Alternatives to expensive, resource hungry lawns
Homeowners growing weary of maintaining lush green lawns may want to consider trying a different approach, one that incorporates native plants and grasses that do not need as much care as lawns. The savings to the environment – as well as your water bill – are significant.
Lush green lawns and golf courses may look nice but they require pesticides, regular watering and mowing in order to thrive. Furthermore, nitrates from fertilizer eventually make their way into Florida’s streams and rivers resulting in those ugly green algae blooms that are becoming more prevalent.
An alternative landscaping technique that is increasingly popular is Xeriscaping. According to ECO-Action, the Green Alternative Web site, Xeriscape landscaping is defined as landscaping that conserves water while it protects the environment. These techniques can be applied to new or existing landscapes to create and maintain lush and lively areas as well as save water, time and money.
The term Xeriscape originated in Denver, Colorado during a drought in the early 1980s. Water managers and landscape professionals put their heads together to come up with solutions to a common problem: water wasted in landscape.
When used vigorously these principles can result in as much as an 80 percent reduction in water consumption, depending on the landscape’s location, size, soil and existing vegetation.
“We try not to say Xeriscape. People think rock and sand and cactus,” said Wendy Wilber, Florida Environmental Horticulture Agent, in a recent phone interview. “We prefer Florida-Friendly Landscaping.”
Wilber pointed out that because of Florida’s Karst geology, with its abundance of sinkholes, there is ample opportunity for pesticides and fertilizers to find their way into the water supply.
“There are many little windows to the aquifer,” she said. “So we try to help people with this concept, to create low impact landscapes for Florida.”
A Florida-friendly landscape needs less maintenance and is designed to resist droughts, reduce storm water runoff and decrease potential pollution from nitrates and pesticides. It is good for the wallet and good for the environment.
“We have a finite amount of water and a seemingly infinite number of people moving to Florida,” Wilber said, illustrating the need for people to become more aware of water conservation.
According to a report by the South Florida Water Management District in 2001, half of residential water was used for outdoor irrigation.
“Water is an issue,” Wilber said, and when creating a Florida friendly landscape people should use native grasses such as Bahia, which has deep roots and is drought resistant. People should also only use slow release fertilizer.
A documentary made by two University of Florida students cites some alarming statistics, as published recently in the Gainesville Sun. “Gimme Green”, created by Eric Flagg and Isaac Brown, maintains that Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on their yards and that lawns require 200 gallons of water per person per day. Americans apply more than 30,000 tons of pesticides to their yards every year. Of the 30 most-used lawn pesticides, 17 are routinely detected in groundwater.
Last year in a cooperative effort between local businesses, IFAS, the Garden Club and the Girl Scouts, a Florida-friendly landscape was created at the High Springs City Hall.
“The Girl Scouts loved it,” said Irene Patterson, who assisted with the project. “They worked hard and had a great time.” Patterson said that the project incorporated a micro-irrigation system provided by the Suwannee River Partnership.
She would like to see a similar project at the fire station.
“We’d like to do that next,” Patterson said. “That project might take a couple of years.”
As noted on a sign at City Hall, a Florida-friendly landscape incorporates these nine principals:
· Right Plant, Right Place
· Water Efficiently
· Fertilize Appropriately
· Attract Wildlife
· Control Yard Pests Responsibly
· Recycle Yard Debris
· Reduce Stormwater Runoff
· Protect the Waterfront
To learn more about creating a Florida-friendly landscape visit floridayards.org.