Greening your Florida Garden

By: Calum MacKenzie

While some people move to Florida dreaming of the sea and sand, I do hear the occasional sigh from relocating gardeners who aren't sure what to plant in our lovely climate. In fact, Florida's nursery and landscape business is second only to California, so you'll find plenty of fellow planters here who love to talk shrubs. And with a climate like ours, every excuse to be outside is a good one. Not only is gardening a great way to relax, studies have shown that landscaping can actually speed the sale of your home by up to six weeks. Grooming your property can also increase your resale value by a whopping 14 per cent. Social scientists claim that plants are the quickest and cheapest way to improve the atmosphere of an area. With arguments like that, what's not to like?

In addition to the financial benefits, gardening is good for you! Weeding can burn up to 300 calories an hour and plants improve the air quality. Plants also reduce water pollution by filtering pollutants carried by rain, and reduce soil erosion along shorelines and streams.

These days, people are recognizing how they can adapt their yards in little ways that will take less effort to maintain and benefit the environment at the same time. There are many ways to beautify your yard while keeping the work load lighter - instead of choosing lawn as the predominant feature in your yard consider using it only in areas where it serves a function. Minimizing the size of your lawn not only cuts down on water usage, it saves you all those hours behind the lawn mower.

Choose mulched beds with drought resistant plants instead of grass. Adding mulch to your yard is beneficial for a number of reasons: not only does it suppress weeds; it also helps the soil retain moisture and prevents erosion. In order to help prevent disease, mulch should end about two inches from the base of your plants. If you are set on having a green, lawn-like look, there are other green covers that require less water and less work than grass- Perennial peanut is a nice example.

Not all plants are suitable to our area: invasive plants are destructive to Florida's natural environment - they rob local plants of food water and nutrients. The Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association has compiled a list of plants that shouldn't be used. The same association designates "Plants of the Year" - plants that have proven themselves in our inviting climate, many of which are drought resistant and can tolerate neglect (perfect for a first time gardener). These may serve as helpful guidelines for Florida newbies - ask at your local nursery or check online for more information. The many choices of native and Florida-friendly plants that do well in our climate require fewer fertilizers to maintain (with an added bonus of fewer pollutants).

Also be careful with pesticides - by choosing less-toxic options and spot-treating your yard, you will allow beneficial insects be more effective and minimize your family's exposure to chemicals. This will also protect any wildlife visitors you may have. To increase bird and butterfly visits, make your yard wildlife friendly - aim for plants that provide food, shelter and nesting areas. In addition to creating a safe haven for winged visitor, bird houses can be a pretty addition to your space. You may also want to consider a pond or bird bath as a water source.

Before you go to shop for plants take a look at where you plan to set your garden. Taking note of the conditions specific to that area will be useful when choosing plants: what is the soil like? How much sun and water does the site receive? Choosing plants suitable to the conditions will save you time and money (and secure your status as a successful Floridian gardener!).

With a little foresight your hobby can transform your home and neighborhood, while helping you relax in the Florida sun. After all, isn't that the point?

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