Flagler County Extension gives advice on landscaping for new homes.

Anyone who gardens knows that a well-kept garden takes some effort and that any attempt to achieve a completely hassle-free garden is a futile undertaking. A better, and less stressful, goal is to understand the soil, climate, and inherent challenges in your local environment, and then plan a garden that will require less maintenance as your garden plants mature over time.

Many local residents who are new to the area call our expansion office with plant problems caused by difficult landscape conditions of a new or existing housing site and not knowing which plants work well in those conditions.

The challenges of residential development

Fill in dirt

Florida remains one of the fastest growing states in the country. In order to do justice to the exponential growth of the state, new developments arise in clearly delimited building areas that are close to sea level and have poor drainage. In accordance with state and local regulations to prevent flood damage, fill dirt is imported to increase the finished floor height of new homes. Obtaining good quality fill debris can be problematic and costly. As a result, sea and river soil dredging are sometimes purchased as fill debris. This dredging material, known as the “hard pan,” often contains silty clay and can contain toxic chemicals and buildup of minerals.

If you notice areas of your garden that are suffering and are not seeing symptoms of pests or diseases, you can have your soil pH tested for free at your local UF / IFAS expansion office to check for extreme acidity or alkalinity. You can also get a more detailed soil nutrient analysis by submitting soil samples to our UF / IFAS Extension Soils Lab via https://soilslab.ifas.ufl.edu.

Clear cutting

In new buildings where houses are planned to be built on concrete slabs, clear-cutting prior to construction is the usual practice in order to enable the introduction and distribution of filling dirt, which raises the finished floor height to the required level. The removal of established habitats in the first construction phases creates a bared environment that is out of balance with the surrounding ecosystem.

As a result, new developments are becoming a haven for plant pests and diseases that cannot have natural enemies to control their population. Invasive species are licensed to displace other native species that have disrupted the ecosystem. If you see a flaw on your property that you cannot identify, email your local UF / IFAS expansion office a good photo or bring a live sample of the flaw so it can be identified.

Not all bugs are bad bugs. In fact, many are predatory insects that are beneficial to your garden as they feed on other garden pests. If you think you have an invasive plant or animal species, email a photo or bring a live sample as well for scientifically based advice on how to control it.

Lack of biodiversity

New subdivisions are typically provided with a limited range of plants, creating a “monoculture” environment that is limited in biodiversity and lowers soil fertility. A new homeowner usually has a freshly saturated lawn, a few young trees, and a number of foundation shrubs.

The UF / IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping ™ program is designed to provide recommendations to homeowners on how to improve the biodiversity of their gardens with a combination of native and non-invasive exotic plants that are relatively disease resistant and tolerant of local environmental conditions. A helpful guide is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping ™ Guide to Plant Selection and Landscape Design under the following link: https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/fflifasufledu/docs/FYN_Plant_Selection_Guide_2015.pdf.

To learn more about the benefits of a Florida-Friendly Landscape ™, contact your local UF / IFAS expansion office for more information.

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