Landscaping, the Florida friendly way

Florida Friendly Landscapes replaced the term xeriscape. I suppose because the term xeriscape was constantly being changed to zeroscape by people and then believed that this meant having no plants and only having rocks for a landscape.

Xeri actually means dry and I thought it was a smart term, but I digress. Xeriscape is a wonderful concept that involves much more than covering the ground around your home with white stone or plastic grass. While small areas of these materials used in sidewalks or small decorative areas could be incorporated into a beautiful Xeriscape plan, having an island covered in rock and plastic is of no benefit to our environment or the groundwater on Marco Island.

Dune sunflowers (front) and cordgrass, native plants of Florida, are seen in a bed of rocks tended by Spencer Porteous of DIGG Gardens in Vero Beach on the riverside of The Pointes Condominiums in The Moorings community of Vero Beach.  The neighborhood of 39 condos has Indian River Lagoon-friendly landscaping from Florida native and Florida-friendly plants.

Pollutants can enter the groundwater in two ways through runoff and washout. Runoff is the physical transport of pollutants across surfaces. Leaching is a process that uses water to wash pollutants out of the soil as it seeps through the soil. In our region where the land is flat, sandy and porous, washout is a more serious problem than runoff.

The grass and other green plants in your yard hold topsoil in place, trapping sediments, and taking in nutrients that can pollute the water. Grasses remove potentially environmentally harmful nutrients from waste and use those nutrients to grow. Grass and other green plants also appear to cool the air around them when water is absorbed by the plant and then carried into the air as evaporation. White stone can significantly increase the temperature around your home due to radiant heat. The money you save on water is spent on utility bills to keep your home cool due to the rise in the outside temperature. Oops, the carbon footprint is increasing.

Star jasmine is decorative and does not require fertilizers or pesticides.  Planting native and Florida-friendly ground covers, shrubs, and trees is one way to help the environment.

Xeriscape is water conservation through creative landscaping. The seven principles of a Florida-friendly landscape are:

  • Appropriate planning and design. Especially from your irrigation system.
  • Soil improvement. Soil improvements enable better water absorption and water retention capacity of the soil. Soils with organic matter provide plants with nutrients.
  • Efficient irrigation. A well-planned sprinkler system can save a lot of water. For efficient water use, lawns should be watered separately from other plants. Group your landscaping plants according to their water needs. For example, do not plant your impatiens that need a lot of water in a garden of dwarf bougainvillea that doesn’t like a lot of water for optimal flowering. Use sprinklers to water lawns and drips or bubblers in your plant beds. Check and adjust your irrigation system regularly and only water it when and as much as needed.
  • Practical lawns. Only look for lawns where it offers advantages. The lawn should be separated by clusters of trees, shrubs and ground cover so that it can be watered separately. Lawn can be replaced by other low-water materials such as ground cover, drought-tolerant plants or mulch. Lawn slows down drainage. This is one of the ways that pollutants from landscapes get into our groundwater. It should be placed in areas like swallows. Swallows are supposed to take in water. All the more they should be covered with pollution-filtering grass than with rock, which would allow the pollutants to get directly into our groundwater. Often times, the lawn in Swales stays green and healthy with no watering from the runoff. Note that I don’t think a few rock whales will have much of an impact on the environment. However, it has been the rule that rock swallows have not been allowed since I moved here in 1980 and I’ve always wondered why no one enforced this. You should go forward.
  • Use drought tolerant plants whenever possible. Many drought tolerant lawn grasses are also available. St. Augustine is moderately drought tolerant when properly watered and fertilized to develop a deep root system.
  • Use mulch. Mulch plant beds are an attractive substitute for lawns. Mulch covers and cools the soil, minimizing evaporation, reducing weed growth and slowing down erosion. They also increase interest in design. Organic mulches are pine straw, bark chips and wood chips. Apply mulch directly to the ground or over breathable or biodegradable landscaping mats, never over plastic.
  • Appropriate maintenance. Proper mowing, pruning, weeding, limited fertilization, pest control, and irrigation systems all use to conserve and protect water in a number of ways.

Water conservation and health is something we should all be concerned with, but let’s keep the more eco-friendly browns and greens in our landscapes and stay away from those stark, eco-friendly rocky courtyards.

More:Gardening: Florida’s Snow Days Are Here

And:Gardening: Time to fertilize your shrubs, trees, and lawns

Likewise:Gardening: Let the mulching begin

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscaping and lawn care company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at [email protected] or 239-394-1413.

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