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St. Petersburg official calls for native plants in lawns, medians

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's sprawling vistas of thirsty grass are costing taxpayers a lot of green, City Council member Karl Nurse announced last week.

His solution: Replace lawns and grassy medians with native plants and encourage more residents to do the same.

Nurse will pitch his landscaping plan at a City Council meeting Thursday. If the council agrees to move forward, city staff would be directed to find out how much the lawn conversion would cost and how much it would save, Nurse said.

Lawns that aren't used for recreational activities, including the grass surrounding City Hall, should be replaced with pine, flowers or other native plants that do not need to be regularly watered or maintained, Nurse said.

As Florida struggles through a drought, water conservation will continue to be a pressing topic, Nurse said.

"We are going to end up growing what already grows here," he said.

Nurse also called for changes to the city's landscaping code to promote Florida friendly lawns, including limitations on turf and areas with traditional irrigation systems.

Nurse already practices what he preaches. He announced his landscaping plan during a news conference held at the Nelson Apartments at 430 Fifth St. N, which Nurse owns. He replaced the lawn there with horizontal cocoplums, slash pine trees and beach sunflowers, all native Florida plants. The new lawn will eventually be self-sustaining, he said.

"It's a gradual process," he said.

City Council Chairman Jamie Bennett, the only other council member to attend the news conference, said he supported the effort.

"I find it beautiful," he said of Nurse's lawn.

Relatively normal rainfall in 2008 has somewhat improved water conditions in the Tampa Bay area, but the area's water resources continue to be affected by two years of drought.

If St. Petersburg adopts Nurse's plan, it could become the largest city in the state to embrace native landscaping, said Bill Bilodeau, president of the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.

"We are really getting pinched again on the water issue," he said. "So we need to find alternatives."

It's unclear how much the plan could save the city, said Clarence Scott, city services administrator.

But native landscaping could be a tough sell to residents who love the city's pristine St. Augustine lawns.

"The general public has a preference for green space," he said.

St. Petersburg official calls for native plants in lawns, medians 12/02/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 11:46am]
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