Occupy Your Lawn With Florida-Friendly Plants!

Lu:  We were sitting outside, talking about a picture we had seen on Facebook that was labeled “Occupy the Tundra,” when Forrest said he had thought about making a similar photo for “Occupy North Florida.” My mind started spinning, and I came up with “Occupy Your Lawn with Florida-Friendly Plants.”
Here are the results of a no-water, no fertilizer, no pesticides largely native yard!

  and a resource drain!
When I bought the house, we agreed that the lawn was too big and we wanted to replace it, over time, with mostly native plants. Our primary motivation was that we didn’t want to spend all our free time mowing, but Florida’s water issues were a motivation, too.

Forrest:  We do not water, fertilize, or use pesticides of any sort on the lawn, so in that respect it’s low maintenance. It does require mowing about once a week at the height of our long growing season, however. Each mowing session expends at least three hours of precious leisure time and consumes about 3 gallons of gas. For my time and expense, I would rather have more bang for my buck than a monotonous expanse of green carpet.
Planning is important;  here, in order, are the
plants used for this island: Stokes' aster,
blue-eyed grass, scrub mint, horsemint, blazing
star, rudbeckia, swamp sunflower, tickseed
purple coneflower, muhley grass, beautyberry

Lu:  I grew up swimming in Florida’s springs, and I’m brokenhearted about how quickly we are losing them to overpumping and algae blooms. Cynthia Barnett, in her excellent new book Blue Revolution, says that turf grass is our 51st state because lawns now occupy an area of the country that’s larger than many states! Horticultural products, including turf grass, have become Florida's #1 agricultural commodity. So we’re losing our springs in part because of our felt need to water turf grass—lawns—but do we really want an aesthetic that we borrowed from England to define our water ethic in Florida? My answer is no.

 Red mulch was chosen in order
to show neighbors some structure.
An all-hardwood, no cypress mix.

Forrest: We have well over an acre of turf—a rather motley mix of Bahia, crabgrass, and various "weeds." Some of the latter are turning out to be desirable native groundcovers that provide nectar and larval food for butterflies. Since we live in a rural setting, we don't feel pressured to conform to the picture-perfect manicured lawn aesthetic prevalent in suburbia, but at the same time we don't want the yard to look like it has "gone to weeds."

Lu:  I gave Forrest the book Urban and Suburban Meadows by Catherine Zimmerman for Christmas last year, and we relied on that and Florida’s Best Native Landscape Plants by Gil Nelson for guidance. We wanted to provide food for pollinators, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife.

Forrest:  We had a couple of low areas in the yard where the builders burned trash when the lot was being cleared. We decided to use those spots for our first conversion to small meadows. Readying the sites was a labor-intensive process of digging out the grass, laying soaker hoses, planting, mulching. Once the plants were established by late spring, they needed only occasional watering from the soaker hoses. The photo shows the results.
Monarda punctada  (aka horsemint) going to town with wonderful aroma
and lots of pollinator visits. The blue-eyed grass and scrub
mint are hidden but thriving. Maybe they like some relief
from summer heat.
Lu:  Part of our motivation for the meadow plantings was aesthetic. These plants are gorgeous! I especially love how the horsemint, muhly grass, and swamp sunflowers peak in the fall, which is my favorite time of year. I’m hoping that our neighbors might even be inspired by what we’re doing.
Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grass in the fall
Forrest:  I've already given seeds from our purple coneflowers to one neighbor, and she has requested some from the swamp sunflowers and horsemint when they are ready.

Lu:  We worried a little bit that our photo might be disrespectful to the folks who are part of the Occupy Wall Street movements, but I don’t think it is. Sustainability—of the economy, of financial institutions, of the government, of the environment—really seems to me to be a core issue here, and I think all these areas are connected. I’ve started envisioning Florida as the state with the best educational system in the country, the cleanest waters in the world, and an economy that prospers because of the first two. Florida-friendly plants are definitely part of that picture. I’d love it if all the folks in Florida who are growing turf grass would suddenly find it’s more profitable to grow native plants; that will happen when more of us start using them!

Lucinda Faulkner Merritt and Forrest Stowe
October 18, 2011

I agree with Lu! This wonderful, sustainable garden is a compliment to the folks on Wall Street, and also a fabulous example to turf owners everywhere. Lu and Forest have kindly shared a link to their Meadow Conversion Facebook page:


where you can see more photos and read  details of their journey. Many thanks to both of them for their effort in sharing this with our blog.

sue dingwell


daisy g said…
What a fantastic effort to naturalize your property! I admire your hard work!
A Word Witch said…
CORRECTION from Cynthia Barnett, author of "Blue Revolution": "Horticultural products, including turf grass, have become Florida's number 1 agricultural commodity." Turf grass by itself does NOT account for "over half of all the agricultural crops in Florida." Sorry for my mistake. -Lu
Perpetua said…
Beautiful design ideas. I'll probably try to incorporate a few of them. I'm in the process of converting my grass to powderpuff mimosa ... I already like where its beginning to fill in and I've seen some stunning yards in my neighborhood with it. #cheers
Maren said…
Your yard is gorgeous! What an inspiration.
We just bought our first house in September, with about an acre of turf grass and a huge lone oak. We're trying to plant a road barrier against the very busy street, but most of the plants will be under the shade of the oak tree. My neighbors are giving me all sorts of advice of non-native shade plants, but I'd like to stick to florida natives. I already have wild coffee and firebush, with silver buttonwood at the edge of the oak where its more sunny. We'd love more variety, Do you have any recommendations of shade loving native plants that will provide some privacy?
Maren, We'd need to know where you live to make specific recommendations, but we can give you tips for self-help. One of the best ways to learn about what is good for your area is to go to a native nursery and look - its worth investing time to make a trip if there is not one nearby. You can see for yourself what you like. To find a list of all the Florida Native Nurseries, go to AFNN.org.

You can find lots of information on our Homepage, left side, "Planting Natives," where you can click on a map to specify your location at FNPS.org

Thanks for your comment and good luck with your project!
Cammie said…
Retail outlets at http://www.PlantRealFlorida.org

Wholesale only at FloridaNativeNurseries.org (afnn.org redirects there)

Just FYI.
Wiggi said…
I have a home at the northern end of St. Johns county and have spent a small fortune fighting chinch bug and watering the lawn. I love this new idea of Florida friendly and native plants. Any suggestions on what plants are best for my front yard, which get full sun. I plan on changing slowly so the HOA won't become alarmed.
The Jolly Bloggers said…
We have a tool on our website just for that! Check it out: http://www.fnps.org/plants

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