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.

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.

Southern Chinch Bug

Chinch Bug Damage

Chinch Bug Damage

The Southern Chinch Bug is a hard lawn pest to control.  Their active season is between the months of March through November in areas of the northern part of the state to central Florida.  Chinch bug activity is a year round battle in the southern part of Florida.  If you have a St. Augustine lawn, you more than likely have this enemy living in it.  There are many products that claim to rid your lawn of these little critters, but most people have had to replace large portions of their lawn over and over without much luck.  Below is a video that will show you the face of this enemy of your lawn and wallet!  It might also make you want to seek other alternatives to a grass yard.

Signs of Trouble

Chinch bug damage usually starts in areas that dry out quickly like near side walks, driveways and curbs.  Also, poorly irrigated areas are good feeding grounds for chinch bugs.  The damage is barely noticeable at first,then the damage could take over a huge part of your lawn before you even realize they are present.

Grass yards are high maintenance, not low maintenance.  If you want a lawn, be prepared to spend more money than you did to put it in, to care for it.  A lawn will cost you thousands in care and maintenance, because you will replace it over and over and over.  Beside the water, fertilizer, and  pest control, your soil composition is a huge factor… oh, and Chinch Bugs!

 

How Important Is Soil?

Is your lawn dead or dying?  Tired of replacing grass over and over?  Well, in Florida there are some serious challenges to overcome to keep a healthy lawn.  The most important ingredient for success is WATER.  It doesn’t matter how much fertilizer you put down or how much sun your yard gets, if the yard doesn’t get enough water, the lawn will become stressed and eventually die.  There are many factors to keeping a lawn healthy, but with all of the restrictions on chemicals, fertilizers, and (most importantly) WATER… keeping a green lawn will become very costly and bring back poor returns on the investment.

Soil composition is also a major factor to consider.  Many times this is the reason why the lawn never has a chance at good health.  Of all the yards we have worked in where the grass had been completely dead, or seriously stressed to the point of no return had one thing in common… the soil base was “sugar sand”.

Sugar sand is ultra fine and is so light that it acts as a moisture barrier. Not allowing water to break through, often water will actually bead on the surface like it would on a waxed surface on a car!  It will take a while before the water actually breaks the barrier and penetrates its way through layers deep enough to hold the moisture.  Once this happens, the ground will act as a sponge and just take in gallons without puddling.  In a typical Florida day, where the sun can bake an egg on a rock… this moist soil will dry out in a few hours.

Growing a lawn on this type of soil base is not going to be easy, and in most cases impossible, due to watering restrictions. There simply isn’t enough water to keep this soil base from drying out.

Watch the video below and you will understand better why your lawn is dying.

The good news is that there is a better option than a grass yard.  This method of landscaping will outlast any grass yard and look better longer with little care and maintenance.

Turf Care

Turf Care is a delicate balance of water, soil PH, soil composition, fertility, exposure to light, and many other factors that encompass the science behind healthy plant development. Lawns in Florida are essentially “money pits” …but if you have to have one, you will need to know a few things about it before surrendering a small fortune to the landscapers that will give you the best price on sod.

Everyone wants to save money. To really do this, one must stop the waste. Installing a new lawn over a dead one will not save you money …it will actually cost you more in the long term than if proper steps are taken to protect the investment you are about to make.

Let’s look at turf for a minute…

Water is the essence of life …without it, all life comes to an end.  Florida is, and has been under strict watering restrictions for quite some time now… and it doesn’t look like its getting any better.  It was so bad in 2009 that the city of Tampa decided to BAN the use of lawn sprinklers.

Before that, Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWIFTMUD) placed a ban on new sod replacement as a way to reduce water consumption.  This upset many businesses in the area that the new law could cripple and the rule was revised, but the problem continues…

A water shortage is only the beginning to this sad story.   Around 2000-2001 the pesticides Dursban and Diazinon were banned by the EPA because of concerns for the health of humans and wildlife.  This product worked very well controlling insect damage to turf grass (mainly Floratam), however the misuse and over-use of these products led to some serious problems that eventually led to the EPA ban.  Since then, other products have come onto the market to replace Dursban and Diazinon, but there is still some controversy over their effectiveness.  Some claim the new chemicals out today work better, and others will say that is just not true.  The best way to gauge what is true and what is not is to simply look around.  When I was cutting lawns in 1998 and before, many of my lawns were thick, green and healthy… I just don’t see that many healthy lawns anymore these days.  As a matter of fact, I see many lawns that are dead beyond repair (as if the homeowners have given up).

dead_lawn

Why is My Lawn Dead

As if the situation couldn’t get any worse, in 2011 fertilizers containing Nitrogen and Phosphorus came into question of a possible ban.  Some say that a healthy lawn can actually improve water quality and the key to a healthy lawn is Nitrogen… I disagree with the last part of that statement.  There is so much more to keeping a lawn beautiful and healthy.  Unfortunately, all roads lead back to water.  Without water, a few hot summer days in a row can stress your lawn, and if you have poor soil composition, the water never has a chance to go near the roots anyway.  Also, if you have a Chinch Bug issue like the lawn pictured on the right, dry soil becomes a feeding ground them.  All of these factors and more are reasons why a grassless yard may be the best option for a Florida Friendly Landscape.

 

 

Soil PH is also a contributing factor to a healthy lawn.  If you have Oak trees or Pine trees on your property, these trees drop leaves and needles that acidify the soil at their base and within their drip edge.  When this occurs the soil PH shifts away from neutral and then the grass in this area begins to starve.  No amount of fertilizer will help the dying lawn until the PH is corrected.  This is something that many landscapers leave out of the equation.

 

 

To have a healthy lawn, one must first understand the science behind it.  If you still feel you must have a lawn, minimize the square footage (at least).  A smaller lawn is much easier (and less costly) to care for than a football field!

Feel free to do your own research, but I don’t think there is a miracle out there that would allow life to continue with out the need for water …but that is only one man’s opinion.