Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Landscape Designing With Trees

Placement of trees is an integral component of landscape design. Trees provide shade, nesting and food resources for wildlife, and aesthetic architectural beauty for the home. Having a long range vision of what the tree will eventually look like needs knowledge of the species' growth habit to maturation.

You can search for native and non-native trees suitable for your landscape at Waterwise Landscapes. Make sure that when you plant your trees, that proper space is available for root growth, canopy spread, and wild fire protection.

Planting Trees In The Landscape. ~ University of Florida

Top Ten Mistakes Made Planting Trees. Nebraska Forest Service

Inspiration for your home can be found everywhere. Peter Olexa's photography collection on the architectural beauty and symbolism of trees through the seasons is breath-taking. Take a look at his wonderful winterland of trees throughout the world and from quite different perspectives.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Keeping Squirrels Out of Your Feeder? Impossible!

Have you ever wished for the perfect baffle box to keep squirrels away from your bird feeder? I thought I had found one when I purchased a beautiful copper guaranteed squirrel proof bird feeder that closed all the openings when any weight was put onto the feeder. It worked ideally when I had it in my hand and put a small weight on it, the feeder openings closed tightly. Happy with myself for finding a solution, I thought it was working until I glimpsed from my bedroom window, a big fat gray squirrel hanging upside down from the same limb the bird feeder was hanging from - and without touching the bird feeder - the squirrel hung upside down by his feet and feasted right from the guaranteed squirrel-proof buffet openings. No, I didn't take back the bird feeder and get a refund. I just never filled it up with bird food again. It's a garden accessory now.

Keeping squirrels out of your yard is 'Mission Impossible.' Carling Black Label Beer thought the animals were so much fun, they made an advertisement with the little rodents.

Now here's a non-commercial capturing different but still as smart squirrels with reggae music.

Face it. Squirrels are nothing but rats with press agents.

Want to feed squirrels? Here's a great publication from UF's Sally Scalera.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation: Squirrels

Florida's Squirrels

Have you ever seen a Fox Squirrel?

Southern Fox Squirrel

Sherman Fox Squirrel habitat.

Removing squirrels from your home or attic.

Green Graffiti

WebEcoist showcases a natural touch when it comes graffiti in landscapes. Green artists like Danish Morten Flyverbom and British Anna Garforth who uses living moss to create their urban art.

Make Your Own Plantable Gift Tags

If you're like me and compost everything, you only have so much room and find your compost bin gets full quickly. What to do with your junk mail?

Birds and Blooms magazine has a neat holiday suggestion that makes a wonderful children's craft project: plantable gift tags!

Kendra Zvonik who lives in St. Petersburg Florida, provides directions for an easy do-it-yourself gift tags. She suggests shredding your junk mail, but how about printed copy paper, old calendars, used envelopes as well?

While you're at the Birds and Blooms website, sign up for their free magazine issue. Birds and Blooms has beautiful photographs of birds, gardens, plant articles, and project ideas. My mother-in-law gives me a subscription every year for Christmas.

Want more recycling activities? How about creating your own paper? Follow these instructions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Florida Fall Foliage

Wonderful change of season into autumn much earlier this year in Central Florida showcases reds, purples, yellows, and orange. Enjoy these sceneries of native virginia creeper, sweet gum, persimmon, black cherry, sumac, and sycamore trees.

Want fall color in your backyard? Check out Hernando County Florida Native Plant Society Trees.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

But Where Are The Gardens?

Garden Design magazine and American Society of Landscape Architects have announced their contest winners in their 2010 Residential Landscapes of the Year. I love reading the Garden Design magazine and looking at the lovely gardens. So I was excited to see the winners. But I found them disappointing. When I think residential, I think of homes, families, communities. When I hear landscapes I think of scenery and views from different angles, times of day, and at different seasons. But when I think of gardens, I think of life evolving right before our eyes, a place to meander, enjoy colors, fragrances, butterflies. Gardens thrive with the encourgagement of physical human touch; planting, picking flowers, fruit, and vegetables, hoeing, weeding, and deadheading. In doing so we encourage ourselves and defuse our tensions. We thrive, too.

