UF/IFAS master gardener helps HOA, residents resolve disputes

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Experts with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are helping Floridians and homeowner associations (HOAs) across the state resolve landscape disputes.

For example, 40 Haile Plantation Village homeowners thought they had done a good thing when they replaced their chinch-infested St. Augustine grass with Zoysia. Their lawns were rich and green again, flourishing in the hot Florida sun.

But Zoysia was not on the homeowners association’s list of approved grasses. So began a battle to keep the healthier grass while respecting the association’s rules. In steppeds Florida Master Gardener statewide coordinator Wendy Wilber, with UF/IFAS.

Wilber previously headed the Alachua County Florida-Friendly Landscaping ™ program, a UF/IFAS program that teaches people how to take care of their lawns. The program, around since the late 1990s, helps people create sustainable landscapes that don’t require a lot of water or upkeep, Wilber said. “We have Florida-Friendly agents all over the state, who work with homeowners, HOAs, landscape architects, builders and developers,” she said.

Haile Plantation, with approximately 5,000 residents, battled a devastating chinch bug infestation. “The St. Augustine grass was brown and overrun with chinch bugs; it looked awful,” Wilber explained. “Homeowners were replacing the lawn, sod and all, every two years, or having to use excessive amounts of pesticide.”

One resident, Bruce Welt, an Alachua County homeowner, reached out to Wilber and asked her to identify his grass, which was flourishing. Wilber determined that the grass was Zoysia and that it would be better than the St. Augustine.

“Dr. Welt’s grass was perfect and his neighbor’s looked terrible,” Wilber said. “He asked me to write a letter to the HOA in support of Zoysia because it is the right plant in the right place.”

Right plant, right place is one of the key principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping ™. This principle focuses on matching proper plants with site characteristics so that plants flourish and less problems arise.

Wilber’s letter convinced the HOA landscape review board to include Zoysia on the list of approved grasses. “The homeowners saved money by not having to replace their healthy grass with failing turf,” she said.

Helping Welt went a long way toward helping all residents of Haile Plantation, said attorney Robert Bunn, who represented homeowners in litigation against the HOA. “Without [Wilber’] intervention, the homeowners would have to contend with a failing, unsustainable grass,” Bunn said. “The implication of this resolution is that homeowners in Florida can turn to UF/IFAS researchers and Extension agents to mediate these disputes. IFAS should be the final authority on plants and landscaping, which will help HOAs and residents arrive at peaceful solutions.”

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

 

Source: Wendy Wilber, 352-273-4521, wilbewl@ufl.edu

Robert Bunn, 352-213-3920, robert@strategiclaw.com