Thinking Florida Friendly on Earth Day

The goal of FFL (Florida Friendly Landscapes) is to “protect Florida’s unique natural resources by conserving water, reducing waste and pollution, creating a wildlife habitat and preventing erosion.” This high-level goal is something to keep in mind in our own gardens and landscaping.
In the last section of this article, it will be shown how to locate resources and information to have a Florida Friendly Garden.

As an Okeechobee gardener it’s always good to try and keep the following nine principles from the UF (University of Florida) in mind when setting up your garden or helping someone with theirs.
The nine principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping

• Right plant, right place
Choose plants that need very little, if any, irrigation and understand their requirements. Some of the things to consider for each plant in this regard are your soil, will it grow in your zone (we are in 9b in Okeechobee), amount of sun or shade the plant needs, their location to other plants in terms of projected size, and “are they invasive?”, “Will this grow too big and block a window or interfere with other plants?” See last section for resources that can help you with this.

• Water efficiently
Overwatering is not good for a plant and can cause root rot. A good example of a plant that does not like a lot of water is milkweed. In addition, it raises your water bill and it is not good for the watershed when you’ve fertilized or used pesticides. Remember to turn off automatic irrigation systems if you have them when it rains. Legally we are required to also be using rain sensors for automatic irrigation systems.

• Fertilize appropriately
Research your plants to find out their fertilization requirements. Whether you bought seeds or seedlings from a nursery or outlet store, they might have some of this information on the label. It also makes sense to research the plant for this information by searching the internet. More on how to do this in the last section. It’s helpful if you know the scientific name of the plant as it is a unique identifier. For instance, there are many plants called “butterfly plant” by vendors e.g. Milkweed (Asclepias) of which there are over 200 varieties, Butterfly Bush (Buddleja madagascariensis) and Blue Butterfly Flower(CLERODENDRUM UGANDENSE). Fertilizing appropriately also requires knowing you pH and soil buffer (organic content that will hold water). If you do not have the proper pH for your plant the fertilizer will not be absorbed properly. Also note, that at different times in your plant’s life cycle, different fertilizer may be required e.g. during flowering, fruiting and hibernation.

• Mulch
Mulch protects against soil erosion as well as keeping down weeds and retaining soil moisture. Straw seeding mulch with tack is good, cheap and can be gotten online (Amazon) or locally at outlet stores such as Tractor Supply. If you want to buy wood mulch or potting soil in bulk, you can get bags of it at the big outlet stores or Landscape Products in Okeechobee, will sell it to you in cubic yards. One cubic yard, fills up a 4×8 pick-up truck bed. This is very economical if you have the space to store it and the need.

• Attract wildlife
Make your yard attractive to pollinators, birds, bees, butterflies. The UF encourages providing a habitat for animals displaced by urban development e.g. rabbits, bats, squirrels, lizards, etc. Some of the things to think about in this regard are, restricting pesticide use, providing bird baths, supplying berry bushes and wild flowers.

• Manage yard pests responsibly
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) emphasizes planning, maintenance and organic/ low-toxicity controls to ensure the health of plants.

Some examples:
You can get rid of aphids on your plants if you spot them early and hose them off with water. If that doesn’t do it, spray with soapy water using dish soap. If that still doesn’t work, consider Pyrethrin, which is an organic spray made from chrysanthemums.

Instead of killing or trapping rabbits and squirrels munching on your vegetables, put up a chicken wire fence. There are also simple electrical fences that run off solar to consider.

Buy ladybugs (you can get them on the internet) and/or beneficial wasps.

To control caterpillars on your vegetables use BT. Remember that caterpillars are the larva of butterflies and moths though, so you may have to weigh what is more important to you. Most caterpillars on your vegetables will be from moths, however cabbage, broccoli, kale and collards are susceptible to caterpillars from the Great Southern White butterfly.

Research plants that discourage pests near your vegetables e.g. Marigolds.

Spray fungal infections with copper or neem oil.

• Recycle
No reason to give valuable nutrients to the landfills. Mulch your yard clippings and collect your vegetable waste (better if organic) and compost it along with shredded leaves and even shredded junk mail and boxes. For composting you’ll one to use two parts brown (carbon) to one part green (nitrogen). Brown compost would be shredded leaves, bark, boxes, paper. Green would be vegetable wasted and lawn clippings.

• Manage stormwater runoff
Use swales, porous pavers, rain barrels to keep rainwater on site, allowing it to percolate into the ground or for further use. The goal is to reduce runoff that can carry fertilizer, pesticide and other toxins into the aquifer.

• Protect the waterfront
Living off a canal or on the lake it is important to limit the pesticides and fertilizer that can enter there. These can harm wildlife as well as encourage the production of unwanted algae. It is recommended to keep a 10-foot maintenance-free zone between your landscape and the water to prevent this. Even if you don’t live near a body of water, our sandy soil in Okeechobee allows the above, to get into our watershed fairly easily if we are not careful, so it’s good to be aware of water runoff and where we are using pesticides and fertilizer.

How to find information and resources to help you

To find information about your plant needs in our area, the first recommendation would be to search UF’s website. You can do this by searching your browser’s search engine using the following syntax,

“ site:ifas.ufl.edu e.g. tomato site:ifas.ufl.edu”.

To further restrict it to the edis publications of UF, use “ site:edis.ifas.ufl.edu”. This will give you a detailed fact sheet on the plant if it exists in their database.

Sometimes the information will not be found there and you need to broaden your net a bit and just search the whole web using your own words to filter out the noise.

Another source of information is calling your local agricultural extension. Florida has one in every county.
• The Okeechobee County Extension phone number is 863-763-6469.
• In Hendry County, call 863-674-4092.
• In Palm Beach County, call 561-233-1745.
• In Glades County, call 863-946-0244.

