How Does Your Garden Grow? A Makeover using Native Plants and Florida-Friendly Landscaping
The downtown demo garden at the Orange County Administration building is a popular place, with more than 500,000 visitors each year. Recently it got a makeover to turn it into a Florida paradise with over 17 species of native plants. The goal: boost pollinator visits to the site, increase biodiversity and showcase sustainable gardening practices.
“The makeover will improve the garden’s curb appeal and help educate locals on the importance of planting native plants,” said Tia Silvasy, UF/IFAS Extension Orange County Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) agent and project leader. “Most people want nice gardens, but they don’t realize how easy and beneficial it is to use Florida native and Florida-Friendly plants to accomplish this.”
The FFL Program was designed to help residents and business owners create and maintain beautiful yards using research-based, environmentally-sustainable landscaping practices. It also uses educational services that teach homeowners and landscaping professionals how to water efficiently, fertilize appropriately, manage yard pests responsibly and more.
Silvasy referred to the proper implementation of the nine FFL principles in yards that will protect the natural environment for future generations to enjoy:
- Right plant, right place
- Water efficiently
- Fertilize appropriately
- Attract wildlife
- Manage yard pests responsibly
- Recycle yard waste
- Reduce stormwater runoff
- Protect the waterfront
She also affirmed the benefits of Florida native and Florida-Friendly (not native but adaptable) plants in creating ecological landscapes. Florida native plants are well-adapted to the environment. Wildlife follows along, so they attract unique pollinators and insects, which provide ecological services such as eating “bad” bugs, continuing the plant lifecycle and pollinating for fruits and vegetables.
“It’s all about the integrity of our ecosystem,” explained Silvasy. “We want to have a healthy balance, so if everyone planted just a few more native plants, it would help with the biodiversity in our region.”
Reducing water and fertilizer use is a major part of FFL, which incorporates the most efficient water-conserving methods into gardens and landscapes. As a rapidly growing region, Orange County understands the importance of protecting water quality.
“With growth comes the responsibility to deliver clean drinking water for all residents and visitors,” said Jeff Benavides, Orange County Chief Sustainability Officer. “Dramatically increasing Florida-Friendly Landscaping countywide will conserve our region’s water supply, increase bio-diversity and enable economic growth for local nurseries and landscape industries.”
The project was funded in part by a Florida Wildflower Foundation grant and includes partners from UF/IFAS Extension Orange County, Florida Master Gardener Volunteers, Orange County Government, the Florida Native Plant Society and Grounded Solutions, LLC.
Photo cutline: Tia Silvasy and other volunteers from the UF/IFAS Extension Orange County getting ready to plant Florida-friendly plants at the Orange County Admin Building.