Florida-Friendly Landscaping - Sowing Seeds of Protection
Spring protection begins at home... in the yard. This is precisely the message the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program has taken to the streets.
By Peter Lane Taylor
It would be hard to find a more inspiring spokesperson for the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program than Katherine Allen, of the Suwannee County Extension office. Passionate and articulate in equal parts, she is evangelical about the program's goals and even more so about the wonders of the springs themselves.
Organized through the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program (FFL) is based on a simple premise: residential yards are the front line in the battle to protect our groundwater, reduce runoff of harmful fertilizers, and restore more natural habitats.
Recent research has shown that groundwater contamination from surface run-off from Florida's yards and excessive irrigation of lawns represents the most significant threats to the health of the aquifer. To counter these threats, homeowners are encouraged to landscape in ways that will reduce water consumption and minimize or eliminate fertilizer and pesticide use.
Yet, as Allen will quickly tell you, that's a lot easier said than done. Yards in Florida are considered an inviolable right, and for many homeowners, the notion that any government agency can tell you what to plant inside your property line is, quite simply, un-American. As a result, the primary goal is to help redefine the concept of a yard itself by encouraging homeowners to think about their own domestic landscape as one small part of a larger, interconnected ecosystem. At the same time, Allen and others are introducing homeowners to methods to create beautiful yards using native or Florida-friendly plants.
Program leaders like Allen try to help homeowners set goals for their landscaping and yards and to consider, for instance, how much time and money they want to invest in mowing and fertilizing grass.
Residential yards are the front line in the battle to protect groundwater, reduce runoff of harmful fertilizers, and restore natural habitats.
After encouraging homeowners to consider the overall goals for their yards, the next step is a bit easier, namely educating people about how to landscape in a spring-friendly way. The FFL program accomplishes this through a variety of strategies, including community outreach and education programs distributing instructional brochures and booklets on environmentally friendly landscaping and.
"I'm pretty sure people think I'm crazy," Allen tells me, "Even when I'm standing in line at the supermarket, I'll start telling people about the beauty of a native yard and the benefits to the springs. But it's one of the most effective ways to educate people about our program. There's a lot of stereotypes out there we have to overcome."
Chief among them is that to have a yard that doesn't require a lot of water means that it will look like the Mohave Desert or include a good deal of neatly piled rocks. Citrus County master gardener Bruce Ides assures me this isn't true and that hardy plants can include such lush and colorful species as dogwoods, lillies, azaleas, columbines, and petunias. For those interested in eating what they plant, pear, fig, avocado, and grapefruit trees are all considered spring-friendly as well.
Beyond simply planting native species, additional environmentally-friendly landscaping techniques include composting to reduce solid waste and the need for chemical fertilizers, rain barrels to collect rainwater, drip irrigation to reduce groundwater use, and mulch to prevent water loss from the soil through evaporation.
Residents who plant Florida-friendly yards can also gain recognition for their efforts. County Extension offices throughout the state will work with homeowners to actually certify yards as being Florida-friendly and provide a sign that may be proudly displayed in the yard.
To prove their point that Florida-friendly yards can be beautiful, Allen and Ides take me outside where they have planted a demonstration garden around the eastern perimeter of their office. In the late afternoon sun, it radiates with a Zen-like balance of colors, patterns, and textures. Most spectacular of all, however, is the beauty I cannot see: each one of these plants requires much less fertilizer and irrigation than those often chosen for a standard residential garden. Allen and Ides smile at me, confident that they have converted yet another skeptic to their gospel.
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