Landscape your yard to save some green
At this time of year, you may be thinking about sprucing up your yard with some new plants and shrubs. Why not adopt a landscaping plan that could work well in Florida's climate and ultimately help you save money by conserving water and energy on the home front?
1 Grow plants that want to be here. By opting for plants and flowers that thrive in Florida's unique environment, you can save money and time by avoiding expensive feeding, special compost and excessive fussing and watering.
2 Your local extension service can help. Each Florida county has an extension office in partnership with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Resources include educational materials, demonstrations, answers to questions and classes leading to certification as a "Master Gardener." To find the extension service for your county, visit http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/map/.
3 Know where else to gather intelligence. Visit www.floridayards.org and click on "Florida-friendly Plant Database." From there, specify details about your specific region and yard conditions and get oodles of suggestions.
4 Save money on seeds and plants. You can grow free plants from cuttings you trade with your gardening aficionado neighbors and friends. With a little bit of planning, you can pull seeds off existing plants and save them over the winter for next year's garden.
5 Strategize about ways to stay cool. Want to save money on your air-conditioning bills? Plant trees or shrubs so they shade air-conditioning units without blocking the airflow. Avoid landscaping with unshaded rock, asphalt or cement on the south or west sides of the house; it will raise temperatures and radiate heat to the house after the sun sets.
6 A trellis can provide shade. Vines grown on trellises can shade the entire side of a house. Trees or a fence also could do the trick.
7 Trees are your friends. Three trees situated strategically on the south and west sides of your house can reduce your utility bill by $100 to $250 a year.
8 Water wisely. Water your lawn during the coolest times of the day to reduce evaporation. Don't cut your lawn too short — the grass won't be able to hold as much moisture. To find water restrictions where you live, contact your city or county or visit the Web site of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (www.swfwmd.state.fl.us).
9 Use your head when it comes to hoses. Choose pistol-style hose nozzles because they shut off automatically, and keep the water turned off at the spigot to avoid leaks. Rather than cleaning sidewalks, driveways and outdoor steps with a hose, sweep them with a broom.
10 Create your own compost. You can start a compost pile in an old trash can or on a small plot of land with exposure to sun and rain. Throw raked leaves, potato peels, egg shells, coffee grounds and other leftovers into the pile. Mix those ingredients well, and leave them alone for a week. Then add more. Within a season, you'll have free fertilizer.
Laura T. Coffey
Sources: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (http://extension.ifas.ufl.edu/); U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Savers program (www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/); Southwest Florida Water Management District (www.swfwmd.state.fl.us).