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The Garden Writers Association


Last Update 07/09/08

Florida Friendly Gardening

ABWA Presentation July 9, 2008 page 4

Three common types of lawn grasses in Florida are Bahia, St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. Bahia requires the least amount of maintenance, but it is not salt-tolerant. Bahia also is prone to damage by mole crickets. St. Augustine is used in coastal areas because it is salt-tolerant, but it requires more fertilizer and water. It also can be prone to pests, such as chinch bugs. Bermuda, which is used on golf-course greens, requires the most fertilizer, pesticides and water, plus careful mowing. Because it requires intensive maintenance, it is not recommended for home landscapes.

When applying fertilizer use a maximum of one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet twice a year -- once in March again in September. Or you can apply one-half pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet four times per year - March, May, September and early November.


Many Floridians water too much. Over watering depletes our water supply, makes plants pest prone, and adds to storm-water runoff. Choose drought-resistant plants, especially Florida natives, and plant them in the right spots. Group plants according to their water (and light) needs to simplify irrigation. Do not irrigate turf, trees and shrubs the same. The biggest problem I hear people having is with their oleanders and bougainvilleas refusing to bloom. Only to find out they are fertilizing and watering the heck out of them when they should not be feeding or watering them at all. Oleanders are popular in the desert town of Las Vegas because they thrive on abuse and scant watering.

By clocking back an irrigation system to once a week when there has not been any rain, you can reduce water bills, fungal diseases and mowing. Remember, the more you water the faster your lawn grows and the more it needs to be cut.


If you have an automatic sprinkler system, install a rain shut-off device or sensor that will override the system when enough rain has fallen.

Water in the early morning between 4 and 7 a.m. -- this is the best time because temperature and wind speeds are low and evaporation is reduced. Also, grass will be less susceptible to fungus if water is applied at the time dew normally forms.

For grass: Apply 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch of water when the grass shows signs of distress -- turning bluish-gray or leaf blades folding. Don't apply more water until symptoms reappear.

With gradual reductions in irrigation plants can tolerate less water. Some people use no irrigation, yet have healthy plants -- me for instance. Water less in cooler months (November-March), and turn off automatic systems in the summer if rainfall is consistent.

Mowing, Pruning and Raking

Trimming some plants can help enhance the beauty of your Florida Yard. This is also an area of maintenance where you can reduce the workload by doing things the environmentally friendly way.

For example, if you've selected slow-growing plants, the amount of pruning will be reduced. Also, less pruning is required if plants are placed so that when they mature, they don't grow over walkways, driveways or against buildings. If your yard isn't grass intensive, less mowing is an obvious work, time and fuel saver.

Most St. Augustine and Bahia turf grass should be kept at a minimum height of three to four inches and longer in the shade. If cut shorter the plants will be stressed. Each mowing should remove no more than one-third of the leaf blade, and the clippings should remain on the lawn to decompose.

Mulching mowers cut grass into smaller pieces, speeding decomposition -- I alternate between using the chute on my lawn mower and blocking it to use the recycler feature.

Grass clippings can also be mixed with leaves and twigs to create mulch that provides nutrients for your plants.

Many Floridians avoid having deciduous trees in their yards because fallen leaves require raking. But deciduous trees help reduce energy costs by shading the house in summer and allowing sunshine to heat the house in winter when their leaves fall. Don't rake under trees because the dropped leaves are good mulch for the plant.

Collecting leaves and pine needles by raking provides a source of mulch that is free. If your yard generates more leaf mulch than you can use, compost the material or share some with a neighbor. When pruning trees and shrubs, toss small cuttings into a compost pile or behind a shrub to avoid putting piles of brush out for trash collection.



Applying a layer of mulch around trees, shrubs, plant beds and on any exposed soil area will reduce water loss, control weeds and prevent runoff.

Some Facts about mulch:

* A 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around most plants reduces evaporation from the soil's surface, moderates soil temperatures and suppresses weeds.

* Mulch can replace turf or ground covers in areas that are difficult to mow, irrigate or maintain. Mulches also can be used in shady areas where plants will not grow.

* Mulch requires no maintenance, except for occasional additions and weeding.

* Use mulch that originates in your own landscape by using leaves, pine needles, grass and shrub clippings. Avoid using cypress mulch because it depletes cypress wetlands.

* Mulch can provide a design element in your landscape, adding a contrast of color and texture that complements plantings.

* Reduce the chances of rot by avoiding piles of mulch against plant stems or trunks. Citrus trees are particularly prone to rot from this. Give a 3-4 clear space around tree trunks.

Avoiding Pest Problems

Know which plants can tolerate the conditions in your yard and plant them. Concentrate on pest-resistant varieties.

Go easy on water and fertilizer. Over watering and over fertilizing cause excessive growth, making them vulnerable to insects and disease

Mowing grass too short and severely shearing trees and shrubs weakens them, inviting pests. Do not hurricane cut your palms. Mow grass to the proper height and prune selectively. Remember, leaves are necessary to produce food for the plant.

If You Have a Lawn Care Service

Get their cooperation to:

Monitor for pests rather than having them apply sprays routinely.

Use chemical pesticides only when less-toxic methods fail and post a sign to alert neighbors that chemicals have been applied.

Apply slow-release fertilizer, and only if fertilizer is needed.

Avoid fertilizers containing weed killer or insecticide.

Leave grass clippings on the lawn and use other yard waste as mulch or compost.


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