GARDENING

Landscape design begins in winter


Published: Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 10:47 a.m.

The recent change from daylight-saving time, resulting in early darkness and long evenings, presents an opportunity to begin thinking about spring renovations to the lawn and landscape.

Many times I have enjoyed a fall evening with a cup of warm cider while contemplating changes I want to make in my landscape design. As I drive around the community, it is easy to see a variety of landscapes — from those where nothing has been done beyond the rudimentary foundation plants installed by the builder — to those where the resident has planned carefully.

For many, a minimal investment in landscape is a good choice. For others, efficient landscape design offers enhanced property values and benefits to the environment and wildlife, while contributing to the natural beauty of the community.

Over the past several years, the University of Florida, IFAS, has developed nine basic principles that contribute to the beauty of a landscape while protecting natural resources.

As with any undertaking in the yard, planning is an essential first step. As spring approaches, visit some of the public gardens throughout the state to get some design ideas and for specific plants you may want to incorporate in your landscape.

Consider your site carefully, including soil type, amount of shade, drainage and existing plants. Think about whether you want to eliminate turf areas and whether you can commit the time required for ornamental plant beds to look their best. Make a copy of your survey that was done when the bank prepared your mortgage and develop a sketch of your plans. Remember to include overhead and underground utilities, drainfield and septic tank, sidewalks and driveways, etc. Stand at a window and think about the views you would like to have from inside the house. Incorporate the nine principles of a Florida-friendly yard into your design.

■ Place the right plant in the right place. Evaluate soil conditions (wet or dry), the amount of sunlight (many plants need a minimum of six hours of sun each day to perform well), growth constraints based on the size of the space and the size the plant will become, wind exposure and cold hardiness. Group plants with like needs together to maximize water and nutrient efficiency.

■ Water efficiently. The technology of the old rotary spray heads has increasingly been replaced by microjet and drip emitters that place water directly on the root system. Consider the use of soil moisture sensors that automatically let watering devices know when water is needed.

■ Use fertilizers appropriately. New technologies have developed coatings for fertilizers that release nutrients slowly, over a period of time, enhancing uptake by the plant. Test soil to determine what elements are needed. Consider timing of fertilizer applications based on temperature and rainfall so that material is optimally available to the plants.

■ Use mulch to help retain moisture, protect the trunks of plants from string trimmers and mowers and to reduce weed competition. Use no more than 2 inches of mulch, and keep mulch 6 inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs.

■ Attract wildlife by increasing biodiversity of your plantings and by creating landscape islands and natural corridors of plants that connect bordering properties. Florida has the third most diverse wildlife population of any state, and the migratory patterns of many birds and butterflies result in a constantly changing display in your yard.

■ Manage yard pests responsibly by choosing plants that will perform well in the planting site (stressed plants are more susceptible to disease), scouting regularly for problems so that action can be taken early to minimize damage, and using practices that will minimize pest problems. Go easy on water and fertilizer, realizing that succulent new growth is often most attractive to plant-feeding insects. Learn to recognize insects that are harmful, and remember that a little damage is acceptable.

■ Recycle clippings and pruning waste on site. Compost enhances soil properties and reduces introduction of these materials into the landfill.

■ Reduce stormwater runoff by aiming downspouts to porous surfaces so water can be absorbed by the soil. Incorporate attractive, functional earthshapes into your landscapes using swales and berms to help keep rainwater on site. Consider the use of a rain barrel for irrigation needs.

■ Finally, if you live on a lake or river, protect the waterfront by buffering with plants that help prevent erosion. Apply fertilizer no closer than 10 feet from the edge of water bodies, and consider the use of organic compost in lieu of fertilizer in these areas.

Although the short days of fall and winter minimize the time one can spend in the yard, the long evenings offer many opportunities to plan for the coming spring. Great landscapes often begin in the easy chair of a winter evening.

David Holmes is Marion County extension director. Contact him at david.holmes@marioncountyfl.org.

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