Everything you need to know about the Florida-friendly program, but were afraid to ask: Part 2

This is Part 2 of an interview with Mike Thomas, Ph.D., P.E., who works at the Florida DEP, about the Florida Friendly Landscaping program.  Link to Part 1 here, where we asked Mike about primary objectives of the Florida-Friendly program and its law (HB2080), rain gardens, and Tallahassee's TAPP (Think About Personal Pollution) program.

5) There is quite a bit about landscape design included in the new, 104-page online and print book (The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design). Who is the intended audience and how will you market it?
The primary target of the new book is the homeowner, but the highest priority is the HOA landscape and architectural control committees, so they will have a good reference to what many FFL options look like.

We hope that this book will help to dispense with the notion that sustainable landscapes are necessarily weedy and unkempt. Many of the most beautiful gardens in the world were maintained in Charleston, in Europe, the Mideast, and other areas of the world for centuries before the advent of manufactured fertilizer, powered irrigation systems, or modern pesticides. Those things are a convenient help, no doubt, but we should not fall in love with them and be blinded to their disadvantages. The proper use of these products is discussed more in the FYN Handbook and in the Green Industry BMPs, which are written for the professional or advanced amateur horticulturist.

The largest audience, of course, is the homeowner. My own pet peeve about the FYN and native landscaping books for many years was the difficulty of imagining my yard with a bunch of alphabetically arranged Latin-named descriptions and no or only small black and white pictures. I wanted something that I could stand in front of the house with, figure out what looked nice, and take to the nursery with me to pick out the plants.

I would also strongly recommend to HOAs or anyone else the regional design guides on the UF/IFAS Florida Friendly Landscaping™ website that were produced by Dr. Gail Hansen, an assistant professor of Landscape Architecture, and her graduate student. Coupled with the color plant photos in the new Design Guide, they are a very powerful combination. (Editors' note: see below for the link to all the publications.)

Even if you don’t do it yourself, these references will be a great help in communicating your desires to a Registered Landscape Architect or landscape designer.

6) Is there any money (or plan) to try to get this information out specifically to HOA people, who often block homeowners from trying be more Florida Friendly?

Yes, we will be using the FYN Builder/Developer Program, run by Kathy Malone at the UF/IFAS Florida Friendly Landscaping™ Program office and funded by FDEP to do this. She works with special FYN-B & D extension agents in the larger counties, and with the regular FYN agents in the smaller counties, to reach out from the top down to get developers to use FFL principles from the beginning. This includes creating the covenants and restrictions for a development; working with individual builders to provide FYN yard and landscaping for new homes; and working with the HOAs and HOA management companies to ensure that Florida friendly policies are in place and help them make the conversion.

7) Also in the new Design Guide book, how did you make the decisions about which plants to recommend? I was pleased to see emphasis on eliminating invasive plants, but less than half of the almost 500 plants recommended are natives. I think many of our members would like to have seen more emphasis on the benefits of native plants for building habitat.

The plant list is produced entirely by UF/IFAS experts. It is not all-inclusive, and not all are suitable in all locations. Very little of urban Florida is still native. To date, our development practices have not been sustainable. Often, a site is completely cleared of all native vegetation and the topsoil is removed. The soil is compacted from clearing and building practices and fill is brought in that is not conducive for growing turf or landscape plants. As a result, many plants, both native and non-native, do not grow well, leading to the excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides, and potable water for irrigation. While natives are preferred in many cases, especially in new construction where careful planning can preserve the microenvironment, far too many sites alter the habitat and site conditions such that well adapted non-natives fit the right-Plant-Right Place definition better than a native plant.

(Editors' note: This is NOT the view of Florida Native Plant Society.  Yes, the native soil may have been removed from development sites, but there are many native plants that will grow well, even in these altered enviroments and there are ways to build the soil to create suitable planting sites for fussier natives requiring shade and rich soil.  It is the society's view that it is well worth the effort to choose natives for the sake of our birds, butterflies, and other desireable wildlife to make our properties and our neighborhods functioning ecosystems. For example, see the previous post: When choosing plants, think food chain.)

Thanks very much for your time, Mike.  This has been an education!

Go to the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Publications Web page to find links to these useful documents: (Note in particular the sample landscape designs and plant lists for the four different areas of our state.)
· Brochure
· Handbook
· The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design, 1st ed. (2010)
· How to convert a yard to Florida-Friendly Landscaping™
· Sample plant lists and designs for four Florida Regions—North, North Central, South Central, and South:
   · FFL Book Zone 8A-8B
   · FFL Book Zone 9A
   · FFL Book Zone 9B
   · FFL Book Zone 10

Feel free to print them out and distribute them to your local politicians, HOAs, churches, youth groups or any other folks who still might not understand the importance of responsible property management. Just because a property has always been managed in a certain way, doesn't mean that it's the Florida-friendly way.  Let's go change some minds!

Also, if you have feedback for DEP (and we hope you do), click on this link to the DEP Customer Survey.


Hobo Botanist said…
I would like Mike to give a specific example of where a non-native plant is more suited to a site than a native counterpart. SHOW ME THE DATA.
Oh my, yes. My first thought when I read that: where's the science? I had a few more thoughts which are in today's post!!
Loret said…
The Florida Friendly movement seems to be primarily based on water conservation. Water is not the only component, but it is a great start. Next step is to get everyone on board with the elements of biodiversity so they will see where non-natives fall short in a truly sustainable landscape.
You're right, Loret. And when I teach classes on natives, I hold up a plastic flower to illustrate the difference between "FL Friendly" and the true value of a plant that is contributing to the sustainability of our Florida environment with all its various components. As I pointed out in my little diatribe that followed that post,


the vested (read: money) interests heavily favor ornamental and agricultural plants for promotion and research. This is an issue which must be addressed. And thanks for all you do to accomplish that! sue
FFL Application said…
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