But I didn't see any residential gardens. The thirteen winning entries are mainly hardscapes of rock, stone, cement, screens, water pools, evergreens, turf, and grasses, with a few restorations that include valley wildflowers, natural coastlines, and a Japanese styled portico. Where were the gardens?

I get that incorporating landscapes with architectural design and new construction requires the engineering process, straight lines, and hardscapes, but did the winning landscapes have to be stark with "no maintenance" required, or quiet meditation sanctuaries, or coastlines viewed from inside? Maybe its what the resident wanted and more power to them. But the title of the contest should have been 2010's Residential Exteriors of the Year.

In writing this I think I answered my own argument of garden vs residential landscaping. The future of landscape architecture design seems to be going towards the misnomers of sustainable, no maintenance, sterile, no dirty hands, no touching.

Now these are gardens...

Fritham Farm is a residence and Plant Delights Nursery is a combination of residence and private wholesale nursery.

Fritham Farm

Plant Delights Nursery - May 2009

You can energize yourself by meandering through these gardens. The views are thoughtful and inspiring. The maintenance is physical and stress-relieving. More gardens like these would be good for the world's soul.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Autumn Foliage at Virginia Tech

Enjoy the music and beautiful foliage at Virginia Tech.

Landscaping Eye Candy For Ideas

I'm passionate about gardening catalogs which I use to find new plants and inspiration. I recently discovered a wonderful California nursery from Annie's Annuals. Annie Hayes's nursery sells California wildflowers, annuals and perennials. And you can take it from me, she delivers inspiration. The twenty-year old nursery shares our gardening Zones 8 - 10 although its considerably less humid than Florida climates. That difference aside, Annie's Annuals landscape displays offer lush ideas for drought-tolerant garden beds and containers.

This weekend, Annie's newsletter highlights a variety of succulents with one of my favorite garden themes, English cottage gardens. The garden designer is superstar David Feix. Take a peek!

Click here to order a free Annie's Annuals catalog.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Who's To Blame For Overfertilizing and Chemical Use in Landscapes?

Unfortunately human beings are reactionary, not pro-active when it comes to changing beliefs and behaviors. Creating a paradigm shift of acceptable practices in landscapes needs to have the combined efforts of continued education and regulations from multiple arenas. It requires a top down and a bottom up approach. Education of the public, commercial businesses, homeowner associations, do-it-yourself outlets, garden centers and nurseries, municipal, state, and federal regulators all need to work together in making sure their facts are accurate. Regulators must rely on unbiased science-based research while homeowners need to be savvy consumers. Organic chemicals versus synthetic chemicals when it comes to soil and stormwater pollutants from landscaping applications is not a moot point. When overused and misapplied, they both pollute and hurt the environment.

Municipal and county planning departments have to share the blame by regulating codes that require extreme amounts of landscaping for new homes and developments. Ordinances that call for excessive amounts of ornamental shrubs to obscure views, large caliper trees to provide immediate shade, large expanses of turf, planted on zero-lot-line properties, which after maturity are completely shaded by those large canopy trees are just a few examples. Planning departments need to understand that there is no one cookie cutter design for all properties. There are various soil types, sunlight conditions, and pH levels while plants need to have specific conditions to thrive. Certain turfgrasses under shaded conditons becomes sparse and stressed needing higher maintenance, more water, have more pest issues, which then require chemical applications, which then increases the need for more water, more maintenance, more chemicals. See the vicious cycle? Landscape architects can help educate by rejecting the "instant landscape" approach, design for the property conditions, and advise clients on the health and beauty of properties that grow to their mature size naturally within a normal time frame that won't suffer under the stress of chemical applications.

Mandated commercial instant landscaping.

