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Springscaping for a Healthy Aquifer

Fertilizers and pesticides applied to residential lawns are significant sources of pollutants to the aquifer.

In addition, irrigation of lawns and landscaping represents one of the largest water uses in Florida. The Master Gardener's program at the Leon County Extension helps teach Tallahassee area residents about gardening techniques that minimize the impact of residential landscaping on the environment.

Fertilizers applied to residential lawns are major sources of pollutants in the Wakulla Springshed. Additionally, irrigation of lawns represents one of the single largest impacts on the groundwater supply in Florida. Attractive landscaping is possible without harming the aquifer, but it requires new ways of thinking and an understanding of the plants that are best suited for Florida.

The Leon County Extension offers support and training for homeowners interested in learning about Florida-friendly landscaping techniques. The Leon County Extension headquarters also has an award-winning demonstration garden featuring plants that are best suited for the north Florida climate.

Participants in the Leon County Extension's Master Gardener program are trained to help teach other area residents about successful landscaping techniques with a focus on environmental stewardship.

Tallahassee resident Pam Sawyer is a Master Gardener who has transformed her property from one dominated by turf grass to a showplace for Florida-friendly plants. Sawyer, who relocated from Maryland, had little knowledge of the requirements for successful landscaping in the hot and steamy north Florida climate.

"When we first bought our property it had probably twice as much grass as we have now. We didn't do anything for about five years and then we started with shady areas of the yard where the grass was doing really poorly in," explains Sawyer. "For a while we kept trying to make the grass grow and then we realized that it wasn't going to grow because it didn't get enough sun. We didn't want to cut down trees so we started transforming the areas where the grass was declining. We mulched them and conditioned the soil and made gardening beds in those areas."

Recycling yard and household wastes yields rich compost for Pam Sawyer's flowerbeds. Compost serves as a natural fertilizer providing nutrient's needed by plants to grow. Compost, in addition to mulching, helps retain moisture in flowerbeds and minimizes the need for watering.

"I mulch a lot because mulching keeps the soil cool. The plants get so hot around here," says Sawyer. "Even at night, a lot of times, it doesn't cool off. So mulch really helps the plants to stay cooler, conserves water and cuts down on weeds. In my opinion it's really the most important thing you can do for your garden in Florida."

At the Leon County Extension demonstration garden, the yellow perennial peanut serves as an attractive groundcover requiring virtually no maintenance. Perennial peanut is just one example of a drought tolerant plant that can add color to landscaping and serve as a good replacement for sections of lawn.

Micro-irrigation is important for water conservation and works by applying water directly where needed in landscaping beds. Micro-irrigation also helps reduce water loss and waste due to evaporation. Master Gardeners are taught about water-saving irrigation techniques, proper fertilizer use and native and non-native plants that grow best in Florida.

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