Addressing a myth about Florida-Friendly Landscaping

Norma Samuel

I understand there’s a myth circulating that Florida-Friendly Landscaping means a “plant it and forget it” landscape or one that looks wild and untamed. This is not the image we want anyone to paint of a Florida-Friendly landscape. Read on to learn what Florida-Friendly Landscaping really means and the benefits it provides.

Florida-Friendly Landscapes are attractive, low-maintenance landscapes that protect our natural resources by conserving water, reducing pollution and waste, creating wildlife habitat and preventing soil erosion. Implementing FFL practices saves you time, money and energy.

There are nine FFL Principles:

Right Plant, Right Place Sumter County falls within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness zones of 9a and 9b with average annual minimum temperatures of 20 to 25 and 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. When selecting plants for your yard, select those that are zoned for this area. Consider plant size at maturity, both in height and width. Putting a plant that grows large in a small area or too close to your house will result in constant pruning, or even cracked foundations.
When selecting plants also think about shade and moisture requirements. Plants that require full sun need at least six hours of full sunlight each day and vice versa for plants requiring full shade. The right plant in the wrong place is more likely to succumb to insect and disease problems. Always select plants that are drought tolerant and have few pest problems.

The FFL Guide to Plant Selection and Landscape Design provides plenty of options of plants that are adapted to Central Florida.

Water Efficiently Florida law requires every irrigation system to have an automatic rain shutoff device which you should periodically check to ensure is working properly. Soil moisture sensors can be used to reduce irrigation and remember to group plants by watering needs. Water your lawn when the leaf blades of the grass begin to fold or your footprints remain on the lawn when you walk on it and apply 3/4 inch of supplemental irrigation per week. Avoid overhead watering, especially in the late evening as it keeps your plants wet for a prolonged period and allows plant pathogens to flourish. Install a micro-irrigation system in flower beds and vegetable gardens. These put the water directly into the root zone of the plant, use less water and save money.
Fertilize Appropriately Once you decide what you will be growing in your yard, collect soil sample(s) and submit to the UF/IFAS Extension Soil Testing Laboratory. For $10, the report will provide information on the soil pH and a fertilizer recommendation, based on available nutrients in the soil and what you intend to grow. Remember to use slow-release fertilizers and do not fertilize when rain is expected. Too much fertilizer can burn plants, increase susceptibility to pests and pollute waterways.
Mulch This is a big time saver. Mulch helps keep the weeds down, holds moisture in the soil, helps to reduce soil-borne diseases spread by rain splashing the pathogen into open wounds on the plant and adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes. Keep the mulch about 3 to 4 inches thick and away from the base of the plant. When the mulch touches the base, it keeps that area constantly wet and your plants will eventually decline due to rot of the trunk.

Neighbors have complained about a home at 2167 Darwin Terrace in The Villages has taken Florida Friendly Landscaping too far.

Attract Wildlife Use a variety of plants that will provide cover, nesting areas, and food to wildlife such as birds, butterflies and bees. Bird baths and small ponds provide water sources for wildlife. Snag (dead tree), birdhouses or bat houses can be utilized where appropriate.
Manage Yard Pests Responsibly The correct quantity and timing of fertilizer applications and irrigation are crucial to keep pest populations to a minimum. Select pest resistant plant varieties when available. Remember, not all insects visiting your garden are bad! Learn to identify the good versus bad bugs. Inspect your plants regularly and be willing to tolerate some amount of pest damage. If spraying is warranted, use the least toxic pesticide options first.
Recycle Yard Waste Keep your lawn cut at the recommended height and leave clippings on the lawn to recycle the nitrogen. You may also recycle fallen leaves and pine needles under trees and shrubs. Start a compost pile for kitchen vegetable kitchen scraps and yard waste.
Reduce Stormwater Runoff  There’s a multitude of things you can do to reduce stormwater runoff. Direct downspouts to landscape beds, lawn or into a rain barrel. Create a rain garden. Pick up your pet waste. Do not blow lawn clippings onto the street; blow onto the lawn instead. Measure pesticides and fertilizers on a hard surface to allow easy clean up in case of a spill.
Protect the Waterfront Establish a 10-foot maintenance free (no fertilizers, pesticides or mowing) buffer of native plants along any shoreline to reduce runoff and erosion, absorb nutrients, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Although Florida law stipulates a homeowner association (HOA) cannot prevent a homeowner from installing an FFL landscape, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adhere to guidelines stipulated by the HOA for making modifications to the landscape and its upkeep.

The faculty and Master Gardener Volunteers of UF/IFAS Extension Sumter County Office offers numerous educational workshops throughout the year to help you be successful with your Florida-Friendly gardening endeavors. Check our website regularly for class offerings.

Norma Samuel is the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension Florida-Friendly Landscaping and Urban Horticulture Agent in Sumter County. She can be reached at nsamuel@ufl.edu, or via phone at (352) 689-4671.

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