PLANNING YOUR BEAUTIFUL FLORIDA LANDSCAPE
By Kerry Firth

Nothing enhances our outdoor lifestyle more than plush, topical landscaping and it's fairly easy to do in Florida. Out of all the states, Florida has the greatest number of native plants that can be used for home landscaping. Native plantings are better adapted to the environment and tend to be more bug/disease resistant when it comes to local pests. Most greenhouses and nurseries keep a hardy supply of native plants in stock and can advise you on the best choices for your individual landscape.

"Shade screens can protect your delicate plants from excess heat and provide a cool place to rest and enjoy your garden."
- Spencer Porteous, Everything Outdoors

When you are planning your garden oasis, keep the climate and location of your property in mind as you choose your plantings. Coastal properties will need plants that survive high salinity due to the salt spray. Some inland properties don't see as much rain and must be more drought tolerant. Does your property provide shade during the heat of the day? Delicate flowers need the sun to grow but will quickly wither when exposed to scorching heat. Planting the correct plant in the appropriate place will insure optimum growth and years of enjoyment.

"Brick pavers are a decorative and carefree way to create lasting borders and pathways throughout your garden."
- Jim Chalmers, Natural Looks Landscaping & Garden Center

Mulch is beneficial to Florida plants, helping hold moisture in the ground, providing insulation against the sun and adding beneficial nutrients to the soil when it decays. Commercially prepared mulches are readily available and convenient, but lawn clippings, leaves and pine needles make inexpensive mulch. Mulch should never be more than 2½ deep for organic variety and 3½ for the commercial grade.

"Plants and trees are like humans - they need food and water."
- Howard Nelson, Palm Depot & Garden Center.

Consider some form of barrier or edging around any landscaping bed. Florida rains tend to come suddenly with large amounts of water in a short period and can quickly destroy unprotected beds. Well intended mulch, fertilizers and topsoil can be washed away leaving plants vulnerable. Borders come in all shapes, sizes and materials from decorative bricks to plastic edging but whatever it's made of, borders help retain the water run-off allowing it to to soak in to the soil, nourishing the plants and keeping the soil in place.

Once you have the look you want, keep it looking green, colorful and healthy through monthly fertilization. Florida soil is often times hard, water resistant and nutrient deficient, so you need to fertilize regularly. Different plants need different nutrients so consult your garden center professional for the right blend of fertilizer for the plants you own. Treat your plants like family and you'll be rewarded with a beautiful outdoor retreat!

ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF LANDSCAPING

While most of us look at landscaping from the perspective of improving the appearance and usefulness of our outdoor property, there are some very viable economic reasons to landscape. It's been estimated that quality landscaping can add as much as 14% to the resale value of a building or home and speed up the sale of the property by as much as 6 weeks. With the current housing bust, improving the curb appeal of your home with plants is one of the most cost effective ways to increase your chances of selling.

Properly selected and placed plants and trees can lower your home heating and cooling costs by as much as 20 -25%! A simple tree shading your outdoor air-conditioning unit can increase its efficiency by as much as 10%. According to the US Department of Energy, a few properly placed trees can save the average household between $100 and $250 a year in heating and cooling costs annually.

So think efficiency as well as aesthetics when planning your landscape. Use trees and shrubs to block the sun from windows and walls. Plant ground covers to reduce the heat reflected from the ground to walls and windows. Talk to your local garden center professional about which plants thrive in the hot Florida climate and create an environment that will give you a truly beautiful return on your investment.

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF LANDSCAPING

In a world plagued with global warming and pollution, it's comforting to know that studies conducted by the Virginia Cooperative Extension show that just one tree can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, equalling 11,000 miles of car emissions. Landscape plants, including shrubs and turf, remove smoke, dust, and other pollutants from the air. One study showed that 1 acre of trees has the ability to remove 13 tons of particles and gases annually! Amazingly, the average tree absorbs 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year and releases enough oxygen each day to sustain a family of four.

Trees, shrubs and ground covers trap and filter dust and pollutants out of the rainwater. The plants benefit from the nutrients in this particulate matter while keeping it from being a source of water pollution. Planting landscape buffers along a water�s edge can reduce the flow of sediments and pollutants into the body of water and keep it from contaminating the aquifer.

"A blanket of sod will trap pollutants from the ground which would otherwise be airborne and potentially harmful"
- Robert Guettler Sod.

Plants even assist in tempering noise pollution. Properly selected and placed planting will absorb sound waves buffering the unwanted noise. In the presence of a breeze, some plants will create their own soothing melodies.

MAINTAINING A HEALTHY LANDSCAPE

Now that you've got the landscaping you want, you've got to keep it healthy through regularly scheduled watering. "Installing a sprinkler system will pay for itself just in the money you save on conserving water" explains Jerry Stuckey of Pipe Masters Irrigation in Vero Beach. "It's estimated that when watering by hand, as much as 50% of the water is lost to runoff and evaporation. In this day of watering bans and restrictions, a professionally installed system can be programmed to run late at night or early morning when water evaporation is at it's lowest."

Before you install your system you need to decide how much water each area of your landscape needs and program the irrigation zone accordingly. Automatic irrigation zones target water distribution more precisely than watering with a manual oscillator and ultimately conserves water and saves you money. Having the zones identified and regulated also insures that one plant isn't overwatered for the sake another.

Your plants need the nutrients that come directly from an underground well. Watering with processed municiple water may do more harm than good as chemicals like chlorine and fluoride are added to the spray. "Well water for irrigation contains elements such as iron, magnesium, calcium and/or sulphur. In most cases those nasty stains on your home and driveway can be controlled" explains Rose of All-Rite Water in Vero Beach.
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