2 Phoenix Canariensis palms, 10 double and triple headed Phoenix roebellini palms , 4 Wodyetia bifurcata palms, all in 50-foot row on narrow road.

Overplanted landscaped common area that now has to deal with dieback and insect issues from overpruning.

Builders and developers can be more pro-active in preventing the need for chemicals by not clearing away native soils, wildflowers, and habitat that is already established, so that commercial businesses or future homeowners don't have to worry about extreme maintenance.

Pasture for commercial sale full of native dotted horsemint that will probably be bulldozed to allow for construction with landscape architects trying to find the right natives to create a native landscape.

"Long Leaf" commercial park with no long leaf pines due to damaging pre-construction practices.

Community homeowner associations have a legitimate responsibility to their residents to maintain their community home values and security. Residents who complain about HOA covenants that require “Stepford” lawns don't recognize it was their choice to purchase a home in such a community in the first place. But that doesn't negate HOA's obligation to be reasonable and pro-active with local county resources such as Extension offices to ensure that their covenants do not restrict regional and state efforts to protect natural resources like water supply. HOA's can have beautiful communities and still follow best management practices. Even with environmentally friendly laws, homeowners that want to have natural landscapes are being harassed by well-intentioned but sometimes ignorant neighbors and HOA committees.

Homeowners who try to educate themselves by attending landscaping workshops are bewildered to find out that their homes were not landscaped and irrigated according to waterwise efficiency and for lower maintenance before they moved in? Whose responsibility should that be? Building and planning departments or to the homeowners themselves, who most likely don't have the money to fix the landscape or irrigation system after they've bought their home?

Homeowners who hire companies to maintain their yards need to know what the companies are actually doing on a weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly basis. One gentleman attending my workshop in one of Florida's friendliest hometowns complained that his "landscaping company just knocks on my door, has me sign the bill, and leaves." He said he didn't know what they did to his yard on a monthly basis. My response was that he just had too much money. Why didn't he know? What did he contract this company to do in his yard? Would he would take his car to an auto mechanic and just sign the bill and not know what he was paying for? Everyone who hires landscape maintenance companies should know exactly what practices are being done to their yard and why, but importantly, agree that it should be done.

Irrational fears about insects and maintenance misperceptions are costly to both the environment and to wallets. "Blow and mow" companies take advantage of this and frighten customers into expensive or unnecessary chemical applications. Pruning improperly and going from yard to yard without cleaning their equipment spreads epidemic fungal and viral diseases, and herbicide resistant weeds, ensuring that there will be problems that only stronger chemicals will take care of, again turning into a non-stop pollution cycle. This needs to be addressed by the consumer.

Landscaping businesses should be willing to think outside the box to educate and persuade their clients who don't have landscaping and horticultural knowledge that they don't always have to apply a chemical. Accredited reps should be able to come to Mr. Smith's yard, assess the health of the landscape. If there is nothing wrong with the yard, no need to do anything but congratulate the homeowner on his healthy landscape and tell them that the rep will be back in the contracted time frame to reassess it. If there is a pest issue or fertilizer need, there are appropriate fertilizers and chemicals, whether organic or synthetic, that could be used in the landscape. When applied according to label instructions and only when necessary, these chemicals do not harm the environment. Homeowners should not only demand this consultation but should be willing to pay for it. It takes an educated consumer to understand and trust this concept. But sadly, homeowners now not only demand these bad practices, but they are willing to pay for incorrect advice, improper pruning, and misapplications of fertilizers and chemicals, not for correct knowledge. The landscaping industry needs to change this perception and create verbal word of mouth reputations for doing best management practices.

Then there is the unknowing homeowners, aided by DIY's retail television commercials of "now's the time," to take the care of their own yards into their hands. It should be easy, if you know what you're doing and use the best management practices of "right plant, right place and reading instruction labels.

Homeower lollipopping which leads to dieback and diseases.

Improper planting for mature growth.

