Grassless Florida Friendly Landscaping

The time has come to do something with that old lawn. Why replace it with more grass? The first cold front has already brought with it cooler weather, and a lack of rain. Wouldn’t it be nice to put in something that will look colorful all year long and last many years without a lot of work? Go Grassless.

Low Maintenance Landscape

If you are looking for something easy to maintain, less grass is your best option.  Think about it… grass is the highest maintenance element in any landscape design.  it requires constant attention from mowing, to weeding, to chemical to physical, weekly during the growing season to bi-weekly in the off-season.  Reduce or eliminate this one element and your amount of yard maintenance is also reduced.  This is a no-brainer!

Anytime is the Right Time 

Unlike traditional landscape projects, grassless landscape designs can be installed any time of year.  Hardscape elements like Pavers and Pathways add value to any landscape design.  These projects can also be done in the winter months.  In fact, it is better to plan these projects when the rain is not in the forecast.  Most of my clients like to do all of their work during the hottest and wettest part of the year, and that’s alright… I don’t mind it.  But, why wait?  Getting your plants in the soil during the dormant season will have them established during the growing season.

Save Water and Still Look Great!

Watering plants during the dormant season means using less water.  Less water also helps with having less weeds…nature works like a machine.  One thing effects another and on and on.  If you want a low maintenance landscape, you must design it that way.  Everything has a process that it follows by design.  Grassless yards are designed to save you time, water and money.  

 

The Cost of Florida Friendly Landscaping

grassless-yard

Grassless Yard

I have been talking to many of my clients for years, on the subject of reducing turf areas, or removing the entire portion of grass left in their yard, and doing something different. My background experience and knowledge database comes from a maintenance company I had owned for many years prior, and many others I had worked for prior to that.

I developed a style of landscape design that didn’t require the need for grass, irrigation, fertilizers, or constant maintenance. I thought this might be an attractive idea for most people, as nobody seems to have the time to care for a nice lawn, and spending more money to maintain such a cheap element in the landscape didn’t make sense either.

As it turned out, “Going Grassless” was a tougher sell than I believed it to be. For some reason, most people still want a nice lawn, even when to do so has proved impossible under current circumstances. I have to admit, I would like to own a unicorn …if I could. I don’t have the means to care for a horse, and if it were even possible to buy such an animal, I would need to be able to care for it like a horse. Having a nice lawn today requires deep pockets filled with resources you are willing to throw away… for something you will barely notice and have to constantly care for. At least you can ride a unicorn …or a horse!

Cost of Water

First, if you are on city water, you should notice this every month. When you are on metered water, you get surcharged for going over a certain limit of usage. In dry months, when you have to sneak in a day here and there to keep from losing your investment, you will exceed this threshold and see it in your water bill. Over time, if you add up the cost, you will be shocked! The cost of watering your lawn goes beyond the actual dollars you spend on the entire install of the lawn…  and all of your  water bills combined.

Cost of Maintenance

To keep a lawn healthy, You will obviously need water. Fertilizers will be needed to feed the lawn, but if your soil PH is not right (due to acidic trees such as oaks or pines), you will need to correct that before fertilizers will work. Then, you will need more water… to keep the fertilizers from burning your lawn. More water means more weeds, so you will have to stay on top of that issue. Also, during the summer months, more rain and humidity will make the grass grow… so you will have to cut it more often. Too much rain or water will cause fungus and disease, and that becomes an issue. In the dry season you will have to water more or watch your investment wither… grass is a live element that needs your attention and WATER.  Besides the time factor, which nobody seems to keep in mind, there are greater costs to consider as well.

 

Environmental and Ethical Costs

Some tell me “I don’t worry about my water bill, I’m on a well.” Okay.. you are free from a meter, but your water comes from the same source… THE GROUND. Pumping ground water to keep your lawn green and beautiful has a higher cost than you can imagine… did you know that it has been a factor to causing Sinkholes? You can certainly expect more sinkholes as Florida’s population surges. This problem isn’t going away by magic. We have to be more responsible and look for other methods to beautify our homes. If we continue to do the things we have in the past, our children will stand in line for water to drink. That is a harsh reality. We need to pay attention to this TODAY. Many people live in HOA communities that promote St. Augustine lawns, and waste millions of gallons of water to keep their lawns looking nice… if you live in these communities, ask yourself “Is it worth it?”

There are better options than harming the environment, and leaving little resource on the planet for our future generations, than having a green lawn. Go Grassless is one. Reducing your lawn is another. If you have a dead patch, do something other than resod.

Here is another article posted on Angie’s List, when they interviewed a client of mine, Tom in New Port Richey, about going Grassless.

