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9 Steps Toward Creating a Florida-Friendly Lawn

A Florida lawn: some may only see it as just that. But when it comes down to it, your lawn is capable of so much more than most people imagine: low maintenance, healthy, aesthetically pleasing, sustainable and welcoming to native plants and wildlife.

Maintaining a Florida-Friendly lawn is at the core of the ultimate Florida landowner, and there are certainly values to follow in order to help us reach this goal. To do your part in creating a healthy Florida environment, adhere to these principles:

1. Right plant, right place:

Achieving the best Florida lawn starts at the beginning: the placement of your plants. Take into consideration the soil, light conditions, water, and climate conditions that impact your site, and choose plants that will work with these conditions. Do your research, and make the decision to purchase quality plants that are the proper size and are diverse. Trees, shrubs, ground covers, and flowers are all great together. Once established, these plants will require little supplemental water, fertilizer, or pesticides, which ultimately saves you time and money. Don’t forget to remove any invasive plants from your yard, or they’re sure to cause trouble.

2. Water Efficiently:

If you’ve completed the goal of #1, it will make the mission of efficient watering much easier. Grouping plants with similar water needs and implementing proper irrigation systems appropriately goes a long way toward conserving water. Before irrigating, adapt the methods of a “weather watcher,” and keep out for signs of wilt. Watering is not necessary if it’s looking like rain, and when possible, water early in the morning to avoid the effects of the hot Florida sun. Using a watering can, pail, or hose is the best way to water, but don’t neglect your in-ground irrigation system. Check it often for leaks, breaks, and clogs.

3. Fertilize Appropriately:

There are UF/IFAS recommended rates and application timings to prevent leaching, which is when fertilizer leaks down through the soil, instead of it being absorbed properly. The best types of fertilizer are those with slow-release nitrogen and very little (if any) phosphorous. One of the most important ways to keep any bodies of water safe from fertilizer is to keep at least 10 feet between the fertilizer and the water, and avoid applying it before a heavy rain.

4. Mulch:

Mulch has many great benefits, such as retaining soil moisture, protecting plants, and stopping weed growth. Not only that, but it is aesthetically pleasing as well! It’s also a great Florida-Friendly choice for areas that are difficult to mow or that are not exposed to as much sun.

5. Attract Wildlife:

There’s no denying that our landscapes are becoming more and more tailored to suit human lifestyles, which is damaging to local wildlife. Using plants that can provide food, water, and shelter to some of the most common local animals can make a world of a difference. Birds, butterflies, and bats are only some of the animals that will treat your yard like an oasis. Rain gardens and bird baths are a great way to get started, and will welcome some of nature’s most beautiful creatures in an aesthetic way

6. Manage Yard Pests Responsibly:

IMP, or Integrated Pest Management, is a strategy that scientists are now recommending with the intended goal of keeping the number of garden pests down with as few chemicals as possible One of the greatest ways to prevent disease and insect outbreaks on your lawn is to choose plants that naturally resist pests, and to put them in appropriate locations. Pay attention to the amount of water and fertilizer you’re using regularly, and keep grass at a suitable height. If you do see a problem, act swiftly by removing any affected leaves or plant parts, or pick the insects right off of the plant. Treat plants by spot-treating only, and you’ll soon be on your way to a low-maintenance and healthy landscape that benefits the plants, wildlife, and family (that’s you) that occupies it.

7. Recycling Yard Waste:

It is of no surprise that recycling would be on the list of tips to create the healthiest, most environmentally-friendly lawn possible. But the truth is that it’s much easier to do than some people may think! Anything from pruned branches to grass clippings will decompose and provide organic matter and nutrients back to the soil. To compost, combine green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. Examples of this are grass clippings, weeds, plant trimmings, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, twigs and branches, pine needles, corn cobs, and even shredded cardboard. Add water to your mixture so it will break down, but protect it from the rain. This mixture, added to soil, allows it to be looser while also holding water.

8. Reduce Storm Water Runoff:

Water is a hugely important aspect of the Florida landscape as a whole, so of course, what we put on our lawns can certainly affect our waterways, including fertilizers and harmful pesticides. Between these, landscape debris, and eroded soil, our water quality and the sometimes fragile ecosystems supported by our water are at a major risk. In following this Florida-friendly theme, we should be retaining as much rainfall and irrigation water as possible, which can be done by creating shallow rain gardens, and creating a lawn shaped uniquely with rises and dips. Any opportunity to allow rain to soak into the ground rather than run down it and into our waterways is an opportunity to jump on.

9. Protecting the Waterfront:

Whether you live on it, near its edge, or within a watershed or drainage area, Florida’s waterfronts are just as much your home as any other part of the state, and as a community, we should all understand how important it is to care for it. The choices you make when caring for your lawn affect more than just the confines of your property – they span to the waterways. While practicing numbers one to eight in this list, act with this in mind: a 10-foot maintenance-free zone will protect any bodies of water nearby. A “maintenance-free zone” should be free of mowing, fertilizer, or pesticides.

The best way to make a difference in your Florida environment is not just to do your part, but to share these values with your community. The more who are involved, the larger the impact on our waterways, natural wildlife, and overall wellbeing, and that is certainly something that will help you set the right example for others.