Less is best. Grass, that is.

That summed up one attendee’s learning experience at a Florida Friendly Landscaping workshop recently at City Hall. Around 60 residents attended.

Members of the University of Florida’s Extension Office described the nine basic principals of Florida Friendly Landscapes and imparted sage advice that left some scratching their heads.

For example, do your shrubs need constant pruning? Then you don’t have the right shrub in the right place.

“It’s not healthy to prune over and over,” said Wilma Holley, a Florida Friendly Landscaping program specialist with the UF/IFAS Extension. “If you need something five feet tall, look for a plant that grows five feet tall. Then you can rest in the hammock and enjoy Florida because you aren’t pruning all the time.”

They also provided tips on how to get started establishing a Florida lawn, and went over some of the bad habits that keep Floridians from being Florida Friendly.

One of those bad habits is over-fertilizing. How many times a year should you fertilize? Once, experts say, if at all, in the spring.

“We don’t recommend fertilizing plants when they are dormant,” Holley said. “It shocks them.”

Other key takeaways:

• Reduce the amount of turf or lawn you have.

Have an area where grass is having a hard time growing? Filling large areas with Florida Native plants, shrubs and trees covered in aesthetically pleasing mulch will not only require less watering, but far less fertilizer and pesticides.

And, said Holley, it will create shade and places for wildlife to enjoy. Many of those critters eat pesky bugs.

“You want to attract pollinators, butterflies and bees. It’s a different approach than what most people are used to,” Holley said.

“Diversify your ground cover. Monocultures are prone to pests and diseases. A variety provides more diverse wildlife.”

• No more fertilizer or pesticides. Pat Williams, UF’s residential horticulture extension agent, said he doesn’t use any fertilizer or pesticides, since they both cause problems.

“Misuse of fertilizers and pesticides contribute to water pollution,” Williams said. “Sixty percent of Florida fresh water is used on landscape irrigation. We can lower that amount significantly with Florida Friendly Landscaping.”

• Do an irrigation audit.

Few people know how much water their sprinklers actually provide. Williams described a simple test to find out. Put out an empty coffee can in an area of lawn. It should fill one quarter inch with water during a normal cycle. That’s enough. If it’s filling the can more, then you’re over watering. Reduce the time for each watering cycle accordingly.

Don’t water the driveway or roadway or sidewalks or the side of your residence. Adjust sprinkler heads accordingly.

Microwatering systems, like drip lines, are also useful and use far less water if maintained properly.

Did you know?

After a tree has been established for seven years it no longer needs any watering.

Did you know? A telltale sign of over-watering is the dollar weed.

Did you know? Florida is the only state in the nation with an overall rain sensor statute.

Established in 1991, this statute applies to all new automatic sprinkler systems: “Any person who purchases and installs an automatic lawn sprinkler system after May 1, 1991, shall install, and must maintain and operate, a rain sensor device or switch that will override the irrigation cycle of the sprinkler system when adequate rainfall has occurred.” (Florida Statute 373.662).

Unfortunately, the sensors often fall into disrepair within a few years of being installed. That’s why you see sprinklers still operating when it’s raining.

Did you know? Your homeowners association can’t prohibit you from installing and maintaining Florida Friendly landscapes.

Check with your HOA before you make changes to your landscape, suggests UF/IFAS Extension. HOAs usually have a landscape review board and can regulate the appearance and types of plantings in your yard, as long as they do not prohibit you from installing Florida Friendly Landscapes. It’s the law. You can urge your HOA to adopt all or part of the model Florida Friendly Landscaping restrictions found online at FYN.ifas.ufl.edu/.

9 principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping

Right plant, right place. Plants selected to suit a specific site require minimal amounts of water, fertilizers and pesticides. Experts say if you don’t follow this No. 1 principle, none of the rest matters.

Water efficiently. Irrigate only when your lawn and landscape need water. Efficient watering is the key to a healthy Florida yard and conservation of limited resources.

Fertilize appropriately. Less is often best. Overuse of fertilizers can be hazardous to our landscape and the environment.

Use pesticides sparingly. Unwise use of pesticides can harm people, pets, beneficial organisms and the environment. Manage yard pests responsibly.

Recycle. Grass clippings, leaves and yard trimmings recycled on site provide nutrients back to the soil and reduce water disposal when reused on your landscape.

Mulch. Maintaining a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch will help retain soil moisture, prevent erosion and suppress weeds. Over-mulching, especially around the base of a plant or shrub, can be harmful.

Attract wildlife. Plants in your landscape that provide food, water and shelter will attract Florida’s diverse wildlife.

Reduce stormwater runoff. Water running off your landscape can carry pollutants such as soil, debris, fertilizer, gasoline and pesticides that can negatively impact water quality. How about installing water barrels around your residence?

Protect the waterfront. Waterfront property, whether on a river, stream pond, bay or beach, is very fragile and should be carefully protected to maintain freshwater and marine ecosystems.

Resources

UF/IFAS Extension has a number of substantive resources free to the public, like it’s “FFL Guide to Plant Selection and Landscape Design.” It’s 112 pages with color photos of all types of large trees, small trees, large shrubs, small shrubs, groundcovers, palms and palm like plants, perenials, annuals and turfgrasses.

Find the same information online at ff.ifas.ufl.edu/plants.

The booklet’s section on designing a Florida Friendly Landscape is especially helpful, providing ideas on how to spruce up a front enter, along walls or sidwalks, under window, along fences, under trees and hiding those ugly utilities boxes.

It even has ways to improve areas that often have standing water, called a rain garden.

Call an expert to visit your home at 941-861-9900 or email sarasota@ifas.ufl.edu, or online at sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasota.

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