Combining Classroom Instruction with Yard Evaluations to Promote Florida-Friendly Landscaping A. Marek, UF/IFAS Extension, Marion County, Ocala, FL
Situation: With exponential population growth in Marion County has come an ever-increasing demand for fresh water, particularly for irrigation. The Marion County Florida-Friendly Landscaping program offers programs year-round to educate the public and municipalities about the threats to Florida’s water resources and landscaping best management practices to address them. However, encouraging homeowners to apply what is learned in the classroom to actually adopt behavior changes at home is quite a challenge with multiple complicated barriers that impede practice change. Methods: Multiple Florida-Friendly Landscaping workshops, called FFL Challenges, are offered in HOA communities and public community centers throughout the year. These challenges are typically four two-hour sessions that span four weeks. During the four sessions, participants are taught seven of the nine FFL principles using Power Point Presentations. Participants are asked to have their soil pH tested during those four weeks. Those that attend all 4 sessions, test their soil, and complete a Yard Evaluation Homework sheet to give the agent and volunteers an idea of the homeowner’s landscaping goals and challenges are offered yard evaluations following the course. Landscaping recommendations are made during the evaluations, such as plant identification, fertilizer and pest control recommendations and basic irrigation audits. Results: Since 2017, 198 people have participated in the FFL Challenges and close to 100 yard evaluations have been conducted by the FFL agent and Master Gardener volunteers. These yard evaluations, combined with the FFL presentations in class, encouraged homeowners to adopt landscaping behavior changes that save approximately 969,000 gallons annually in Marion County. Conclusion: To make the leap from knowledge gain to behavior change in the landscape requires overcoming multiple complex internal and external barriers. By offering follow-up opportunities with homeowners that attend the FFL Challenges in the form of yard evaluations, many of these barriers can be overcome that otherwise may not be if left in the classroom. Yard evaluations provide continuing education opportunities for homeowners and volunteers alike, but more importantly perhaps is the trust that builds between the public and the UF/IFAS Extension Marion County faculty and volunteers to encourage them to make the leap.