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Growing Resilience – One Yard at a Time

 

Sprucing up the landscaping of a wind and water-damaged yard for the holidays may seem daunting, especially if you’ve lost old trees or plants of sentimental significance. But starting from scratch does provide an opportunity to reinvent the landscape, making it more resilient to Florida’s occasionally stormy climate.

 

Choose Native Plants

 

Institutions ranging from the Smithsonian to the American Institute of Landscape Architects share multiple reasons to re-landscape with native species in lieu of imported ornamentals. Native plants are those that occur naturally in a region, ecosystem, or habitat, without human introduction, meaning that plants native to Southwest Florida support Florida’s birds, insects, and animals with which they have developed symbiotic relationships over thousands of years. While a single backyard of native plants may seem trivial, small efforts add up to create patches of habitat that can sustain a biodiverse, more resilient ecosystem.

 

Choosing native plants also saves time and money. Native plants have adapted to Florida’s fluctuating rainy and dry seasons, and many have deeper root systems designed to withstand storms, making it less likely that you’ll have to replant. The University of Florida reports that sand live oaks are the most resistant to blowing over or incurring wind damage, followed by Southern magnolia, live oak, crape myrtle, bald cypress, and sabal palm. Whether landscaping on the coast or within a few miles of it, consider using salt-tolerant native plants. As seen with Hurricane Ian, surge-related saltwater can reach several miles inland, so selecting at least moderately salt-tolerant plants increases the likelihood of surviving future hurricanes.  Beach sunflowergaillardia, and seaside goldenrod are all colorful, flowering, AND wind- and salt-tolerant. A variety of attractive native grasses includes salt meadow cordgrass, muhly grassFakahatchee grass, and sea oats.

 

Food for Thought

 

If you enjoy cooking home-grown foods, consider “foodscaping” that integrates edible AND aesthetically pleasing herbs, trees, and groundcover into landscape beds and yards. This technique uses a variety of edible, climate-friendly plants that do well in local sub-tropical weather and require little care or fertilizer. The book Foodscape Revolution suggests placing a heavier emphasis on visually attractive plants toward the street and neighbors, and placing edible plants in the backyard or near the house, where they are easy to tend to and harvest. This should minimize opposition from Homeowner’s Associations (HOAs) who may not like the appearance of certain plants. However, HOA’s power over native plant types is restricted by the Florida-friendly landscaping statute, F.S. §373.185 which limits the ability of HOAs to prohibit homeowners from adopting landscaping practices that conserve water or are otherwise environmentally sustainable.

 

In an edible landscape, restrict the use of chemical fungicides and pesticides, and minimize or avoid fertilizing altogether.  In the Fiscal Year 2015 – 2016, fertilizer companies reported distributing over 1.9 million tons of fertilizer in Florida, which can impact the health of waterways and contribute to climate change. Unabsorbed nitrogen is broken down by soil microbes and released as nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas that pound for pound is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If fertilization and pest control is part of the HOA service, then arrange to meet with the board of directors and/or community association manager to discuss canceling applications.

 

Pre-Check the Planting Site 

 

A few other points to consider before selecting plants include:

  1. Sun exposure. Is a certain part of the landscape always shaded? Or in full sun? Choose plants that are compatible with sun exposure – a quick google search or the tags on plants for sale usually specify sun requirements.
  2. Soil quality. Sampling and amending soil allows homeowners to adjust soil pH and add other nutrients before beginning an edible landscaping project, which is recommended but not necessary. Additional information and free test kits are available HERE.
  3. Water. How moist is the soil? Check the area after a big rain and note where water collects for long periods. Plants in drier soils may be watered, but soils that are low-lying and often wet may limit foodscaping options.

 

Look at purchasing natives or edibles to fill a landscape as a new adventure.  Various Native Plant Society chapters hold native plant sales in the winter months.  Another option is Echo, which sells a large selection of native fruit trees. Echo also offers tours that showcase and demonstrate how it researches and builds tools and techniques that solve problems for small-scale farmers around the world. Audubon’s handy database also provides guidance on native plants – and shows which types of birds each will attract.

 

It’s a prime time of year to begin a landscaping project!  Instead of gifts that wind up stashed away, ask for fruit trees, native plants, and garden supplies – or gift them to others as a meaningful way to help friends and family recover from the storm and contribute to a healthier climate.

 

By Bridget Washburn

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