Gardening: Landscaping, the Florida friendly way

Eileen Ward
Dune or beach sunflower blooms year-round. Planting native and Florida-friendly ground covers, shrubs and trees is one way to help the environment.

The term xeriscape has been replaced with Florida Friendly Landscapes. I suppose because the term xeriscape was constantly being changed by people to zeroscape and then believing this meant having zero plants and only rock for a landscape.

Actually, xeri means dry and I thought it was a clever term but I digress. Xeriscape is a wonderful concept which encompasses much more than to cover the ground around your home with white rock or plastic grass. While small areas of these materials used in walkways or small decorative areas could be incorporated into a nice xeriscape plan, it is not a benefit to our environment or ground water on Marco Island to have an island covered in rock and plastic.

Dune sunflowers (front) and cordgrass, Florida native plants, are seen in a rock bed being maintained by Spencer Porteous, of DIGG Gardens in Vero Beach, at the riverfront of The Pointes condominiums in The Moorings community of Vero Beach.  The neighborhood of 39 condominiums have adopted Indian River Lagoon-friendly landscaping of Florida native and Florida-friendly plants.

Two ways pollutants can reach ground water are through runoff and leaching. Runoff is the physical transport of pollutants over surface lands. Leaching is a process whereby pollutants are flushed out of soil by water as it percolates through the ground. In our area, where the land is flat, sandy and porous, leaching is a more serious problem than runoff.

The grass and other green plants in your yard hold topsoil in place, trap sediments, and absorb nutrients that can pollute water. Grasses remove potentially polluting nutrients from waste and use these nutrients to grow. Grass and other green plants also transpire to cool the air around them as water is taken up by the plant and then transpired into the air as evaporation. White rock can raise the temperature around your house considerably due to radiant heat. The money you’ll save in water will be spent on the electricity bills to cool your house due to the increase in outside temperature. Oops, up goes the carbon footprint.

Star jasmine is decorative and doesn't need fertilizer or pesticides. Planting native and Florida-friendly ground covers, shrubs and trees is one way to help the environment.

Xeriscape is water conservation through creative landscaping. The seven principals of a Florida friendly landscape are:

  • Appropriate planning and design. Especially of your irrigation system.
  • Soil improvement. Soil improvements allow for better absorption of water and water holding capacity of the soil. Soils that have organic matter provide nutrients to plants.
  • Efficient irrigation. A well planned sprinkler system can save a lot of water. For efficient water use, turf areas should be irrigated separately from other plants. Group your landscape plants according to their water needs. For example, don’t plant your impatiens, which need a lot of water, in a garden with dwarf bougainvillea, which doesn’t like much water for optimum flowering. Use sprinklers to water turf and drip or bubblers in your plant beds. Check and adjust your irrigation system regularly and water only when and as much as needed.
  • Practical turf areas. Locate turf only where it provides benefits. Turf should be separated from groups of trees, shrubs and ground covers so it can be irrigated separately. Turf can be replaced with other low water demanding materials such as ground covers, drought tolerant plants or mulch. Turf slows runoff, which is one of the ways pollutants reach our ground water from landscapes and should be placed in areas such as swales. Swales are designed to absorb water. All the more reason they should be covered in pollution filtering grass rather than rock which would allow the pollutants to pass right through to our ground water. Often the turf in swales will stay green and healthy with almost no irrigation because of runoff. Note that I don’t believe a few rock swales is going to have a great impact on the environment. However, it has been the rule that rock swales are not allowed since I moved here in 1980 and I always wondered why no one enforced this. They should, going forward.
  • Use drought tolerant plants whenever possible. Many drought tolerant turf grasses are also available. St Augustine is moderately drought tolerant when watered and fertilized properly to develop a deep root system.
  • Use mulch. Mulched planting beds are an attractive replacement for turf areas. Mulch covers and cools soil, minimizes evaporation, reduces weed growth and slows erosion. They also add interest to the design. Organic mulches include pine straw, bark chips and shredded woods. Apply mulch directly to the soil or over breathable or biodegradable landscape matting, never over plastic.
  • Appropriate maintenance. Proper mowing, pruning, weeding, limited fertilization, pest control and irrigation system use all save and protect water in various ways.

Water conservation and health is something we should all be concerned with but let’s conserve in our landscapes with the more environmentally friendly browns and greens and stay away from those stark, environmentally unfriendly rock yards.

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And:Gardening: Time to fertilize your shrubs, trees and lawns

Also:Gardening: Let the mulching begin

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at or 239-394-1413.