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Gardening From Florida

...Weeding The Wrongs Of The World Away
by Teresa Watkins
by Teresa Watkins

Teresa Watkins, University of Florida's Florida Yards & Neighborhoods multi-county program coordinator is a recognized leader on xeriscape principles and creating 'environmentally-friendly' landscapes.

An award-winning radio and TV host of a variety of gardening shows in Central Florida, Teresa recently designed the landscaping of the 'first energy and environmentally efficient' home in the state of Florida to be certified as a 'green home' by the Florida Green Building Coalition and Florida Solar Energy Center. Currently, she hosts a weekly radio show, 'In My Backyard' on WLBE 790 AM, sponsored by the Lake County Water Authority, that features environmental issues and landscaping advice on for backyards.

When not digging in someone else's backyard, you can find Teresa digging in her own garden, looking for slugs and lubber grasshoppers --- creatures, that she adamantly swears, do not have souls --- aided in that effort by Sheila, her loyal Scottish terrier and legendary lubber killer.

July 23, 2006

Okay, it’s hot and humid; I am thirsty and ache from pulling weeds out of my yard all day and I am cranky. When I pull weeds, I contemplate all the ills in my world; I focus on ripping them out, grabbing them by the roots, throwing them in the compost pile and making 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 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, weeding my yard and airing my personal pet peeves may help some new homeowners before I set out to help the world.

My first pet peeve is seeing landscapes with wilting sunburned tropical and indoor plants planted out in the yard in the full sun. A burn-tinged Hawaiian ti or 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 inherently masochistic descendant of the Marquis de Sade who does not believe in anything living for more than three weeks. I know this is Florida and most of the landscapes desired are drastically different from the Zone 7 through Zone 5 evergreen, snow-tolerant standards everyone has up North. Even though newcomers think they want Florida and 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 sun a day.

Please take time to design your landscape with regard to the “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 desire a really professional-looking 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 driver of a truckload of fiberglass insulation. Buying indoor houseplants from 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 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. It is very unfair to the newest residents of our state to let them believe that it is okay to waste our diminishing water supply or to make them 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 the state, the agencies and the businesses encouraging growth need to help preserve our precious resources through education.

Educating about water conservation is not as costly as explaining new taxes or higher impact fees to provide alternative water sources to potential buyers.

Getting my final pet peeve off my chest is just as rewarding as pulling that last ill 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 and 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 that see their grass dying, even during the summer. The overindulgent caretakers have caused their own lawn’s demise. Watering during the hours of 10am and 5pm in the summer temperatures means you are losing over 75 percent of the water toevaporation. You are paying for that water each month whether your plants use it or not. When I see my neighbors with their sprinklers running full blast, I want to help save them the cost of the water, the foolish appearance of being duped into thinking that they are doing a good thing and the silent future enemy of no available, potable water supply creeping up on them slowly. They will pay the price eventually. Will they be the loudest complainers of their water bills and future ad valorem taxes that are raised to help pay for the cost of alternative water methods? I hope not.

We need to educate everyone so that we can make the best use of our water resources now and for the future. There, my soul doesn’t feel as cranky anymore. Thank you for letting me vent a little. I think I will fix some lemonade and go sit outside and enjoy my beautiful yard and I am not going to even look for weeds. At least not until it’s cooler.



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