Editor's note: This is one of a series of guest columns as part of the National County Government Week topic of Greening Our Future.
What is a Florida-friendly landscape? In the past several years, Florida has seen remarkable growth and development, but at what cost? As more fields and forest lands are cleared to make way for new development, water flow and natural habitats are changed. In many cases the landscapes installed for these new buildings are ill suited to the area and difficult to maintain.
Florida-friendly landscaping helps alleviate some of the problems associated with traditional urban landscapes. One of the areas of concern associated with neighborhoods is the runoff of water from nonporous surfaces. This is referred to as "storm water runoff."
When rain falls on surfaces like sidewalks, streets, parking lots, roofs and driveways, water moves across the hard surface before it is able to soak into the ground. As it moves along the surface, the water picks up any chemicals, fertilizers or other pollutants that may be lying there.
Fifty percent of the pollution in our urban areas comes from this type of contamination. While there are many ways each of us can help reduce stormwater runoff and pollution, installing a Florida-friendly landscape is an easy and aesthetically pleasing way to start.
Begin by looking at the ways in which you water your landscape. Inefficient watering is one of the easiest and most common mistakes one can make. A Florida-friendly yard is designed with plants that are adapted to our area, and in many cases can survive on natural rainfall. Those properly adapted plants also are happy without the constant addition of fertilizer, therefore reducing the amount of pollution caused by nitrogen and phosphorus leaching into our aquifer. Florida-friendly landscapes blend traditional curb appeal with properly chosen plant material and maintenance practices.
A Florida-friendly landscape can positively accentuate any home, from the small cottage to the grandest estate. You will be practicing good stewardship both for the environment and for your family finances due to lower water bills and fewer dead plants to replace. If you already have your landscape in place, don't despair. Principles of a Florida-friendly yard can be implemented into almost any landscape. Calibrating irrigation systems to deliver three-fourths of an inch of water, applying organic mulches (except for cypress), avoiding fertilization during the winter and limiting pesticide applications to effective and safe chemicals are all ways to introduce Florida-friendly techniques to your yard.
When doing your annual garden sprucing-up, research the plants before you buy them to make sure they are appropriate to our temperatures, rainfall and other environmental conditions. Adding a little Florida-friendly vegetation each year will eventually fill your environment with healthy, well-adapted plants.
For information or for help getting your Florida-friendly landscape started, call the Hernando County Extension Office between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at (352) 754-4433. We hope to hear from you soon; good luck and happy gardening.
John Korycki is the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods coordinator for Hernando County Extension Service/University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.