Notice to All Visitors

poor-paver-job

Unfinished Paver Job

If you are one who looks for the best price on every purchase you make, this article should interest you.  I meet a lot of people in my day to day activities.  Lately, I have been meeting many of you who need repair work done to jobs that were completed not too long ago (mostly Paver work).  Looking at these projects, one thing is consistent among all of them (the one that was awarded the job was in a hurry to complete it to rush to the next one).  If you are one of these unfortunate homeowners who thought the price was right so you hired the contractor based on those numbers… I am sorry.  Sincerely… I hate to be the one to tell people that the only way to correct a poor job is to do it over.  A quality paver job begins with the preparation.

This is a crucial step and if it is not done to precision you will see the defects in the final product.  If you plan to park vehicles on it, then you really need to pay close attention to this part of the job.  Concrete Brick Pavers are not very expensive to purchase (its the labor that is the major expense).  When bidding on a paver job, I always keep in mind the time it takes to ensure every step is carefully taken, and I charge for it.  I only do one project at a time, so my focus is only on the project I am working on at that time.  I am not in a rush to jump to the next one, because every project I win is an opportunity to earn the rest of your trust.  When someone bids low to get a job,  the majority of the cost (being the labor) is where you will be saving money.  The problem here is that too many people are doing this so it appears that when you actually get a accurate bid, that one seems quite high (when it is the one that will not have to be redone).

I’ve seen the low bid game played back when I was cutting lawns.  My clients knew what they were getting for what they were paying, so under bidding my work was not easy to do (and still make a profit).  Paver work is very labor intensive and requires skill more than just cutting grass… my point is;  factoring in all that is needed to deliver a quality job, you really get what you pay for here.

People ask me all the time “how much does it cost to pave a driveway?” The answer depends on the amount of square footage and what is required to do it right the first time.  I found a great article on this website (Fixr.com).  They lay it our pretty accurately, but it can vary depending on what is involved…

I tell everyone I meet that if you really want to save money, cut out the waste.  Stop throwing out your hard earned money and your trust to the one with the best price, because its the cost that will always be the real number to consider in the end.

Fire Pit Feature in a Landscape

Stone Fire PitThe element of fire is always an attractive feature to any back yard project.  Winters in Florida aren’t like winters up north, but we do have some chilly nights where a glass of wine with someone special by a fire can lead to a memorable moment in life.  Ahh… life is good.  Fire is that which gives light, warmth… and life!  Having a fire pit in the landscape design gives a sense of usable space to the area it is in.  Most people don’t even use their back yard until they add features which make the area more usable.  This one creates memories!

Adding Value to your Home

One great way to give someone a sense of value is to have something they want.  Most people go put in a swimming pool to a home that doesn’t have one.  This is not a wise investment, as a pool owner will tell you the experience is more hassle than pleasant.  Pools are high maintenance and the amount of maintenance far exceeds the actual usage.  Besides, the market is saturated with pool homes in every price range and in every neighborhood across the country!  Pools return very little on the investment and the cost to keep up with it never goes away!  Adding value to your home with a fire pit is much better of an investment, as the fire pit may need to be cleaned out once in a while.

Benefits of the Fire Pit

You don’t need chemicals or weekly service to keep it up.  You will use it for more than a a casual cold evening by the fire.  You can use it to burn identity sensitive documents privately in your own back yard.  If you have children, campfires make for fun times with the family and S’MORES are loved by all (and easily made by running inside to get a few things)!  I sold my home in 3 days on the market.  My real estate agent said the fire pit sealed the deal!  Although very happy, I wasn’t surprised at all… I loved that feature in my yard.  I had many great memories around it, and best of all… I get to keep them.  The first thing I did at my new home was mark the area my new fire pit was going to be placed.

 

my-new-fire-pit

My New Fire Pit

 

For more on Fire Pits, check out this article I wrote for Angie’s List here.

Saving Big on Landscaping Begins Here.

wasting_moneyIf you want to save big on landscaping, this article should interest you. I talk to many people daily about replacing or refurbishing their existing landscaping. One thing everyone has in common is that they all want to spend as little as possible. This is normal to want to do, but what if you were installing a swimming pool… would you want your contractor to cut corners to give you a great price? What if you were having a roof installed, would you be okay if the contractor used cheap materials or just placed new tile or shingles over rotten wood? These are very stupid questions to ask, I know… because if your pool contractor installs a less than quality job, you could experience issues that would require the job to be undone and redone. Same with the roof… if you had a bad roof and after hiring a professional to install a new one you had a leak in less than a year, how much did you really save?

Do it right the first time and you will save money.

