Post-hurricane our landscapes are blank canvases awaiting renewal and reinvigoration. What better time to explore the Florida- Friendly Landscaping™ manner of gardening! Our yards are merely small models of the outside environment. The water we use, the fertilizers we apply, and the pesticides we spray have influences in and potentially outside our yards. The plants we select may also contribute to how much we use the aforementioned inputs. Our landscapes tend to change over time; especially after a hurricane – every problem is an opportunity! Florida- Friendly Landscaping™ offers common-sense principles that you should adopt now.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program is an overarching set of horticultural concepts that enhances the community as well as protects the natural environment. An FFL yard uses the nine identified principles that make up a no-nonsense landscape: efficient irrigation & water conservation, mulching, recycling, attracting wildlife, “right plant, right place”, integrated pest management, fertilizing properly, reducing stormwater runoff, and shoreline stabilization. Again, many of these concepts are just good common sense. Outdoor water conservation is a basic especially when local rainfall is limited. Water resources, especially water used for irrigation, should be used intelligently and with some knowledge of the plants we are growing. Use water only when your lawn or landscape needs watering. Many lawns and landscapes get over-watered making them less drought tolerant and/or prone to disease. Keeping in mind local watering restrictions, many plants do well with about one-half to three-quarters of an inch of water per application. Rain barrels are also good ways to catch and hold water for later use. Hand-in-hand with proper watering comes mulching. This technique uses various materials including organic matter placed around plants to suppress weeds and conserve water. Recycling in the landscape includes composting and “grass-cycling”. Composting takes various raw organic materials allowing them to breakdown into a more stable, soil-like substance. Good organic mulches include pine straw, shredded melaleuca, and pine bark. Compost is great for mixing with and enhancing garden soil growing vegetable and bedding plants. These mulches help retain soil moisture and slowly-release nutrients. Grass-cycling involves returning the nutrient-rich grass clippings back to the lawn to provide some of the fertilizer turfgrass requires. Mow regularly so that no more than one-third of the grass blade is removed at any one mowing. These grass clippings will not contribute to thatch.
Attracting wildlife adds another great feature to our yards. It may include something simply beautiful like attracting butterflies. Selecting the right butterfly plants and adding a water feature will attract these insects. Birds will also enjoy new water sources, new trees for nesting areas and native wildlife food plants placed throughout the landscape.
When we say “right plant, right place” we mean sensible selection of plant material using knowledge of the plants and preferred growing conditions. For example, a shade-loving plant like many types of ferns may not do well in a full-sun site. A plant that requires a somewhat drier environment may rot in a site regularly watered to excess. A tree that may grow up to sixty-feet tall and over one-hundred feet wide would not be a good choice planted right next to a house. Consider using Florida native plants as well. Get to know your plant material and analyze your site’s environmental conditions before you plant.
Integrated Pest Management or IPM is another important component of a FFL yard. Instead of blindly applying a pesticide at an unknown pest, it is much better, both economically and environmentally, to identify the pest, determine if there are sufficient numbers to warrant a treatment, and then select a treatment that is least toxic or non-toxic with pesticides used as a last resort. We are not looking at total pest elimination, just suppression to acceptable levels.
Fertilizer is another landscape input that is often misunderstood and misused. Slow-release fertilizer feeds plants over a period of time and stays put longer. (Don’t forget our County Fertilizer Ordinance – https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/charlotte/docs/pdf/Fertilizer-Ordinance1.pdf ) Fertilizers that are lower in Phosphorus (or even contain no Phosphorus) are also recommended as our Florida soils generally already have plenty of this nutrient. Try to select plants that have low fertilizer needs. When you fertilize, water and manage pests properly, the chances of residues contained in storm-water runoff are reduced as well. Downspouts can direct water into planting areas instead of a paved surface. Small berms and swales can divert water from running from your yard. Last, but not least, protect the waterfront! Whether you live on the harbor, river or a pond, use FFL principals to protect these water resources.
In the same vein of FFL, we have a local Specialist on our Team who is ready to help advise your return to landscape normality. Sara Weber is our Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Training Specialist and she has a wealth of information on plant selection, water conservation, cultural practices and landscape troubleshooting, so please feel free to pick her brain! You can contact Sara at our office at (941) 764-4351 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Starting over from scratch – check out the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ way – you will be happy you did! For more information on all types of gardening topics in Southwest Florida, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension – Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or email@example.com. Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco.
Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (2022) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/ .