The goal of FFL (Florida Friendly Landscapes) is to “protect Florida’s unique natural resources by conserving water, reducing waste and pollution, creating a wildlife habitat and preventing erosion.” This high-level goal is something to keep in mind in our own gardens and landscaping.
In the last section of this article, it will be shown how to locate resources and information to have a Florida Friendly Garden.

As an Okeechobee gardener it’s always good to try and keep the following nine principles from the UF (University of Florida) in mind when setting up your garden or helping someone with theirs.
The nine principles
of Florida Friendly Landscaping

• Right plant, right place” Choose plants that need very little, if any, irrigation and understand their requirements. Some of the things to consider for each plant in this regard are your soil, will it grow in your zone (we are in 9b in Okeechobee), amount of sun or shade the plant needs, their location to other plants in terms of projected size, and “are they invasive?”, “Will this grow too big and block a window or interfere with other plants?” See last section for resources that can help you with this.

• Water efficiently: Overwatering is not good for a plant and can cause root rot. A good example of a plant that does not like a lot of water is milkweed. In addition, it raises your water bill and it is not good for the watershed when you’ve fertilized or used pesticides. Remember to turn off automatic irrigation systems if you have them when it rains. Legally we are required to also be using rain sensors for automatic irrigation systems.

• Fertilize appropriately: Research your plants to find out their fertilization requirements. Whether you bought seeds or seedlings from a nursery or outlet store, they might have some of this information on the label. It also makes sense to research the plant for this information by searching the internet. More on how to do this in the last section. It’s helpful if you know the scientific name of the plant as it is a unique identifier. For instance, there are many plants called “butterfly plant” by vendors e.g. Milkweed (Asclepias) of which there are over 200 varieties, Butterfly Bush (Buddleja madagascariensis) and Blue Butterfly Flower(CLERODENDRUM UGANDENSE). Fertilizing appropriately also requires knowing you pH and soil buffer (organic content that will hold water). If you do not have the proper pH for your plant the fertilizer will not be absorbed properly. Also note, that at different times in your plant’s life cycle, different fertilizer may be required e.g. during flowering, fruiting and hibernation.

• Mulch: Mulch protects against soil erosion as well as keeping down weeds and retaining soil moisture. Straw seeding mulch with tack is good, cheap and can be gotten online (Amazon) or locally at outlet stores such as Tractor Supply. If you want to buy wood mulch or potting soil in bulk, you can get bags of it at the big outlet stores or Landscape Products in Okeechobee, will sell it to you in cubic yards. One cubic yard, fills up a 4×8 pick-up truck bed. This is very economical if you have the space to store it and the need.

• Attract wildlife: Make your yard attractive to pollinators, birds, bees, butterflies. The UF encourages providing a habitat for animals displaced by urban development e.g. rabbits, bats, squirrels, lizards, etc. Some of the things to think about in this regard are, restricting pesticide use, providing bird baths, supplying berry bushes and wild flowers.

• Manage yard pests responsibly: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) emphasizes planning, maintenance and organic/ low-toxicity controls to ensure the health of plants. For example, you can get rid of aphids on your plants if you spot them early and hose them off with water. If that doesn’t do it, spray with soapy water using dish soap. If that still doesn’t work, consider Pyrethrin, which is an organic spray made from chrysanthemums.
Instead of killing or trapping rabbits and squirrels munching on your vegetables, put up a chicken wire fence. There are also simple electrical fences that run off solar to consider. Buy ladybugs (you can get them on the internet) and/or beneficial wasps.
To control caterpillars on your vegetables use BT. Remember that caterpillars are the larva of butterflies and moths though, so you may have to weigh what is more important to you. Most caterpillars on your vegetables will be from moths, however cabbage, broccoli, kale and collards are susceptible to caterpillars from the Great Southern White butterfly. Research plants that discourage pests near your vegetables e.g. Marigolds. Spray fungal infections with copper or neem oil.

• Recycle: No reason to give valuable nutrients to the landfills. Mulch your yard clippings and collect your vegetable waste (better if organic) and compost it along with shredded leaves and even shredded junk mail and boxes. For composting you’ll one to use two parts brown (carbon) to one part green (nitrogen). Brown compost would be shredded leaves, bark, boxes, paper. Green would be vegetable wasted and lawn clippings.

• Manage stormwater runoff: Use swales, porous pavers, rain barrels to keep rainwater on site, allowing it to percolate into the ground or for further use. The goal is to reduce runoff that can carry fertilizer, pesticide and other toxins into the aquifer.

• Protect the waterfront: Living off a canal or on the lake it is important to limit the pesticides and fertilizer that can enter there. These can harm wildlife as well as encourage the production of unwanted algae. It is recommended to keep a 10-foot maintenance-free zone between your landscape and the water to prevent this. Even if you don’t live near a body of water, our sandy soil in Okeechobee allows the above, to get into our watershed fairly easily if we are not careful, so it’s good to be aware of water runoff and where we are using pesticides and fertilizer.

• Find information and resources: To find information about your plant needs in our area, the first recommendation would be to search UF’s website. You can do this by searching your browser’s search engine using the following syntax, “ site:ifas.ufl.edu e.g. tomato site:ifas.ufl.edu”.

To further restrict it to the edis publications of UF, use “ site:edis.ifas.ufl.edu”. This will give you a detailed fact sheet on the plant if it exists in their database. Sometimes the information will not be found there and you need to broaden your net a bit and just search the whole web using your own words to filter out the noise. Another source of information is calling your local agricultural extension. Florida has one in every county. The Okeechobee County Extension phone number is 863-763-6469.

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