Landscaping, the Florida friendly way

The term Xeriscape has been replaced by Florida Friendly Landscapes. I suspect because the term Xeriscape was constantly being changed by the people in Zeroscape and then believed that this meant having no plants and only rocks for a landscape.

Actually, xeri means dry and I thought it was a smart term, but I’m digressing. Xeriscape is a wonderful concept that involves much more than covering the floor around your home with white stone or plastic grass. While small areas of these materials used in sidewalks or small decorative areas could be incorporated into a beautiful Xeriscape plan, it is not beneficial for our environment or Marco Island’s groundwater to have an island covered in rock and plastic is.

Dune sunflowers (front) and cordgrass, native plants of Florida, can be seen in a bed of rock tended by Spencer Porteous of DIGG Gardens in Vero Beach on the riverside of the Pointes Condominiums in the Moorings community of Vero Beach.  The neighborhood of 39 condos has adopted Indian River Lagoon-friendly landscaping with native and Florida-friendly plants.

Pollutants can get into the groundwater in two ways, namely by runoff and leaching. Runoff is the physical transport of pollutants across surfaces. Leaching is a process where pollutants are washed out of the soil by water as it seeps through the soil. In our area, where the land is flat, sandy, and porous, leaching is a more serious problem than runoff.

The grass and other green plants in your yard hold the topsoil in place, trapping sediments, and taking in nutrients that can pollute the water. Grasses remove potentially polluting nutrients from waste and use those nutrients to grow. Grass and other green plants also cool the air around them as water is absorbed by the plant and then released into the air as evaporation. White rock can significantly increase the temperature around your home due to radiant heat. The money you save on water is spent on electricity bills to keep your home cool as the outside temperature rises. Oops, the carbon footprint is increasing.

Star jasmine is decorative and requires neither fertilizers nor pesticides.  Planting native and Florida-friendly ground covers, shrubs, and trees is one way to help the environment.

Xeriscape is water conservation through creative landscaping. The seven principles of a Florida-friendly landscape are:

  • Appropriate planning and design. Especially from your irrigation system.
  • Soil improvement. Soil improvements enable better water absorption and water retention capacity of the soil. Soils with organic matter provide the plants with nutrients.
  • Efficient irrigation. A well-planned sprinkler system can save a lot of water. For efficient water use, lawns should be watered separately from other plants. Group your landscaping plants according to their water needs. For example, do not plant your impatiens that need a lot of water in a garden with dwarf bougainvillea, which does not like a lot of water for optimal flowering. Use sprinklers to water lawns and drip or sprinklers in your plant beds. Check and adjust your irrigation system regularly and only water when and as much as necessary.
  • Practical lawns. Only place lawns where they are beneficial. The lawn should be separated from groups of trees, shrubs and ground cover so that it can be watered separately. Lawn can be replaced with other materials that require little water, such as ground cover, drought tolerant plants, or mulch. Lawn slows runoff, which causes pollutants from landscapes to get into our groundwater and should be placed in areas such as hollows. Swales are designed to absorb water. All the more, they should be covered with pollutant-filtering grass and not with rocks that would penetrate the pollutants directly into our groundwater. Often the lawn stays green and healthy in depressions, as there is almost no irrigation because of the runoff. Note that I don’t think a couple of ledges will have much of an impact on the environment. Since I moved here in 1980, however, it has been the rule that rock sinks are not allowed and I have always wondered why no one has enforced this. You should go forward.
  • Use drought tolerant plants whenever possible. Many drought tolerant turf grasses are also available. St. Augustine is moderately drought tolerant when properly watered and fertilized to develop a deep root system.
  • Use mulch. Mulch plant beds are an attractive substitute for lawns. Mulch covers and cools the soil, minimizing evaporation, reducing weed growth and slowing down erosion. They also add interest to the design. Organic mulches include pine straw, bark shavings, and woods. Apply mulch directly to the ground or over breathable or biodegradable landscaping mats, never over plastic.
  • Appropriate maintenance. Proper mowing, pruning, weeding, limited fertilization, pest control, and irrigation systems save and protect water in a number of ways.

Water conservation and health are something we should all be concerned about, but let’s save up on our landscapes with the more environmentally friendly browns and greens and stay away from those bare, environmentally unfriendly rock gardens.

More:Gardening: Florida’s Snow Days Are Here

And:Gardening: Time to fertilize your shrubs, trees, and lawns

Likewise:Gardening: Let the mulching begin

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscaping and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at or 239-394-1413.

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