Why is there enough money to do a job twice and never enough to do it right the first time?  Doing a job twice will not save you money. Doing it right the first time (even if you spend more up front) will. Some people that I talk to don’t see the value in putting money “into the yard”. Actually, if the investment is done professionally and is of quality, it will return better than any other home improvement project bar none. If you still don’t see value in a landscape project, consider not doing one (unless you like wasting your time and money). Of course, if this is an activity you do enjoy, follow your heart.

Most people do not know what they really want even though they really do. What most people really want is to save their money and get the best price on a quality project. Unfortunately, quality takes time and money. Lets say you hire someone to install a patio area because they had a price that was in your budget. This company offers you a low price but doesn’t tell you what is involved. Once they start, they cut corners and leaves out crucial steps that compromise the integrity of the project. While saving time they pave over your sewer clean-out and forget to grade the patio so rain water collects by the building and your doorstep. Another company is hired to correct that years later (after failed attempts to get the first company out to fix the problem for good). Who would you wish you had hired first?

Save your money and theirs too.

Selling a home is where a lot of waste happens. Surprisingly, thousands go to waste when a seller does a “quickie” to make a home flashy and clean to sell. That seller may spend a thousand or two in rocks to put into the planting beds for a clean look, but science will work against the buyer when the plants die of thirst in that rock bed and need to be taken out. That rock may have cost the seller a couple of thousand to install, but the buyer will spend at least that to remove and dispose of it.

Plants are living material and when using plants you need to consider that they need an environment to live in. Would you prefer to live in a desert environment where it is hot, dry and water was not available, or would you like it better if you could get a relief from the heat along with a sip of water once in a while. Dumb question? Think that way before you spend money doing that.

Invest wisely or just keep the cash in your pocket.

If you want the home you are selling to attract buyers, invest wisely on a feature that will attract buyers. Obviously, clean up the place if it has been let go, but to cover the planting beds with rock is not a good investment to make. The pictures may look good online, but people will go to see the actual home in the pictures, and what they see will appear to them as a band-aid to cover something you are trying to hide. A quality landscape project will reflect a seller that takes pride in their home. The outside is a reflection of the inside of a home.

In conclusion, the best way to save money is to first stop wasting it.  Here is another article I wrote on smart landscaping tips for Angie’s List.

Water Conservation in Your Landscape Design

Hello Friends,

I wanted to share this moment with everyone interested in doing something to preserve our natural resources.  Water is the essence of life, and without it we would all perish.  We take for granted this fundamental element of life, as if there is enough to waste.  Population is growing every second in size, yet we seem to live in our own little bubble of reality.  The fact remains that if we don’t do something about our ways of thinking the end result of that would be nothing less than tragic.  Many of us have kids, some of those kids have kids and we all need water…

Water Conserving Landscape Options for Your Lawn 

water_dropHaving a nice lawn is something many of us desire, but at what cost?  Even the hardiest lawn will need water (if you want it green).  Many of those whom I talk to about an alternative don’t have a clue about the science that goes behind a green lawn, and some don’t even care… they want what they want and will do whatever to get it.  They eventually find out that their battle is one with nature and quickly learn that is not a fight they will win.

Wasting money is one thing, but wasting water is another.  Money is printed as it is needed, but water is not in human control to produce.  This is very important to keep in mind when designing a landscape.  As a professional, I feel it is my duty to bring to attention this issue as we go into the design phase of our project.  Ultimately, it will be you the client that has the final word.  Still, the fact remains that to have a worthwhile investment in anything, one has to know the details in what is to be expected.  Some people don’t see value in the landscape they are about to spend their money on and only want their yard to look better than it currently does.  Others only want a quick fix to sell a property and will just throw money into the wind and expect the best… none of these methods will save money as desired.  In fact they may also waste water as well as their hard-earned cash.

I recently submitted an article to Angie’s List for the Spring 2014 Angie’s List Experts Contest, and they found it interesting enough to publish it.  Times have changed, but science has not.  This is why it seems so hard to keep your lawn healthy.  It is not completely the fault of the lawn service (though some have no knowledge of what they are doing or any desire to learn).  It is not completely the fault of the pest and spray guy either (even if he blames the guy cutting your lawn).  Water is the key element, without it, like your lawn… we all die.

 

Would You Prefer Low Maintenance?

How would you like a landscape design that will look beautiful all year long with little effort?  The video below will show a few examples of a Grassless Yard and how beautiful they can be.

Hardscaping in a Florida Friendly Garden

hardscape_design

Hardscape is the use of hard materials such as rock, stone, concrete, paver, etc. These hard materials are what bring value to your landscape design. Hard materials like these are the things that require no replacement. As great as this seems to be, to have a Florida friendly garden, you still need other elements.