Homeowner placement of shade plant in full sun.
But usually weekend warriors are culpable of brutal pruning practices, such as hatracking crape myrtles in the wintertime, overfertilizing all year round, overwatering, and applying chemicals incorrectly. These same warriors seeing damage in their lawns, don't know if they have an insect issue or a disease. They don't read the fertilizer, herbicide, or pesticide labels. Abiding by the myth of "perfect landscapes," "more is better," and "it [weeds] needs to die instantly," homeowners apply chemicals in unnecessary and dangerous amounts. This leads to increased pollutants, more diseases, chemical-resistant pests, and necessary chemical banning. Protecting the environment from zealous do-it-yourselfers has become the government's responsibility.

What is the solution?
  • There needs to be an agreed buy-in from both the government and consumers to fund environmental education programs at every level. Elementary through high school, public and professional, at all levels.
  • Covenants, local, and county ordinances should make keeping the environment healthy easier. A higher maintenance landscape should be a choice that comes with a price. Higher water bills, higher maintenance costs, even stormwater mitigation fees.
  • Homeowners need to determine what the pest problem in their landscape is in the first place. Is it a seasonal issue or is the insect still there doing the damage? They need to make use of the free resources that are available to them through their local County Extension offices or through land-grant universities' scientific research which is free to every person on the Internet or at their local library.
The EPA requires stormwater protection in most states, with Florida and California recently introducing new legislation on phosphates and nitrogen applications which will undoubtedly help with stormwater pollution. Other environmental issues with water and wildlife is the increased damage from pharmaceutical pollutants which I consider more critical than fertilizers. Developing better technology to clean water has to address pharmaceuticals in our surface waters.

Working together to provide the correct landscapes and efficient irrigation standards that doesn't restrict but enhances homeowners ability to maintain their yards with best management practices is the easiest way to start protecting our environment. Its up to landscaping industry to educate their clients more, even taking a stand to not allow customers to dictate bad management practices. Making sure that homeowners understand that everyone is responsible for their own watershed even if they don't live near a lake is crucial to our future water supply. Banning fertilizers and chemicals entirely will only increase human stubborness and resentment. When people realize that our future water supply is not only a right but a responsibility, it should make everyone more aware of what they do in the landscape affects it, but the landscaping and building industries have to provide the correct landscapes and effective irrigation technology to ensure success.

~ When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world. ~
John Muir, 1838 - 1914, American naturalist
City planning department approved landscape.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Cooler Temps In Your Backyard

NOAA have analyzed the La Nina weather patterns and are predicting Florida will have a warm, drier than average winter forecast. Rainfall during December, January, and February are normally low and temperatures will fluctuate. We didn't have any hurricanes or tropical storms so our water levels will be lower with very little chance of recovering before our dry spring. What does that mean for Florida gardeners? It means that we probably won't have to worry about losing plants from excessive freezing but homes in wild fire zones will have to be on the alert. Florida has a greater risk of wildfires this year.

How can you fireproof your landscape?

  • Find out if you live in a fire-prone area.

  • Keep all mulch two feet away from your house. Decomposed mulches that are wet will likely not combust but will be a source for mold, mildew, and termites.

  • Don't use rubber mulch around your home.

  • If you have wood entries such as decking, trellises, or benches near house, remove during winter season or replace with metal, concrete, or other noncombustible materials.

  • Remove vines, hanging branches, and overgrown shrubs away from roof and entryways.

  • Make sure you have clean gutters. Fall leaves, pine cones, pine needles, are flammable and pose a risk to roofs.

  • Remove all dead plants and underbrush from your landscape.

  • Design your landscape so that you have vertical and horizontal separation between plants. That means keeping 15 feet between trees and shrubs. If your plants all touch each other, fire can spread quicker.

  • Keep all trees 30 to 50 feet away from home.

  • Regular maintenance such as pruning and checking irrigation systems is important.

Landscape plants and their fire-resistance.

Printable Preparing a Fire-Wise Plant list.

