As the summer sun beats down on Florida lawns, thirsty plants and grass start to wither. But with the watering restrictions and strict homeowner association rules, what's a homeowner to do? • Create a Florida-friendly yard, which will be cheaper and require less maintenance than a traditional yard because the plants and grasses are matched with local conditions. • Have dry, sandy soil? Consider Bahia grass instead of the thirsty St. Augustine variety. Got a shady spot where grass won't grow? Put in some colorful caladiums. • There's no set formula, since each yard is different, but the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program has a Web site that can help: fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/.
Many homeowners associations encourage pristine expanses of water-guzzling St. Augustine grass. Lisa Strange, of the Hillsborough County Extension Service, wants to change that.
She tries to convince association leaders that Florida-friendly yards can be beautiful, too. Many deed-restricted communities — like Valrico Oaks in eastern Hillsborough —require St. Augustine grass.
"It's in the covenants, so it's obviously something the membership wants," said association president Tom McMullen.
Besides environmental concerns, watering can get expensive.
Julie Ames, who lives in Mason Oaks in Valrico, said she would be open to change. A neighbor attempted to plant zoysia grass, but it didn't look good, she said. "We were all hoping it'd be the answer."
Upon request, Strange will make presentations to associations about alternatives. But, mostly she says it's "like beating my head against a brick wall."
State law prevents deed-restricted communities built after 2001 to prohibit residents from planting Florida-friendly landscapes. But residents who live in communities where St. Augustine is required can still make changes, Strange said.
A yard filled with site-appropriate plants, low-volume irrigation and less grass could easily meet communities' goals of having attractive yards, she said.
Any neighborhood interested in changing its bylaws to allow Florida-friendly landscaping should contact Strange at (813) 744-5519, ext. 142.