About Central Florida Gardener

Welcome and thank you for visiting Central Florida Gardener. Florida is a unique state in which to garden. It can be frustrating but also rewarding for gardeners who persevere. This blog was created as a resource for Florida gardeners, both new and experienced, in search of information specifically for Florida gardens.

You are invited to participate by leaving your comments, suggestions, tips and recommendations relevant to Florida gardening - don't be shy! Thank you for dropping by to learn more about gardening in the Sunshine state. I look forward to hearing from you! Susan

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Common Ground

Whether to eliminate all turf grass from your Florida yard is a big conversation taking place on the Internet these days. Between water restrictions and chinch bugs there's no doubt that it's getting harder and harder to maintain a water-thirsty St. Augustine lawn. But don't fret, if you're a homeowner who's not a gardener or not sold on eliminating all the grass in your yard there are ways to scale down the amount of turf grass but still enjoy a pretty green lawn.

If you'd like to eliminate some turf grass start with a plan. Start slowly and choose to replace 30% (about 1/3) of your turf grass with one or more nice-sized garden beds. The garden beds can be planted very simply like the homeowners in the following 3 photos.

This homeowner kept it very simple by planting a large bed of Big Blue or Evergreen Giant Liriope (Liriope muscari).  An easy solution with virtually no maintenance.
*Turf grass tip: St. Augustine grass that receives a fair amount of sunlight through a tree canopy, like the one above, tends to withstand drought conditions better and Chinch bug activity seems to be lower in shady areas. Your turf grass may not be as vigorous as grass in full sunlight though, so choose  shade-tolerant dwarf varieties like Seville and Floraverde for best results.

This creative homeowner solved two problems. Eliminating grass and dealing with a slope on their property. They replaced turf grass with the well-known groundcover Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) which can be neatly maintained with a string trimmer. The Asiatic Jasmine provides a nice expanse of green color that people often like. 

This homeowner eliminated approximately 40% of their turf grass with an extra large landcaped bed. It looks very attractive and colorful with varying green shades of drought-tolerant plants. 
Note: By creating one large bed instead of a  number of smaller ones throughout the yard this homeowner has made it easy to mow the remaining turf grass.

The City of Mount Dora dealt very well with an odd-sized section of land that divides two roads by planting a very large bed of Bromeliads (Bromeliaceae) beneath the oaks and palm. As you can see this area gets a fair amount of sunshine, so it was important  to choose Bromeliads that can take some sunlight. This area looks very colorful and looks perfect with just a small border of turf grass to soften the spiky Bromeliads. Planting Liriope or Asiatic Jasmine groundcover instead of turf grass would also have provided the same affect without having to mow it.

Like the next homeowner I, too, have a large front yard and this creates several dilemnas. First, how do you create a landscape for a large front yard without having it look too busy with a large number of plants? How much time will it take to maintain a super-sized garden bed? How much will it cost to fill up a large space with plants and mulch? 

This homeowner kept it simple by replacing an extensive stretch of turf grass with Junipers (Juniperus). The effect is still a large expanse of green but one that is easily maintained and pleasing to the eye. There are several varieties of Junipers to choose from in varying heights and shades of green.

This next example is my favorite for a regular-sized building lot. They replaced approximately 70% of their turf grass with a beautiful horseshoe-shaped garden bed leaving a small amount of turf grass in the center of their lot. I personally find this look very appealing as it showcases the home beautifully, softens the edges of their property and makes maintaining and mowing the grass super easy.

Here's a view of the right side of the front yard. You can see their driveway right behind the garden bed and they've also replaced the slim strip of grass to the right of the driveway with a hedge of Podocarpus (Podocarpus macrophylla). They've got a combination of neatly trimmed plants as well as soft naturally shaped Florida-Friendly plants  that won't grow too large and block the view of their home.

This homeowner has creatively replaced approximately 90% of their turf grass with predominantly green-toned plants that create a very calming and interesting scene. Once again, this homeowner dealt with a sloped area that would be more difficult to mow by planting two different types of groundcovers - Asiatic Jasmine and Liriope.

