Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weedin' The Worries Of The World Away

Teresa's note:  The following is an updated excerpt from my upcoming book on Florida-friendly landscaping. Look for it on Xulon Press, December 2015.

Weedin' The Worries Of The World Away

Okay, it’s hot and humid; I am cranky. One of the best ways to get rid of my crankiness is to pull weeds. Yes, I get thirsty and ache from pulling weeds out of my yard all day but when I pull weeds, I can contemplate all the horticultural mistakes in my world. I focus on grabbing them by the roots, ripping them out, and throwing them in the compost pile to make the neighborhood a better place to live in. It works for me.

The landscaping ills of the world are visible when I drive to and fro in my daily wanderings and have me shaking my head and wondering, “What are people thinking?” I can only do so much good on this little globe of animals, minerals and vegetables by myself and as the old adage “clean up your own backyard before you clean up someone else’s” works for advice, so weeding my own yard and airing my personal pet peeves may help some new homeowners before I can set out to help the world.
My first pet peeve is seeing landscapes with wilting, sunburned, tropical and common indoor plants located out in the Florida yard in the full sun. A burn-tinged foliage of Hawaiian ti or a miserable four-foot tall diffenbachia surrounded by lots of drooping impatiens without an irrigation system leads me to believe that either the landscape designer was a good, kind, decent snowbird-retiree who was misled into thinking they were creating a tropical paradise, or someone who is the inherent descendant of the Marquis de Sade who does not believe in anything living for more than three weeks. I know this is Florida ‒ most of the landscapes desired are drastically different from the Zone 5 through Zone 7 evergreen, snow-tolerant standards everyone has up North. But if new residents think they want Florida sunshine all winter long and beautiful evergreen southern ornamental shrubs and flowers, they need to think first about their yard’s ability to handle those plants before buying and installing; shade-loving tropical flora just can’t tolerate eight to ten hours of full sunlight a day.

Please take time to design your landscape with regard to the now everyday common “right plant, right place” mantra. Determine your sunlight and soil conditions as well as your size and maintenance requirements in selecting your plant palette; then, if you really desire a more professional landscape, make sure you consider dimension, texture, color, and fragrance in your final choices.
My second pet peeve relates to the first peeve. Someone is misleading these trusting souls into purchasing the wrong plants. The primary suspects are retailers in an entirely different line of business than horticulture. Would you buy a tugboat from your telephone company? How about buying medical insurance from a truck driver with a semi-load full of fiberglass insulation? Buying indoor houseplants or a blooming fuschia from a do-it-your-bad-self store or a grocery store that has a special sale going on out in the parking lot falls under that category of watching a fender bender in slow motion knowing you can’t do anything about it. Not only are the plants suffering, but also being out on the cement walkway or the asphalt parking lots for a week with the full sun beating down on them with inadequate water under those conditions decreases their chances of survival, even if you take them home and provide the best of care. By the end of a week, most of the plants are unfit for any landscape reality show or even dead. I understand the grocery store wants to make an impulse sale. I am an avid impulse buyer myself, especially of plants, but please buy your plants from a reputable garden center or nursery that can give proper instructions on what your plants needs are. Your landscape will be less expensive, will require less maintenance and have a better chance of thriving than dying.

Did I mention I was cranky? Let me pull a few more weeds.

My third pet peeve probably is the root of the problem of the first two ‘ills’, with developments and realtors who sell new homes without providing the home’s landscape list with plant names, maintenance details, and educational brochures on the importance of water conservation, ( which by the way, are available free of charge from any local utility or water management district). It is very unfair to the newest residents in our state to let them believe that it is okay to waste our diminishing water supply or to make the fresh homeowner work harder in their yard than they need to.

Let’s not even mention the unnecessary shock of their first water bill. The current state of potable water availability is finite and residents should know as they move into their new house what their watering days and guidelines are, how to set their new irrigation system, and how to take care of their new sod, flowers, ornamental shrubs and trees. The final contact person should not only congratulate the happy homeowner but also encourage the new residents to contact their local extension offices with any landscaping questions they may have. With more and more people moving into Florida, agencies and businesses encouraging growth and more economy, need to help preserve our diminishing precious resources (native soils, potable water) through education.

Providing water conservation education should not be a scary sale-blowing conversation more so than explaining new taxes or higher impact fees will be needed to provide alternative water sources to potential buyers.

Getting my final pet peeve off my chest is just as rewarding as pulling that last wretched weed and looking at my weed-free garden. That is people who just don’t use their common sense. They ignore or don’t care about the watering guidelines, watering whenever they feel like it. They don’t understand how inefficient irrigating during daytime hours is or don’t realize that their landscaping problems are probably being aggravated by their watering abuse.
There I said it and whew, do I feel better. For me, feeling frustrated by irrigation irritation is worse than road rage. It is something that really doesn’t hold up logically when someone tries to rationalize watering during the hottest part of the day. How does that make sense? If a plant is languishing from dehydration, hand watering is the quickest and only permissible way to reduce their need.

For the most part, grass just doesn’t suffer from being watered only once a week. It’s the landscapes that are watered more than twice a week or for hours that see disease, excessive weeds, or their grass dying, even during the summer. It’s the overindulgent caretakers or willfully ignorant lawn maintenance companies that have caused their own lawn’s demise. Watering during the hours of 10am and 5pm with summer temperatures means you are losing over 75 percent of the water to evaporation. You are paying for water each month—whether your plants use it or not.
When I see my neighbors with their sprinklers running full blast, watering sidewalks and roads, I want to jump out of my car, put my hand up in the air, quickly flash my official water conservation badge, and shout: “TERESA WATKINS HERE, SWY! Stop watering your yard!” I want help save them the cost of the water, the foolish appearance of being duped into thinking that they are doing a good thing, while the silent future enemy of unavailable, potable water supply creeps up on them slowly. They will pay the price eventually. Will they be the loudest complainers of their $700 a month water bills with a future of ad valorem taxes raised to help pay the cost of alternative water methods? They better not be.
We need to educate everyone who lives in Florida that we can make the best use of our water resources now—and for the future, and still have a beautiful Florida-friendly landscape. There, my soul doesn’t feel as cranky anymore. Thank you for letting me vent. I think I will fix some lemonade, head on outside to sit, and enjoy my beautiful yard. I am not going to even look for more weeds. At least not until it’s cooler.