Jul 6, 2009

'Green' yards get a break: Florida offers protection

Conserv-A-Store says thank goodness
Yard maintenance and beautification is a part of each homeowners right of real property ownership but just because a person does not have a totally grass filled front space does not make it any less palatable to the eyes.
We somehow have been taught(perhaps by our British forefathers) that green grass is the way to go. How many times have you traveled a public road with wild flowers planted in the median and remarked at the beauty of this setting and sooo much less water consumption.
Please read below for more details

hen state Sen. Carey Baker proposed a law encouraging Florida homeowners to get rid of thirsty grass, he had Dorothy Bombera in mind. The Venice retiree has steadily ripped out her lawn, making room for daisies, perennial peanuts, palms and other drought-resistant plants.

But not all of her neighbors found the new scenery attractive, and her homeowners association threatened to fine Bombera if she didn't re-create the old, conventional yard.

Last week, Baker's legislation was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist, and Bombera is now off the hook."They were up to a $480 fine," Bombera said of the homeowners association. "I think that passing this was the most wonderful thing."

Amid mounting anxiety about Florida's shrinking supply of water, residential yards — especially those featuring St. Augustine grass — are getting a lot of the blame. Water authorities calculate that, on average, about half of the approximately 150 gallons used every day by a typical Florida resident goes to keeping the yard green.

Those water authorities have increasingly resorted to restricting the days and hours during which homeowners are allowed to turn on their lawn sprinklers.

Another strategy is to encourage homeowners to adopt landscapes that thrive on nature's irrigation: rain. Getting in the way of that solution are homeowners associations that require residents' yards to feature fence-to-fence grass.

"That has been a problem," said Baker, a Republican from Eustis. "Homeowner associations have demanded picture-perfect lawns that frequently are environmentally unfriendly."

His legislation calls for "Florida-friendly landscaping," which speaks to both the type of plants and their care. In general, that means going easy on irrigation, light on chemicals and heavy on mulch.

The prime keeper of wisdom on what qualifies as Florida-friendly landscaping is the state's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The agency offers much guidance on the concept through its county offices and its Web site, fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/home owners/nine_principles.htm.

"It doesn't matter so much what it looks like," IFAS horticulture specialist Sidney Park Brown said of the Florida-friendly yard. "It's more important how it's maintained."

Carey's landscaping provision became part of a controversial water-management bill that, with Crist's signature, also restricts public access to government decisions on permits for water consumption and wetlands destruction.

Eco-activists are split

The Florida Native Plant Society initially supported the Florida-friendly landscape legislation but then changed its stance after the provision was attached to the bigger, and widely opposed, water bill.

"We feel that Florida-friendly provision is tainted because of the ecological damage that will come from the rest of the law," said the group's executive director, Karina Veaudry of Orlando.

Still, Veaudry expects to see sweeping change in landscape preferences among Florida homeowners worried about water shortages, pesticides and diminishing habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

"We've been waiting for years for this kind of law to give people the freedom to plant landscapes that aren't so thirsty," she said. "We think we are going to see an explosion of change."

Legal permission to plant a Florida-friendly landscape in a grass-preferred subdivision isn't entirely new. Previous laws allow homeowners to ignore association rules established in the past seven years.

That's how Catherine Stoccardo and her husband were to able gradually clear away the grass at their Hampton Park home near downtown Orlando. Stoccardo was put on notice at one point that her yard needed tamer trees and a better lawn.

She put the matter to rest with a quick reminder of the law protecting certain Florida-friendly landscapes.

Today, she tends everything from saw palmetto to wild coffee, along with small rose and vegetable gardens.

One payoff: "We really don't have to fertilize at all," she said.

More rules coming?

The new Florida-friendly landscape provision applies to all residential yards. It also orders cities and counties to accommodate eco-conscious efforts by local homeowners.

Next up is a proposal that would require new homes to come with environmentally kinder yards.

The St. Johns River Water Management District, which takes in much of Central Florida, is drafting a provision that would require residential developers to finish new homes with Florida-friendly landscapes.

Such a measure isn't expected to ban grass; instead, it would likely require carving out much more space for less-thirsty greenery.

Courtesy of Orlando Sentinel 7/6/09
Kevin Spear can be reached at kspear@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5062.

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