Yard 911


How do I make my yard look like those gorgeous landscapes I see in magazines?
Do you have P. Allen Smith’s cell phone? Alas, neither do we. But here are a few suggestions:

Learn What You Like
Go on Garden Tours, look through magazines or online galleries, or just drive around your community noting what landscapes you like best — the plants you like and the landscape elements most appealing to you (a bench in a shady corner of a yard, for example, or a stepping-stone path).

Make a Plan!
Sketch out your landscape design ideas on paper, accounting for the area occupied by your house, driveway, pool, etc. Maybe you want a meandering walkway through your backyard, or a colorful butterfly garden, or a small water feature? Feel free to experiment with different ideas on paper!

Make sure to put the “Right Plants in the Right Place” in your plan, according to the amount of sun, the type of soil, the amount of water they need (or you are willing to provide them), and the mature size of the plants. A tree that will eventually be 50 feet tall is not the best choice to plant under your home’s roof line!

Start Small
Tackle your landscape makeover one section at a time, so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Enjoy the process and the results as you take it step by step. After all, the real world isn’t like those TV shows where a crew transforms an entire yard into a jaw-dropping showplace in just hours!

Get Professional Help
It may be less expensive than you think, especially if you are willing to do the installation of the plants, mulch and hardscape areas yourself. Landscape Designers have specialized training in landscape design principles and can create a complete plan for your yard. Many Garden Coaches (yes, these are real) also can make design recommendations, as well as provide one-on-one instruction in Florida-Friendly gardening to make you a better caretaker of your piece of paradise.

Florida-Friendly Interactive Yard (Online Design Tool)

Designs for Less Lawn or No Lawn At All (Lawn Reform Coalition)

Basic Principles of Landscape Design (University of Florida IFAS)

Where can I buy native plants?
Native plant nurseries specialize in growing and selling plants native to Florida. Search for one near you at www.plantrealflorida.org. These nursery owners know their stuff and can help you select plants suited for your landscape and personal preferences.

Plant festivals are great places to buy native plants from native plant societies and nurseries.

Most native plant society chapters have native plant sales at least once a year. Find your local chapter at http://fnps.org/

Many local, independently owned general nurseries also carry native plants. Ask! Big Box stores also may sell some native plants, such as coonties, muhly grass and dune sunflowers. But the staff may not know what’s native and what’s not, so do your homework before you go.

Visit the Florida Native Plants page for more information on the benefits of landscaping with native plants.

What can I plant that won’t require any care?
Plastic plants. But your neighbors probably will be very unhappy with you. Seriously, all landscapes require some care. But some require less care than others — those are the kind we like!

Landscapes dominated by grass are the most labor-intensive — all that mowing, weeding, watering and fertilizing! Removing some or all of your grass can save you significant money and time in lower water bills and more free weekends to enjoy Being Floridian. Adding mulched beds or borders, outdoor seating areas, and pathways with permeable materials like flagstones or shell, are all elements of low-maintenance yards.

We promote using native or Florida-Friendly Landscape plants. Native plants are those that were here when the first European explorers arrived; they have evolved in Florida and are part of our natural heritage. Florida-Friendly plants are not native, but are adapted to Florida’s tough climate.

No matter what plants you choose for your own personal piece of paradise, give them a great start by planting them according to the directions on the plant label. Space them correctly based on how big and wide they will get, and water them regularly for a few weeks until they get a toehold in their new home. Newly planted trees need a lot of water for the first 6–12 months — literally buckets of it.

Note: If you time your landscape renovations to take advantage of the summer rainy season, Mother Nature will do most of the watering for you!

A searchable index of native plants by county or zip code can be found at www.plantrealflorida.org

A searchable index of Florida-friendly plants is at www.floridayards.org.

The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plan Selection and Landscape Design: http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/FYN_Plant_Selection_Guide_v090110.pdf

What can I plant on a slope?
You have discovered that mowing grass planted on an incline is an uphill battle — and a dangerous one at that! Replace the grass with a spreading, no-mow groundcover like Asiatic jasmine, trailing porterweed, dune sunflower, railroad vine or perennial peanut instead. These can be used alone, or in combination with accent plants such as liriope or ornamental grasses like Fakahatchee grass, muhly grass or fountain grass. We love the idea of an eye-catching rock garden mixed with groundcovers and small shrubs or ornamental grasses. English ivy can work well too, if the slope is shaded. Another good, taller choice for a shady slope is cast-iron plant, with its attractive, deep-green foliage.

As with any new plantings, you’ll need to keep weeds out until the vegetation grows and covers the slope. Steer away from planting trees with shallow roots on a slope — too much risk of toppling.

Gardening In A Minute: Groundcovers (University of Florida IFAS)

Why can’t I grow peonies, tulips, daffodils, wisteria, (fill-in-the-blank plant) I used to grow “Up North” here in Florida?
For the same reason you won’t find polar bears hanging around here: it’s too hot! Just like animals, plants have their preferred places to live. Some like shade, some like sun. Some like lots of water, some don’t. Many plants that thrive in cooler, less humid climates wilt in Florida’s intense sun. Likewise, many tropical plants don’t do well when temperatures fall below 50 degrees.

