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Florida-Friendly Landscaping

In last month’s article we discussed ways to collect and recycle rainwater. We provided tips for designing a rain garden in order to make the most of the afternoon thunderstorms that mark our tropical summers. Another important part of both water conservation and beautifying your yard is plant selection. We’ll help you choose the right landscaping that will thrive all year long!

Photo of colorful flowers
Shade and Irrigation

It is important to consider how sunny your yard is. If you have trees or other sources that provide shade to portions of your yard for a few hours each day, it can make a big difference. Nurseries typically mark plants to indicate how many hours of sunlight they can endure daily. Plants must be incredibly resilient to endure our Florida heat.

Many types of plants that look beautiful are not hearty enough to survive our dry, hot summer. When placed in full sun throughout our high-temperature days, they scorch and die off rather quickly. If they do survive, they need much more water and attention in order to do so. There are many more sustainable options. Choosing the best plant for the space will save a lot of water. It will also require less time and effort on your part.

Choosing the right plant for the space also means placing plants in the correct spot so that they are in the path of your sprinkler system. If there is an area of your property that is out of reach of sprinklers, reserve those areas for plants that require the least amount of water. Seek out plants that will be OK if you don’t get to water them every day.

There are an abundance of options for drought-resistant landscaping. It can be a little overwhelming trying to narrow down the best choices for your yard. A great resource for finding and comparing different plants is from the University of Florida. Their IFAS Gardening Solutions website is very helpful. They offer tips for both extremely sunny and for shady sites.

Sand and Salt

As Florida is a narrow peninsula surrounded by saltwater, much of the land is saturated with salt. This is especially true in our beachside communities. The IFAS website explains that within about an eighth of a mile of the beach, any landscaping must be salt-resistant. This means you must choose plants that can thrive in soil that is a higher pH level than others.

UF also makes a good point in mentioning that any native plants to beachside are great options. If certain species are growing naturally so close to the beach, that means that they are incredibly salt-tolerant and will do very well at your beachside residence. Take a look around at the beautiful plants that grow naturally on the sandy dunes of our beaches. Our Florida wildflowers, sea oats and palms would look great in your yard! For more options, the Florida Association of Native Nurseries offers a comprehensive list of plants that are native to different parts of Volusia.

Another issue with gardening in Florida is that the soil is very sandy. Even several miles inland, homeowners encounter very sandy soil in their yards. This makes it difficult for certain types of plants to gain a foothold. Species with inadequate root systems will begin to lean and fall over as they grow larger. Our summer storms and the wind that accompanies them contributes to this problem. Be sure to select plants based on how deep the roots will go into the ground, based on how granular your soil is. Also keep in mind that this type of land does not hold onto moisture for as long as dense, darker soil so it will need to be watered more frequently.

Temperature and Humidity

The Plant Hardiness Zone Map is developed by the USDA to provide a guide for which types of plants can survive in each area of the country. Volusia County falls within zones 9a and 9b. Areas closer to the coast are in the 9b zone, while inland areas to the west of I-95 fall within the 9a zone. The main variation between these two zones is a five-degree difference in the average low temperature every year. It may not seem like much, but it can make a big impact on plantlife. Keep in mind that these are averages, so temperature spikes can occur depending on weather conditions.

Another difference in these two zones is that the air remains slightly more humid along the beach than inland. This may have a slight effect on how often plants must be watered, and how quickly soil dries out between waterings. As mentioned above, it is wise to seek out plants that are already found to be growing natively in the area, as they have adapted to the climate. These plants can be largely self-sufficient, and require less water and upkeep than non-native species. Taking the time to do a little research before beginning your landscaping project is beneficial in many ways. Ask yourself these important questions before visiting a nursery:

  • Do any areas of your yard receive shade during the day?
  • Are there any areas that your sprinklers don’t reach?
  • What type of soil is prevalent in your yard?
  • How close is your property to the beach?
  • How low do temperatures dip in the winter months?

Taking these points into consideration will save you a lot of work because your plants will thrive with less effort and watering. Less need for watering will translate to smaller utilities bills for your home. It will also have positive effects on the environment and our natural resources, because you won’t be wasting water trying to support plants that aren’t suited to the climate. Implementing Florida-friendly landscaping is an all-around win!