop yields only during very prolonged dry periods during spring and summer. Mature mango trees do not need frequent watering, and over watering may cause poor quality fruit and/or trees to decline or be unthrifty. Little to no irrigation is generally necessary during the fall and winter.”

— University of Florida

How about that 4-foot lignum vitae we’ve been growing in a pot since it was about three inches tall? No water for this native either. It’s highly drought tolerant so a rare drink from the hose will do it.

The same is true for all the native Keys and South Florida trees, palms and plants and for the tropical imports, like the Royal Poinciana and coconut palms. They’ve adapted over generations to the dry-wet cycles of the tropics and they’ll withstand weeks of little to no water. They might not look so good; they might show their peevishness with wilting leaves, prematurely dropping flowers, low fruit production and so forth. But they’re not likely to die just because it’s drier than normal.

Here’s the catch. Most folks don’t have a yard full of natives. Instead we’ve got pretty blooming landscaping better suited to the mainland. We’ve got grass and not the kind one smokes with a doughnut in hand. We’ve gotten a taste for luxurious greenery with showy flowers and not much native has both. That stuff needs water and often a lot of water.

If you’re irrigating or watering more than once every three or four weeks in dry season, you might want to consider changing out your landscaping.

Put that hose away. Remember the water main break last week? Don’t make it worse by sucking down limited human supplies in favor of the landscaping.

Key West rain: My favorite growing things resources

2 Comments

  1. Nora Hanson

    Re-wild our beautiful island! Re-plant our mangroves, buttonwood trees etc! Stop using P-rock and poison

  2. Nora Hanson

    So many including the city and county are killing all our island trees and plants! Replacing it with P-Rock and poison may be a big part of our problem but no one talks about that.

Avatar of Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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