Creating a Florida Friendly Yard

friendly-yardWhat Is A Florida Yard?

A Florida Yard is an approach that recognizes the home landscape is part of a larger natural system. Creating a Florida Yard does not necessarily mean creating a "wild-looking" yard, but it does mean creating a landscape that is more environmentally sustainable. If designed, installed and maintained properly, a Florida yard will be attractive, environmentally friendly, and will protect natural resources. An aesthetically pleasing Florida-friendly yard begins with good landscape design decisions based on your needs and desires, and a healthy environment. Whether you are designing on a shoestring budget or hiring a professional landscape architect, understanding a few basic concepts can help you make environmentally appropriate decisions and avoid trouble later.

Plan First, Plant Last

The Secret to being satisfied with your landscape design is to follow a logical planning process. Follow the steps below, in conjunction with the Florida Yardstick Workbook to help you create a Florida Friendly landscape.

Step 1- Decide Why You Want To Landscape

In a Florida Yard, appropriate landscaping protects the environment by stabilizing the soil, preventing erosion, filtering pollutants and reducing harmful runoff. Environmental protection should be considered during each step of the landscaping process. Other considerations include aesthetics, improving the resale value of a home, noise reduction, climate control and wildlife habitat.

Step 2- Determine How You Will Use Your Property

Perhaps you need a play area for children or like to give outdoor parties. Maybe you want to have a vegetable garden or enjoy a waterfront view. Maybe you don't want to spend much time in your yard; you just want to enjoy looking at it without time-consuming or costly maintenance

Step 3- Analyze The Existing Site

Take a walk around your property and make note of any special conditions that make your yard unique. Does your site require plants that are tolerant of cold, wind, full sun, shade, drought, occasional flooding, or salt spray? Do you know your soil's pH and nutrient content? Take a soil sample to your local Extension office for testing. Look at your existing vegetation and decide which plants you want to keep. Can you identify some plants that always seem to have one problem or another throughout the year? These plants should be removed. Observe landscaping features of surrounding properties, like shade trees that cast a shadow on your yard. This is a good time to find out if a neighbor will share property lines to enhance plantings for privacy or wildlife.

Step 4- Prepare A Land-Use Plan

A pencil, ruler and graph paper are handy tools for this step. A photocopy of the survey completed for your mortgage is also helpful. Draw your house, and the location of existing trees and shrubs you want to keep. If your yard includes a septic tank, underground utilities or overhead power lines, draw these. If you have a sprinkler system, note the spray coverage.

Now sketch where various activities will take place. (Using tracing paper for this step will allow you to make changes easily). Is there a view you want to enhance or screen? Do you want to attract birds or butterflies? If you live on the water, consider placing intensively maintained turf grass and vegetable gardens away from the water's edge. This will reduce the potential for polluted runoff to reach surface waters. In many circumstances, a 10 to 25 foot buffer strip of turf grass or low maintenance ground cover along the water's edge, maintained with minimal fertilizer and spot treated for pests, can significantly reduce pollution from upland areas. Never allow fertilizers or pesticides to directly enter the water. Consider where you will view the landscape from, you want to be able to see play areas from inside the house. You may want to watch birds or butterflies from a lanai or from a particular spot in the house.

Step 5- Add The Landscape Plan To The Sketch

Determine the types of plants you want in different locations. Don't worry about specific plant identification yet. Indicate where you want trees, shrubs, ground covers, or flowering plants. Remember to keep plants away from buildings to allow for growth and ease of building maintenance. Note the ultimate plant height you desire in each area. Group plants according to their water needs so irrigation can be applied more efficiently and plants will be healthier. The publication Waterwise Florida Landscapes published by the Water Management Districts and available free from your local Extension office has this information.

Step 6- Incorporate The Irrigation System

In-ground irrigation systems are not necessary in every landscape, particularly if drought resistant plants are used However, while plants are becoming established in the yard, a temporary watering system is convenient and usually warrants the effort. Research your irrigation needs and determine which type of system, if any, will be installed. Add any new irrigation plans to your drawing.

Step 7- Select Landscape Materials

Remember to consider maintenance requirements, the limits of your site and wildlife value when selecting plants. Consult gardening books and plant lists specific to Florida (USDA hardiness zone 9 for Citrus County). Try to write the common and scientific name into your plan. Common names may cause confusion when it is time to buy plants. (There may be several plants with the same common name). Also note other landscaping materials that will be used for walkways, mulch or borders.

Step 8- Implement

Buy quality plants. Keep in mind that proper planting techniques are important in establishing healthy plants. Remember to allow enough space for each plant to grow to maturity. Information on proper planting can be obtained from your local Extension service office.

Step 9- Maintain

Maintenance, includes proper irrigating, fertilizing, composting, pruning, mowing, mulching and integrated pest management. The more thorough you are with steps 1 - 8, the less you will have to worry about maintenance. It is possible to maintain an established landscape with minimal amounts of pesticide, fertilizers and supplemental water. Remember, watering efficiently, fertilizing appropriately and controlling yard pests responsibly are all a part of proper landscape maintenance.

Step 10- Enjoy

Photograph the evolution of your Florida yard and share pictures with the FYN or Horticultural Agent in you county. If you have done a good job of planning and planting, you will have created a landscape that is both beautiful and environmentally friendly. Check you yard against the FYN yard certification checklist and if your yard measures up, consider having it recognized as a Florida friendly Yard.

For more information on how to create a Florida friendly yard, contact your local Florida Yards and Neighborhoods office. In Citrus County call (352) 527-5708, or come into the office and request a copy of the publication A Guide to Environmentally Friendly Landscaping.