florida-friendly landscaping

Week 8 of the Master Gardener Program highlighted Florida-friendly landscaping and included a field trip to the Arboretum at Constitution Park in Deerfield Beach. / All photos by Amanda Gorney, taken at the Arboretum

Week 8 of my Florida Master Gardener Program involved learning more about Florida-friendly landscaping and the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Homeowner Program (FYN). The morning seminar was titled “Florida-Friendly Landscaping and FYN (Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Homeowner Program) Yard Recognition.”

After that, we took a field trip to the Arboretum at Constitution Park, 2841 Hillsboro Blvd., in Deerfield Beach.

This “tree zoo” has 9 acres of land containing over 200 exotic trees from five continents. These trees are displayed along a half-mile walking path, fully accessible by wheelchair. The types of trees include flowering tropical fruit, exotics, palms, wetlands, bamboos and natives.

Colorful plants thrive throughout the Arboretum at Constitution Park.

John Pipoly, Ph.D. and an urban horticulture and natural-resource extension agent for Broward County’s Parks & Recreation Division, conducted the morning discussions and led our afternoon field trip to the Arboretum at Constitution Park.

9 Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping

Nine principles will help you reach the goal of a “Florida-friendly yard” as recognized by the the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Homeowner Program (FYN). Download the 52-page handbook for free.

The information below is excerpted from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural SciencesFlorida-Friendly Landscaping.

1. Right Plant, Right Place
Select plants that match a site’s soil, light, water and climatic conditions. Buy quality plants that welcome wildlife; consider plant size when you make your purchase; and aim for a diversity of trees, shrubs, ground-covers, and flowers. Once these plants are established, they’ll require little if any supplemental water, fertilizer or pesticides, saving you time and money.

2. Water Efficiently
Choosing the right plant for the right place goes a long way toward conserving water. So does grouping plants with similar water needs together, and zoning your irrigation system appropriately. Watch for signs of wilt before you irrigate, be a weather watcher (don’t irrigate if it’s going to rain), and water early in the morning. Hand-water when possible. A rain barrel is a great way to save water and money.

The Arboretum provides a tranquil respite from urban hustle and bustle.

3. Fertilize Appropriately
Fertilize according to UF/IFAS recommended rates and application timings to prevent leaching — fertilizer leaking down through the soil rather than being absorbed by plant roots. Look for fertilizers with slow-release nitrogen and little or no phosphorous. Never fertilize within 10 feet of any water body, and don’t fertilize before a heavy rain. Follow the fertilizer label directions.

4. Mulch
Mulch helps to retain soil moisture, protects plants and inhibits weed growth; gives your landscape a neat, uniform appearance; and is a great choice for hard-to-mow slopes and shady spots. Keep a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch on plant beds. Choose sustainably harvested mulch like melaleuca, pine straw or eucalyptus.

5. Attract Wildlife
Animals have trouble living in today’s heavily urbanized landscape. By providing food, water and shelter for birds, butterflies, bats and others, you can help these displaced Floridians while adding beauty and benefits to your home landscape. Select plants with seeds, fruit, foliage, flowers or berries that animals can eat. Supply water, such as a rain garden or bird bath. Reducing insecticide use can be good for you and many animals and beneficial insects. They eat pests and help pollinate your flowers.

At the Arboretum, beautiful color contrasts are common.

6. Manage Yard Pests Responsibly
Concerns for human and environmental health have led scientists to recommend “integrated pest management” (IPM), a strategy that helps gardeners manage pests with as few chemicals as possible. Select pest-resistant plants and put them in suitable locations. Use appropriate amounts of water and fertilizer, and mow grass at its proper height. When problems do arise, remove the affected leaves or plant parts, or pick the insects off by hand. Be careful: Some of the insects you see might be beneficial, actually helping to control pest insect populations. Spot-treat only, rather than use blanket spraying.

7. Recycle Yard Waste
Landscape maintenance activities such as mowing, pruning and raking generate yard waste that you can recycle. Decomposed organic matter, like pruned branches or grass clippings, releases nutrients back into the soil in a form that plants can easily use. Try composting, combining “green” (nitrogen-rich) and “brown” (carbon-rich) materials, such as grass clippings, weeds, plant trimmings, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, twigs and branches, pine needles and shredded cardboard.

8. Reduce Stormwater Runoff
Florida’s waterways are vulnerable to everything we put on our home landscapes. Fertilizers and pesticides can leach through the soil or run off into storm drains, wreaking havoc on our water quality and the fragile ecosystems our water resources support. So retain and use as much of the rainfall and irrigation water that lands on your home landscape as possible. Creating shallow rain gardens, or shaping the earth on slopes with berms (rises) and swales (dips), can slow runoff from heavy rains and allow the water time to soak into the ground.

9. Protect the Waterfront
Florida has over 10,000 miles of rivers and streams; about 7,800 lakes; more than 700 freshwater springs; and the U.S.’s second-longest coastline. Even if you don’t live immediately on one of these water bodies, you do live in what’s known as a watershed (a drainage area). One of the most important steps you can take to protect any water body is maintaining a 10-foot “maintenance-free zone” around it. Do not mow, fertilize or use pesticides in this zone. Don’t let any grass clippings or pet wastes get into the water, as these carry nutrients and harmful bacteria.