They have done the same thing on the right side of their front yard with the variegated form of Liriope known as Aztec grass and Asiatic Jasmine. They incorporated rocks and various tones and heights of plant material which make this landscape design quite interesting . . . and not a speck of turf can be found here.   I would love to sit and study this landscape more because in my minds-eye it works beautifully.

Here's an example of someone who decided to replace 100% of their turf with plants. They have a nice large canopy of Live Oak trees with filtered light and have chosen to use a variety of shade loving plant materials such as Lady Palm (Rhapis humilis), Liriope (Liriope muscari), Bromeliads, Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) and Sago cycads (Cycas revoluta).

Here's a view from the other side of the house. As you can see their front yard is actually quite small which makes the elimination of all the turf grass a little easier.

Here's a look at the right side of the driveway which uses more of the same plantings. Their small side yard on the left side is also composed of a thick patch of several varieties of Bromeliads

And if that look is a little too busy for you here's an example at Stetson University where they replaced all of the turf for this building with Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus). Mondo grass only works in heavily shaded to very filtered sunlight areas. This particular variety only grows 2 inches tall and can sustain very little traffic, but it works great in the right locations and can be a fantastic replacement for turf grasses. 
 Here's another look at the Mondo grass which fill in quickly when planted close together.

Start slow, as I mentioned above, by replacing a percentage . . . 30% garden bed to 70% turf grass or 40% to 60%. If you like the results, move on to a 50%/50% split between garden beds and turf grass, and if you're really happy with the results plunge ahead with a 60% garden bed to 40% turf grass or more if you so desire.

 Here's some tips on how to get started:

* Start with a plan

* Start slowly. Rome was not built in a day and you won't want to replace your entire turf in one season. That would be a major undertaking and could be costly if you use the wrong plants and have to replace them or your turf grass later.

* Improve your soil prior to planting any plants with compost, garden soil or other soil-enriching amendments. 

* Choose plants that are drought-tolerant, native, Florida-friendly and predominantly cold-tolerant (especially for your front yard) varieties.

* Take note of plants that have not performed well  so you won't use them in the future.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch. In order to keep the garden beds weed-free and reduce your maintenance it will be important to mulch with pine bark, straw, pine needles, melaleuca mulch, but not cypress, please.

It's my sincere hope that you've gotten some great ideas and been inspired by the creative homeowners featured above who have successfully replaced turf grass with attractive garden beds. If you have replaced a large portion of your turf grass and want to share your results and tips with others, please contact me at cenflagardener at gmail.com, and I'll be delighted to feature your yard here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Don't Toss those Bags Just Yet!

The Live Oaks are probably starting to cause you some grief as they have been slowly dropping their canopy of leaves all over everything. How lucky you are if you have one or more of these stately trees in your yard. Why? You ask. Not because you like to rake or because you like having their pollen everywhere but because they are going to save you a lot of money and make your plants very happy.

Your garden beds are probably in dire need of a new layer of mulch and that's exactly where all those wonderful leaves come into play. A thick layer of Oak leaves provides a nice "free" barrier of weed control in your beds, PLUS as they decompose they add a rich layer of nutrients to our sandy soil. Over time, they can improve the water holding capacity of our soil and provide fertilizer for your plants. All this for "FREE!"

There is one catch though. Yes, you'll have to spend a little time raking them into your garden beds. And, while you're doing that you can just keep telling yourself: I might have to rake, BUT . . .

#1 - I won't have to buy mulch and drag the bags all over the garden.

#2 - I won't have to buy fertilizer and toss some under each plant.

Do you see the savings adding up already? Keep going.

#3 - I won't have to spend time bagging them and dragging them to the curb.

#4 - I won't have to go to the gym today because I got my exercise in the yard.

Do you get the picture? 
Do you see the benefits of not raking, bagging and dragging them to the curb? 
I thought you might!

Hey, you might even try using your blower to blow some of them into your garden beds.

Now I'm really convincing you. Aren't I? 

So, garden smart and don't let all that free mulch end up on your curb. Take advantage of Mother Nature's bounty and save some $$$'s and time. And, while you're at it, sneak over to your neighbor's driveway after dark and snitch their...already raked...bags of leaves. The more the merrier!