urban waterfront interface

Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ – Protect the Waterfront

Living on the coast or along a lake in Florida can make for a fantastic lifestyle, often replete with stunning scenery and vibrant ecosystems. But, that lifestyle carries with it additional responsibility, in the form of preserving our waters and the habitats associated with them.

Actually, however, each of us shares in that responsibility, given our proximity to the wetlands, ponds, ditches, salt marshes and myriad other water resources around us. There are steps each of us can (and should) take to safeguard our vital waters.

Nine Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™

Right Plant, Right Place – Enjoy healthier plants and reduce work by using plants suited to your landscape conditions
Water Efficiently – Reduce water bills, pest problems, and maintenance needs
Fertilize Appropriately – Prevent pollution and maximize plant health
Mulch – Keep moisture in the soil, help control weeds, and reduce stormwater runoff
Attract Wildlife – Bring your yard to life by providing water, food, and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other creatures
Manage Yard Pests Responsibly – Create an effective defense against pests while minimizing your impact on the environment
Recycle Yard Waste
Re-use your yard waste to save money and enrich your soil
Reduce Stormwater Runoff – Filter rain through your landscape to protect waterways and replenish the aquifer

PROTECT THE WATERFRONT – Help preserve Florida’s waterways, plants, and wildlife

That brings us to the last stop on our journey through the nine principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™: protect the waterfront. This final principle is intertwined with all the others we’ve discussed in this series, but perhaps none more so than the idea of “reducing stormwater runoff” (our last discussion). Keeping out of our water systems any runoff that might carry fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants is paramount.

In that regard, your first line of defense is your yard. Consider creating a “buffer zone” of 6-10 feet extending from where your property abuts any water body to upland areas. Eliminate fertilizer, pesticide and other chemical use in this area, understanding that fertilizer use within 10 feet of water bodies already is regulated across much of Sarasota County. Adding a line of low-maintenance plants in this area will help filter what water does roll off your land, and adding aquatic plants in the water along the shoreline further increases the filtration.

Know that this buffer zone – often called a “low-maintenance zone” – can wind up looking weedy and unseemly, if not properly planned and periodically maintained. But, by carefully selecting the right plants and giving them just the tuning they need over time, this portion of your landscape can become not just a highly functional area but a beautiful one, as well.

Buffer zone plants should absorb nutrients and pollution, and can provide birds, butterflies and other animals with habitat that might have been lost to construction. Plants here also help battle erosion, developing root systems that hold soil against our frequent, heavy rains or even the seemingly gentle lap of waves that, over time, still can wash away shorelines.

Grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste also pose problems if they reach water bodies. If this detritus flows or is blown into water, it can set off a chain reaction. As the waste decays, it adds nutrients to the water. The nutrients can cause algal blooms. The blooms take up oxygen from the water. The lowered dissolved oxygen levels can kill fish and other aquatic organisms, upsetting the food web. And fish kills create health and safety concerns for humans living near or visiting the waters.

Like fertilizer use near waters, yard waste management is regulated across much of Sarasota County, with ordinances that dictate such waste be kept out of storm drains, ditches, wetlands, walks, roadways and more.

Water is critical to us, in so many ways. We require it simply to live, of course, but it also plays a huge role in many of the industries that drive our economy, from agriculture to tourism. It is essential for the ecosystems and wildlife that make our state the natural wonder that it is. It makes no sense to jeopardize all of this, all the value inherent to it, when simple changes – like we’ve discussed here – can virtually eliminate the danger.

And that’s a large part of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™: little steps you can take to make a big difference. That’s important now, and it will continue to be important in the years to come, as Florida and Sarasota County continue to see rapid population growth and development. In the face of this, our ecosystems have changed and will continue to change. But, we can help lessen the impacts, help to protect our resources, by following the nine principles.

If you missed any of our articles, please feel free to call me at 941-861-9812 or email to wholley@scgov.net and I’ll be happy to discuss Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ with you. You also can stop by our office to pick up a copy of the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook or The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design, or download digital versions.

Thank you for your time.



Contact your local Extension office to learn more:
Sarasota County: 941-861-9900 or sarasota@ifas.ufl.edu
Manatee County: 941-722-4524 or manatee@ifas.ufl.edu
Charlotte County: 941-764-4340 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov

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