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
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.
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.