Attempting to re-create the garden you had “up north” will only lead to frustration and failure. Instead, design your yard for the place you live now and Be Floridian!

Gardening like a Floridian starts with “Right Plant in the Right Place,” according to its sun, water, temperature and soil needs and how big it eventually will grow. Match your plant choices to the conditions in your landscape and you’re on your way to an easy-care yard.

Learn about Plant Hardiness Zones and Find Your Zone: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

What is the best mulch?
This is largely a matter of personal taste, except for cypress mulch! We do not recommend that you buy cypress mulch because it often comes from slow-growing cypress trees in natural wetlands. Our swamps need those cypress trees!

Mulch is essential to Gardening Like A Floridian. It retains moisture, keeps soil from getting too hot or too cold, improves sandy soils by adding organic matter, and helps prevent weeds from growing.
Here are some mulches to consider:

FREE Mulch: Who doesn’t love free? This is mulch from tree trimming companies. Call one up and let them know you’d like some mulch if they are going to be in your neighborhood, or just stop by and talk to a crew you see near your home. Giving you the mulch from their tree trimming and removal jobs saves them from paying to dump it at a city or county facility. This mulch won’t look as pretty as the store-bought stuff, but it works just as well and, hey, did we mention it’s FREE!

Likewise, many cities and counties have yard waste sites where they chip brush and trees into mulch that “cooks” in steamy piles to kill any seeds. You can pick up mulch from these places at very low costs.

Pine Bark: A by-product of the timber industry. Nuggets are available in various sizes. Pine bark retains color and stays in place longer than other mulches.

Pine Needles (also called Pine Straw): Collected from managed pine forests and sold in bales. Has a wonderful soft look in a landscape, though not as long-lasting as pine bark. It will add some acidity to your soil over time as it breaks down — a plus for acid-loving plants like gardenias or azaleas!

Melaleuca (sold under the name FloriMulch): Buy this mulch and you will be helping to rid Florida of one of its most invasive plants! Extra eco-credits for you! Melaleuca mulch also helps to repel unwanted pests, like termites.

Eucalyptus: Comes from commercial eucalyptus plantations. Eucalyptus smells good, helps to repel insect pests, and is more durable than pine straw. Sold in chips.

Colored Mulches: Scraps from the paper or wood production process are ground are shredded and dyed red or green. Many people don’t like the colored mulches, because they don’t look as natural as other types. The color also fades fairly quickly.

Landscape Mulches: What are the choices in Florida? (University of Florida IFAS)

Mulch (Section of Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook)

How do I get rid of grass?
An easy and non-toxic way to kill grass is to smother it using a thick layer of newspapers, plastic, or cardboard, weighed down with bricks. Wetting the newspaper or cardboard helps keep it in place. Leave it there a few weeks. Then remove and install your new plants, adding 3-4 inches of mulch to help prevent weeds, hold in moisture and regulate soil temperature. You can also leave the newspaper or cardboard in place and just plant through or around them: They will break down on their own over time. Making sure to spread an adequate layer of mulch is key to success.
How much fertilizer should I apply to my lawn?

What’s the big deal about using fertilizer in the summer?
It rains in Florida in the summer. A lot. Sometimes every day. And heavy rain doesn’t water fertilizer in, it washes it away — right into the lagoons, rivers, and oceans that are the source of our fun. Fertilizer pollution can cause algae blooms and kill fish. That’s why so many communities throughout Florida have restricted the use of lawn and landscape fertilizers from June-September.

If you want to fertilize your lawn, do it in April and early October, using a slow-release product that nourishes the grass gradually over a longer period. In summer, you can use products without nitrogen or phosphorous (look for fertilizer bags where the first two numbers are 0-0) or apply iron in late summer to green up your grass without promoting growth. Who really wants to mow more often anyway? Tip: Unless you grow prize-winning roses or backyard citrus or other fruits, mature landscape plants — including trees, shrubs and flowers — usually don’t need fertilizer. They do appreciate “good dirt,” however — so adding compost to your soil is a great idea.

Florida-Friendly Yard Products

What can I use instead of grass?
Yes, there is life after grass, and we don’t mean those ugly all-gravel yards! Several low-growing groundcovers make terrific substitutes for turfgrass. One all-purpose groundcover that does well in sun or shade is Asiatic jasmine (Jasmine minima). It eventually grows into a thick dense mat that requires only an occasional “shave” with the weed-whacker. Other spreading groundcovers include perennial peanut, sunshine mimosa, and dune sunflower. Or, you can use a grass-like plant such as liriope or flax lily. Or, create one or more landscape beds bordering a meandering pathway, and fill those beds with hardy shrubs like juniper and coontie, or native wildflowers that attract butterflies and bees. Or create an outdoor seating area with flagstones or pavers, and an arbor with a fragrant flowering vine. Or… you get the picture: The possibilities are endless!

Drought-Tolerant Groundcovers for your Landscape (City of St. Petersburg)

Drought-Tolerant Landscapes

Alternatives To Turf (University of Florida IFAS)

Skip The Grass: Alternative Groundcovers (Be Floridian Video Series)