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Florida-Friendly Landscaping; Neat, Tidy and Saves Water!

By Lloyd Singleton

So, what is Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL)? Does it mean “wild and unkempt”, or “no-maintenance zone”? Is it intended to appear unruly and renegade? No, not at all. FFL is a set of landscape principles for design and maintenance that will serve to protect our precious water resources. Nine principles are the framework for the FFL designation; the first (and arguably the most important) one is “Right Plant, Right Place.”

Right Plant, Right Place and Less Turf

New developments often provide landscapes with lots of turfgrass and a few trees and shrubs of commonly available varieties. This typical landscape is used frequently due to relatively low installed cost and nearly instant appeal. It may even include some wrong plants in the wrong place.

As a new homeowner evaluates the irrigation water bill and the amount of time spent mowing and edging, large lawns may not make much sense. A viburnum hedge that desires to be 12’ high may have been planted under the kitchen window, and could be exasperating to keep trimmed to a proper size. A Silver Date Palm may have been planted over a hardpan soil that keeps roots perpetually wet; not well liked by this desert species, and reflected in discolored leaves and eventually death.

As many Florida homeowners are becoming more aware of the needed inputs and environmental impacts of traditional Florida landscapes, they are opting for a Florida-Friendly approach. Abandoning the extensive labor, water, fertilizers and chemicals required by typical lawns, for example, some choose to substitute alternative low growing plants for turfgrass areas.

Water Saving Ground Covers
alternative ground cover to turf for small areas

Asiatic Jasmine can be neatly maintained and rarely needs irrigation in central Florida

Sunshine mimosa used as turf alternative

Sunshine Mimosa is a Florida native groundcover

Some examples of water-saving groundcovers include asiatic jasmine Trachelospermum asiaticum, perennial peanut Arachis glabra “Ecoturf” (seen in top photo), frog fruit Phylla nodiflora, and sunshine mimosa Mimosa strigillosa. Of these four, the first two are species introduced to the state for their ornamental horticulture value, and the last two are Florida native plants known for attracting pollinators. Each have certain attributes to be considered, and all can be maintained to an appropriate height for a neat, tidy look while requiring less irrigation, fertilizer and pesticides.

frog fruit as a ground cover

Phyla nodiflora is an ornamental native groundcover

sunshine mimosa or Mimosa strigillosa used as a ground cover

Sunshine Mimosa is a native ground cover known for attracting pollinators with pink flowers. It will gradually fill in an area.

Spacing and Plant Selection for Neat and Tidy, Not Wild and Wooly

Another aspect of “Right Plant, Right Place” is plant spacing. Plants grow, and often get a lot bigger than we think. Adding trees and palms to the landscape can be very Florida-Friendly, but planting too many or too close together will eventually result in a jungle effect. This can actually be unhealthy for the trees as they compete for light and nutrients, and even create wind hazards if too close to the house. It is important to note the mature size of any landscape plant before deciding where it goes. Plant for a Florida-Friendly future, too.

Properly maintained Florida-Friendly plants can fit the local aesthetic while reducing the need for inputs. Properly maintained does not imply “wild and wooly”, or no maintenance at all. Following the nine FFL principles and design advice noted in the FYN Plant Selection Guide, you can have a great Florida-Friendly impact with your maintained landscape AND meet the desired look for your community.

turf dominates the landscape in new construction

This typical new construction front yard has mainly turf and few other plants.

FFL landscape

The same house with a FFL landscape installed to minimize turf, irrigation, and maintenance.




8 Comments on “Florida-Friendly Landscaping; Neat, Tidy and Saves Water!

  1. We planted a 200 sq ft, bed surrounded by a block wall with Perennial Peanut 4 years ago. They filled in wonderfully and were really pretty. But then Dayflower appeared. I pulled it up, dug it up and painted it with glyphosate but it just spread and spread until it had taken over. We finally just pulled up everything in the bed and started over with plants that leave enough bare space between them that we can see weeds getting started.

    Last spring we planted 100 sq ft on a bank in the yard with Frog Fruit. If they did well, we intended to transplant cuttings all over the bank. They also filled in well and looked vigorous. But then Crow’s Foot grass invaded. Again I tried to dig it out and paint it with glyphosate but it eventually took over.

    We see reasonably weed free ground cover around commercial buildings so it must be possible. Can you point us to information about how to control weeds in ground cover? Thanks.

  2. why can’t dayflower and perennial peanut co-exist?

  3. There is too much premium on “neat and tidy.” We need to change our standards To be a little more tolerant of the jungle that Florida is so that we are not constantly fighting it. Elderly people, disabled people, and people on fixed incomes who can’t afford professional lawn care and can’t do it themselves for one reason or another are literally driven into giving up their houses because they are physically incapable of the constant weeding and trimming that “need to” requires, even with carefully chosen native plants.

    • There are several nurseries that produce this plant. You can just do a browser search for frog fruit plants for sale. A local nursery in Lake County is Green Isle Gardens in Groveland.

      • Here in Indian River County, if you take a walk along the road, you will see it and then you can ask for permission to dig.

    • Native Choice Nursery, 7401 Tropical World Way, Boynton Beach, Fl. 33470. Located inside Tropical World Nursery on Hagen Ranch Road just south of Woolbright Road. Hours: Friday and Saturday’s 10-4. Appointments by request. 561-756-4370

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