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.

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.

Water Conservation

Fay Side YardWater conservation is an essential factor in our everyday lifestyle. People are starting to come to the realization that water is not an unlimited resource. In recent years the State of Florida has implemented many water restrictions. From 1998-2003 restrictions were established due to severe drought conditions. In spring of 2004 we we’re bombarded by 4 hurricanes which allowed the state to lift watering bans. In years since, weather conditions have proven to be very dry, dropping water tables between 9 and 40 inches below average levels which in turn reinstates the restrictions. These constraints in addition to recent fertilizer bans make it practically impossible to maintain a healthy, lush lawn.

With these kinds of limitations, landscape artists have researched and gravitated towards using drought tolerant plants, hardscaping and less square footage overspread by high-maintenance lawns. This type of landscape design is a wonderfully artistic landscaping technique that can be used to create a home improvement that will set your humble abode apart from a touchstone view.

The term “Florida Friendly Landscaping” follows nine principals that expand the seven principals of Xeriscape, which originated in Colorado.  The word “xeriscape” comes from the Greek term ‘xeros’ meaning dry and ‘scape’ meaning a scene or view.  Being in Florida, dry is something we experience a lot.  Also, we have bad rain storms and live on water front.  Florida friendly landscaping is an aesthetically pleasing and functional landscape can be achieved simply by proper planning.

Incorporating Florida friendly plants along with alternatives to grass is a great place to start. Being educated about the plants is equally important as “what catches your eye”. Placement is a key to keeping those plants healthy and easily maintainable. Materials such as stone, mulch and shell are remarkable substitutes to having a lawn. Numerous combinations of natural resources can be manipulated into a beautiful composition that can overspread a lot or a little square footage.

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.

Limiting the Need for Water

Water is a very precious resource that should not be wasted.  In past years, many of us have been guilty of doing this and may have taken it for granted.  We cannot afford to continue on with this lack of consciousness to the problems that lie ahead.  Many of us believe that we will no longer be around when the problems become too great to handle… it will be someone else’s problem.  Is this a problem we want to leave for our children …or grand children?  The time to act on this issue is NOW.  Every one of us has a responsibility.  Whether you are using reclaimed water or on city water or well water…  Limiting the use of this very precious resource will make a difference in the future.  There is no valid reason to waste water …none at all.

water_restrictionsWater Restrictions

Fact of life, all living things need water to survive. Fortunately, some require less than others. Water conservation is an essential factor in our everyday lifestyle. People are starting to come to the realization that water is not an unlimited resource. In recent years the State of Florida has implemented many water restrictions. From 1998-2003 restrictions were established due to severe drought conditions. In spring of 2004 we we’re bombarded by 4 hurricanes which allowed the state to lift watering bans. In years since, weather conditions have proven to be very dry, dropping water tables between 9 and 40 inches below average levels which in turn reinstates the restrictions. These constraints in addition to recent fertilizer bans make it practically impossible to maintain a healthy, lush lawn.

surviving_the_droughtSurviving The Drought

With these kinds of limitations, landscape designers have researched and gravitated towards using drought tolerant plants, hard-scaping and less square footage overspread by high-maintenance lawns.

Reducing the amount of lawn in your yard will reduce the amount of water that you need to use to maintain it. Utilizing a hardscape concept can maximize the amount of area that doesn’t need irrigation. Incorporating a rain barrel with soaker hoses in your landscape is a great way to redirect rain water to the areas that need it the most. If you have existing irrigation lines, make sure they work properly. All of your sprinkler heads should be watering your plants or grass, not the sidewalk or side of the house.

Florida friendly plants are such that require less water and are more adaptable to our tropical climate. Preparing the soil where the plant is going to rest and mulching the surface will assist in keeping the moisture at the root system.

A Conscious Decision

Applying these measures will endow you with not only a lovely landscape but also take some of the bite out your wallet from utility bills. Xeriscaping is a wonderfully artistic landscaping technique that can be used to create a home improvement that will set your humble abode apart from a touchstone view and with a conscious effort of all parties involved, you can obtain a beautiful, low-maintenance addition that will be worth the investment.

What is Florida Friendly Landscaping?

Xeriscaping

Florida Friendly Landscaping

Being in Florida, dry is something we experience often.  A Florida friendly landscape can make for a wonderful addition to your home whether it is for looks or necessity. An aesthetically pleasing and functional landscape can be achieved simply by proper planning.

Knowledge is Power

All variables must be taken into consideration when establishing a design.  Incorporating Florida friendly plants along with alternatives to grass is a great place to start.  Being educated about the plants is equally important as “what catches the eye”.  Placement is a key to keeping those plants healthy and easily maintainable.  Materials such as stone, mulch and shell are remarkable substitutes to having a lawn.   Numerous combinations of natural resources can be manipulated into a beautiful composition that can overspread a lot or a little square footage.

How do I decide?

When choosing to landscape your home, recognize your aspirations and desires, consider your budget and inquire about the investment. The more knowledgeable you are as the homeowner, the happier you will be with the final result and reasoning behind your decisions.

Things to Consider

First, the up-front cost of this method of landscaping can be much higher than installing grass. As always, when you are purchasing anything of higher quality… expect to pay more. Using rock and stone materials in your landscape design will reduce the cost of maintenance, but can inflate the budget in the beginning. Keeping the stone and rock budget to controlled amounts (only in, and around key focal points) will also help keep your initial costs down.