University of Florida/IFAS provides questions to determine how fireproof is your landscape?

More fire-wise information.

Printable Important - Mobile Home Fire Safety brochure.

2007 Wildfires

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Not In My Backyard on In Your Backyard

UPDATE: Lake Frances Estates HOA has tabled the Florida-friendly landscaping complaint for the time being. It seems the HOA's covenants don't restrict Ms. O'Connors ability to have a natural landscaping. We'll be watching to see what happens and that the neighborhood harassment ceases.

UPDATE: Lauren Ritchie and Mo O'Connor will be guests on "In Your Backyard" this morning at 11:15am. Don't miss it! If you're not in the radio listening area, you can listen to "In Your Backyard" on http://www.wlbe.org/.

UPDATE: I drove by Ms. O'Connor's landscaped yard and it's wonderfully low maintenance and very water-friendly. It looks beautiful and I know that the shady lot is cooler than the some of the huge dead and weedy turf lawns in the rest of the community.

Lauren Ritchie has updated the reader's response to her editorial, 'Lauren on Lake' Orlando Sentinel column. Very interesting. The support seems to be on Mo's side! Indeed, Florida needs mo' water conserving yards!

Photo by Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel

Lauren Ritchie's editorial on Lake Frances Estates HOA's squabble in the Orlando Sentinel certainly showcases that fences make good neighbors and Florida-friendly isn't always friendly.

Mo O' Connor's landscaping has stirred retirees out of their comfort zone and into legal action. For six years she has been retro-designing her Lake County landscape to be more eco-friendly, in other words, less maintenance, less water consuming, and no chemical applications. From Richie's photo, her landscape looks cool in Florida's summer, and easy care. Cranky critics of the landscape say the care-free, natural landscaping encourages snakes and rats. Helloooooooo?!?!!??! This is Florida, home to Silver Springs, where Ross Allen's Serpentarium, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon reside. Florida has over 44 native snake species.

Note to Northerners: Anacondas are not native to Florida.

Repeat after me: "Snakes are your friend." Having black snakes and racers in your yard will stop you from having rodents. Especially if you have an abundance of citrus trees and lakes close by. Snakes benefit by keeping the rodent population controlled. Get rid of the snakes and you will have rats. Lots of them. Lake Frances Estates residents thinking that they don't have snakes living in their yards in a lake-front community makes me wonder how they have survived in Florida. Ireland is the only location in the world that doesn't have snakes, and yes, I know it's an euphemism for pagans, but it's also because of the Ice Age and land isolation.

Tip of the day: Know what to do when you see a snake.

Florida has seen increasing amount of unnecessary water use (particularly in non-native communities of snowbirds) on St. Augustinegrass lawns since the 1990's. Scare tactics of Gestapo-like HOAs threatening lawsuits to any resident who cannot keep their lawn green since the 2005 state legislation seems to be falling on deaf ears. Florida homeowners know that the law, for the most part, is on their side. While this law does not exempt homeowners from having landscapes that are completely gravel, cemented entirely, or ugly, unmowed, and weedy front yards, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But less turf, more ornamentals, groundcovers, and shade trees are a good alternative to the high maintenance landscapes that can waste up to 200,000 gallons of water per lawn a month.

Mo O' Connor's yen for easy care yard or the Lake Frances Estates HOA's attitude is not unusual. Zellwood Station's HOA board was inundated with complaints about resident Barbara Tubb's Florida Friendly landscape. Uneasy neighbors cited fire hazard with the pine straw mulch. I spoke to the HOA committee and they tabled the charges. Five years later, there hasn't been a fire in this mobile home park.

Florida-friendly landscaping can be attractive, beneficial to wildlife, and protect our natural resources. It's not to be feared. Silver Springs was a world renowned tourist attraction for its natural beauty long before Walt Disney World put Central Florida on the map.

Embracing the natural aesthetics of Florida landscaping is one of our best policies that will help preserve our state's natural resources for future generations.