How to Create a Florida Friendly Landscape
Florida is well known for its rather inhospitable environment. From sandy soils to blazing heat, to the perfect climate for bugs and other pests, Florida can be a tough place to start a garden or maintain your yard.
Pair this with the fact that many people are unaware of the types of plants that grow well in the state and have incorrectly come to believe that they don’t possess the “green thumb” to maintain a landscape in Florida. As such, many people assume that a nice landscape can only be found at the end of a lot of fertilizer, water, pesticides, herbicides, etc.
This could not be further from the truth! This kind of thinking results in the waste of a TON of water or causes complications to our natural environments and, ultimately, our drinking supply.
The Solution: Florida-Friendly Landscaping
The Florida Friendly Landscaping program was started by UF/IFAS with the objective of protecting natural resources and preserving Florida’s unique beauty.
It is made up of 9 simple, research-based, and environmentally-sustainable landscaping principles that, when applied, help property owners create and maintain beautiful yards.
Those principles are:
- Right Plant, Right Place
- Water Efficiently
- Fertilize Appropriately
- Attract Wildlife
- Manage Yard Pests Responsibly
- Reduce Stormwater Runoff
- Protect the Waterfront
Right Plant, Right Place
When you choose the right plant and put it in the right place, you ensure it’s chance of success. This means taking into consideration soil conditions, lighting, and the types of plants that thrive in your area. Choose plants that are “low maintenance” and don’t require a lot of care and remove plants that are exotic or invasive, as they will compete for your desired plants’ nutrients.
To find the plants that are right for your area, check out this Florida-friendly plant database.
Around half of an average household’s water usage is used outdoors. This is a lot of water and because of inefficiencies, it is often too much water. Many people don’t realize that overwatering your plants can cause just as many problems as underwatering them.
In order to mitigate this problem, it is important to water your plants only when they need it or show signs of stress. Utilize tools like a rain gauge. During our summers, our plants get plenty of water, using a rain gauge or rain shut-off on your sprinkler system can prevent overwatering and help your plants flourish. Additionally, adding mulch or reducing weeds can help ensure your plants retain as much water as possible.
Your plants need nutrients to survive and thrive and fertilizing them is important. The challenges arise with the type of and how much fertilizer we use. Remember, the fertilizer that is not retained by your plants will seep past the root zone and into the aquifer (which supplies our drinking water) or into nearby bodies of water.
To fertilize appropriately, it’s important that you don’t over-fertilize. Stay within the recommended amounts for your space and understand that fertilizer can’t fix plants that are suffering from lack of sunlight, inadequate water, or disease. Also, try to avoid fertilizing just before a heavy storm or planned irrigation, as it can lead to run-off. Avoid or limit “weed and feed” products and, if using store-bought fertilizer, opt for products that utilize iron instead of nitrogen to make your lawn greener. Lastly, consider natural alternatives, like compost or “chop-and-drop” to fertilize your plants.
Mulching is a big part of the Florida-friendly landscape. If you’ve ever visited a state park or other natural area, you’ll quickly notice that—no matter the environment—mulching is the primary way that nature cares for its soil and plant life. Whether it’s leaves, bark, pine needles, decomposing wood, or some other type of tree debris, mulch covers much of our forests and recreational areas.
You can utilize these principles in your yard by adding a 2-3 inch layer of mulch to any areas that you are trying to keep weeds out of or areas that you are struggling to get grass or other plants to grow. In addition to acting as a weed barrier, mulch is great at protecting your soil and serving your plants. Mulch helps:
- Retain moisture so you won’t have to water as much.
- Insulate the soil from extreme heat or cold.
- Suppress weeds and other plants competing for nutrients.
- Reduce soil erosion and stormwater run-off.
- Fertilize your plants as it breaks down.
Mulch really is the keystone to the Florida-friendly landscape and if you could only do a single item on the list, mulching would be our (albeit biased) recommendation.
A beautiful landscape without birds, butterflies, and other wildlife is just plain dull. That and, in order for flowers to bloom and fruit to grow, they need pollination. Now, in theory, you could go out into your garden and do it by hand but it’s a lot easier and more enjoyable to let nature take care of this task for you.
The best way to attract wildlife is to create areas that cater to them. Plant things that provide nesting areas, protection, and food sources for the wildlife you’d like to encourage. Provide water in the form of a birdbath or small pond and limit things that could harm or deter them like pesticides, or herbicides.
Manage Pests Responsibly
Given the chance, nature will take care of itself. By removing pesticides, and following the guidelines listed above, you’ll start attracting the “right” kind of wildlife deterring the “wrong” kind of wildlife as you restore the natural balance in your garden or landscape.
Be patient and only use pesticides in extreme circumstances or to “spot treat” problem areas. Pesticides should never be considered as a blanket solution. If you must use pesticides choose the least-toxic options like horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps, or BT (bacillus thuringiensis).
Before you bag up your leaves or throw away that banana peel, consider giving them a second chance in your garden. Recycled leaves and lawn clippings can be used as mulch around your yard and kitchen scraps (non-animal products) can be used to help make compost which can then be used as topsoil or fertilizer for your garden.
Reduce Stormwater Runoff
Remember what makes it to your storm drains can end up in our lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. To avoid stormwater runoff make sure you are utilizing outdoor chemicals in only the manner they were intended and in the right amounts. If you spill oil, gas, or other chemicals clean it up immediately. Clean up pet waste regularly to avoid nutrient imbalances or bacteria from forming. Use mulch, or other porous, materials in and around walkways, patios, and areas that get a lot of traffic or moisture (ie. gutter downspout) to help filter water.
Protect the Waterfront
If you live on, or near, the water you can help protect this fragile resource by:
- Establishing a 10-30 ft. “no fertilizer zone” near the shoreline.
- Maintaining the plants near the waterfront and removing any exotic, unnatural plants.
- Planting a buffer zone of native plants to separate your landscape from the waterfront and absorb any nutrients or runoff that might negatively impact the wildlife.
Choose Gaston for Your Florida Landscape Project
No matter what, or how big, your landscape goals are using the nine Florida-friendly principles outlined above will help create the ideal environment for you, your plants, and nearby wildlife.
Whatever your project is, we want to help. Gaston Mulch and Soil offers premium landscaping products, like mulch and topsoil, created from locally sourced materials. We offer pickups from our North Florida facility and bulk deliveries throughout the state.
Ready to start? Contact Gaston today!