If you are having trouble growing grass, or plants due to poor soil composition, or an area stays wet for long periods of time, a hardscape may be a good remedy to that problem. Hard materials such as stone and rock absorb heat from the sun and can dry soil near and under it. Concrete can do the same thing. If you look at how fast a wet driveway can dry after a rain, you will notice that once the sun is back out, it doesn’t take much time. Next time it rains, pay attention to the street, as the rain hits the hot pavement it quickly turns to vapor and goes right back into the atmosphere. This is good for standing water, but to have a good balance, you still need plants.

 

Planting live materials inside of rock areas is not a good practice and the results are not positive ones either. As mentioned above, rocks can absorb heat and dry the soil, so placing a live plant in that situation and expecting it to do well is a recipe for disappointment. Plants should be in an area that can hold moisture yet drain well (so the roots don’t rot). Wood mulch is best for ground cover around most plants, but there are some that can do well inside of a shell bed. Seashell is another form of hardscape material, and some plants can actually do well in this environment.

 

The purpose of Hardscaping in a Florida friendly landscape design is to provide good drainage and minimize run off. Run off should be routed to planting areas (not storm drains) so drainage can occur there. This is the ideal way to utilize a hardscape within a Florida friendly landscape design. There should always be a balance of hard and soft materials such as mulch or bark and live plants and maybe a little turf (if you have to have grass in your yard).
Too much hardscape can lead to a “Heat Island Effect” which is when surfaces that were once permeable and moist are now impermeable and dry creating an island of higher temperature around the building. Shade trees are a great way to reduce this risk. Proper planning is also a great way to reduce the chances of causing this effect. Like any other improvement project, if you fail to plan, plan to fail.

 

Seashells in the Garden

shell_bedThe use of seashells in landscaping has proven to be a popular choice with many homeowners in Florida. This ground cover is durable as well as beautiful, and has many benefits to the garden. First, it is a good source of calcium (which some plants need anyway). In situations where the soil pH leans to the acidic side, calcium can help bring it back up. Beaches and palm trees are things many people think of when the thought of Florida enters their mind. Sea shells fit in this theme well, as they can be found near our beaches.

The use of shells in a landscape design can be done many ways. I’ve seen some where the shell is the main ground cover. By the way, that will work… that is if you do enough research to find plants that will live comfortably in that environment. It is important to always remember that plants are alive and your consideration to this will determine how long they will survive after the initial install is complete.

I prefer to use this ground cover in focal beds within a planting area. Florida field stone is a great border, as it has shells imbedded into the limestone itself! This really brings out the shell as a point of focus. Planting palms and things of the sort inside these shell beds can give a really cool Florida theme.

field_stone_bed

In my Florida friendly landscape garden designs, I use this theme often because it really drives home the Florida look and feel. Seashells are also used in parking areas and driveways because of the durability of the shells over mulch or pine straw. Also, shells are cheaper than rock, so covering large areas with it would make more sense than using rock.

large_sea_shells

Shell comes in different sizes too, so if you want a coarser texture, use the large stuff… this has a very detailed look to it, as you can clearly see the individual pieces of shell. Then there is a medium grade, which is smaller than the large, but not quite as small as the crushed stuff. The crushed shell is most common, as it is available at most supply yards. This grade of shell is a good base material as it won’t wash away easily. This would make a good path (as long as you wear shoes when walking on it). Walking on crushed shells is like walking on broken glass (not very friendly on the bare feet). There is also small shell that is not crushed. This has a different texture and color.

Florida Friendly Landscaping Guidelines

Florida Friendly Landscaping

Many people ask me what Florida Friendly Landscaping is. So far two law firms have asked me to testify as an expert witness for their clients (once for a homeowner being sued by the HOA, another to help the HOA win a case against a homeowner). The appearance of the design is subjective, but the guidelines aren’t. Here are the nine principals of Florida Friendly Landscaping. Keep in mind the idea behind this way of landscape design is to protect the environment. Below is just the basics. To read more on Florida Friendly Landscaping do a little more digging (for knowledge …that is)!

1. Right Plant in the Right Place. – Plants are like people in a way that they too have their likes and dislikes. Some plants like to be in the sun. These plants have adapted to this lifestyle, and they can handle the Florida heat in the full sunshine. Others do better in the shade (like most humans)… These plants will burn up in the full sun. Planting one of these shade lovers in the open sun can lead to either a dead plant, or a very high water bill trying to keep it alive. It is important to know which plant will do better in sun or shade before buying them. There are other factors to consider as well.

