Now is the time to set New Year's resolutions, so why not include some landscape changes to make our communities more Florida-friendly?
With cooler weather and adequate rainfall, now is a great time to transplant or install new plants. Make the landscape more Florida-friendly by following these nine principles of the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program.
Right plant, right place
Match plants to the site based on sunlight, water and soil needs in addition to mature plant size.
Which plants in your landscape require frequent care: pruning, irrigation, fertilizers or pesticides? If pruning is an issue, move these to an area where the plant can grow into its natural shape and size. If plants are constantly thirsty or require frequent applications of pesticides or fertilizers, consider replacing with Florida-friendly plants.
Instead of growing all ornamental plants, try planting something edible. Many edible plants are attractive and serve a dual purpose by providing a fresh, healthful food source.
The goal is to conserve water. Many shrubs, trees and flowering perennials survive just fine with rainfall. Some homeowners also boast that they never water their lawns, and they look great.
Mow lawns at the highest recommended setting to encourage a deep root system and irrigate only if needed. The amount of organic matter in the soil has a lot to do with water retention and saving water. So, add organic matter to plant beds, and convert shrub beds to low-volume irrigation or cap off heads in those zones. You can always hand-water in the event of a severe drought or put out soaker hoses.
If you don't have a rain-barrel to collect water, attend one of our upcoming workshops and make your own.
Fertilize on an as-needed basis. Once established, most trees and shrubs require little or no fertilizer if an organic mulch like leaves, pine straw or pine bark is used in plant beds.
For lawns, apply just enough fertilizer to maintain healthy growth, and select fertilizers with water-insoluble nitrogen to prevent nitrogen from leaching into the groundwater.
Use a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch in plant beds to help conserve water, reduce weeds and prevent erosion. Avoid the trendy "volcano look," and pull mulch 2 to 3 inches away from plant stems to reduce insect and disease problems.
Add plants to the landscape to provide food and shelter for wildlife.
Many flowering and fruiting plants supply a natural food source for wildlife without the need for artificial feeders.
Control pests responsibly
There is no perfect landscape; accept some damage or weeds. If pesticides are required, treat the affected plants and a 10-foot buffer area. Always identify the problem before pulling out the spray bottle.
Use insecticides that are less toxic to beneficial insects like horticultural soaps and oils. Learn to identify beneficial insects so they are not treated by mistake.
Leave grass clippings on the lawn, and place other plant debris in a compost pile. Once broken down, compost can be added to the soil to increase organic matter, which reduces the need for water and fertilizer.
Reduce stormwater runoff
Keep water from moving off your yard through the use of swales and berms or plant material.
Also adjust sprinkler heads along streets and driveways to avoid wasting precious water.
Protect the waterfront
Landscape with plants to create a buffer area at the water's edge or create a swale and berm. Create a 3-foot no-treat zone on the waterfront to prevent fertilizer and pesticides from washing into our waterways.
If fertilizer is applied to hard surfaces, sweep up and place it on the intended plants or back in the bag.
All of these practices help to reduce irrigation needs, protect water quality and enhance our environment.
For more information on Florida-Friendly Landscape principles, go to fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/.
Terry DelValle is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.