2. Water Efficiently. – Water is a limited resource, so it should be used only when needed. Using plants or turf that requires lots of water is not the way to water efficiently. Also, irrigation systems that use gallons per minute are also not the ideal way to meet this goal. Over watering and over fertilizing can lead to leaching. Over watering can also lead to water pollution.

3. Fertilize Appropriately. – Before you use fertilizers, make sure it is really needed. Some plants run low on only certain types of nutrients. Most established plants don’t need fertilizer, and if they are growing close to a lawn they are getting it from what is going on the lawn. Don’t just fertilize to do it. Only do it when it is needed.

4. Mulch. – The benefits of mulch go far beyond just aesthetics. Mulch can reduce weed germination (some better than others), reduces soil erosion, protect the plants in it, and improve the soil it breaks down in. A layer 3 inches deep is best to maintaining a low maintenance plant bed.

5. Attract Wildlife. – As rapid development has and continues to destroy wildlife habitats, You can do your part to preserve a place that was rightfully theirs. Using certain plants and other elements in your landscape design can attract birds, butterflies, turtles, frogs, squirrels and other native Floridians in need of food, shade and water.

6. Manage Yard Pests Responsibly. – There are other methods to pest control in the yard beside chemical. Some insects are actually our allies. Learn to identify them and encourage them to stay around. They will battle the harmful ones for you.

7. Recycle. – leaving grass clippings in the lawn returns the nutrients back into the ground, but if there is a lawn under an oak tree, the leaves from the tree could not be good for the grass. A mulch ring with acid loving plants would do better.

8. Reduce Storm Water Runoff. – Decisions you make in your yard’s landscape design will eventually effect the health of Florida’s water. The state of Florida is surrounded by water, and waterways run all through the state, and because the ground water is so close to the surface, there is a direct link between our ground water and the visible bodies of water. Storm water washes away yard debris, oil, chemicals, fertilizers and other harmful toxins off your lawn and into storm drains that carry it to …guess where?

9. Protect the Waterfront. – This is an extension of rule 8.

Curb Appeal Attracts Home Buyers and Customers

homeowner association communityHere in the Tampa Bay area there are many businesses that are feeling the sting from the fallen housing market to an economy in crisis.   Many homeowner associations (HOA) are also feeling the sting of homes that remain in purgatory awaiting certain foreclosure.  HOA‘s with vacant, neglected homes in them also face difficulty attracting potential home buyers with their entrances to their community looking neglected and run down.  As a potential buyer my FIRST thought driving into a community like this one would be “Why would I want to buy into this?”  …what would yours be?

In a bad housing market, the aftermath of ‘”doing nothing” and expecting a change is suicide.  The smallest details make a difference in these troubled times. Having an attractive landscape design in front of a community entrance is one of those details that are always overlooked.  Never under estimate the power of this fine detail!

grass money pits

Grass Money Pits

Benefits of Florida Friendly Landscaping

Other than curb appeal that will sustain even under the harshest conditions, Many homeowners across Tampa, and all over Florida have already starting to notice… this type of design is very easy to keep up.  The cost of maintenance is much lower, which is something HOA community management companies and HOA boards should seriously consider, as this could take a load off of their annual maintenance budgets (that shrink as more people lose their homes).  What once started a s great idea is no more.  Grass yards and large areas of lawn are becoming harder and more costly to manage.  Limiting these “grass money pit” areas in the community and replacing them with large planting areas that need little maintenance and almost zero replacement costs should make sense to a 12 year old… if you think it wouldn’t, ask one!

 

hoa communityBeauty from the Eyes of a Buyer

People are attracted to beautiful things …the mind is just programmed that way. You can test this theory the next time you flip through a magazine. Your eyes will pick up the most desirable images in front of you. It can be an image of a person, place or thing, but that which your eyes deem worthy will be the first thing you will notice. Most new home buyers are programmed the same way.  Landscaping is the first thing people notice before they even consider looking inside.  The entrance to the community is seen before the home is even in view!

“A landscape that looks ragged and neglected projects a bad image and gives the public the impression that the building or property’s owner doesn’t care about his property or customers.”

Commercial Landscape Design for Better Business

One many valuable benefit of landscaping that is always taken for granted is the way it can effect the spirit.  Poorly designed or neglected landscaping will bring you down, just as a well designed and manicured landscape can pick you up.  That is why hospitals,  nursing homes and hospice centers keep up with their landscaping.  It is also why amusement parks spend huge annual budgets on landscaping.  What it can do for a HOA community is make the community a desired place to want to live in.  For a business, a well thought out commercial landscape design can make it a landmark!