Design Your Yard for the Place You Live Now.

Summer rains wash nitrogen to the nearest lake, bay or ocean, ruining the reason we moved here in the first place. That’s why four Tampa Bay communities -- Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota Counties, plus the city of Tampa -- ban fertilizer from June 1 to Sept. 30: to protect our fun. Enjoy Florida... its where you live now

Dear Yard 911,

Can I plant peonies in largo florida?..

- Pining for Peonies, Largo Florida

Dear Pining for Peonies,
Could it be that you have moved to Florida recently and you are missing the peonies that looked so glorious in your yard "up North?" We get a lot of queries from newcomers wanting to know if they can grow tulips/daffodils/hostas/lilacs/poppies/Japanese maples or any number of other plants that lived... Read More

Dear Yard 911,

We have variegated minima in shaped bed in front yard. Grass is growing at rapid rate in minima. I...

- Grass Gone Wild, Temple Terrace, Fl.

Dear Grass Gone Wild,
Variegated or solid Asiatic jasmine, also known as jasmine minima, is a terrific groundcover for use instead of grass, but as with any new plant, it takes a while for the jasmine to grow and spread enough to deter weeds -- or in this case, grass. Did you put down a nice, thick layer of mulch arou... Read More

Dear Yard 911,

I'd really like to minimize my grass... particularly since we haven't been able to actually get any ...

- Want To Be Grass-Free, Gibsonton

Dear Want To Be Grass-Free,
We certainly applaud you for wanting to reduce the amount of grass in your landscape, as Floridians use 1 billion gallons of water every day just to water grass! (Not to mention the fertilizer and pesticides that grass requires too). You have discovered the hard way that grass does not do well in... Read More

Dear Yard 911,

My Mother is a Suburbanized New Englander and she want's her 'northern plants and especially GRASS!!...

- BuBu, Hudson

Dear BuBu,
In a word, BuBu, the answer to your question is "No!" There really isn't any turf grass that is easy to grow and maintain in Florida. But you know this already.  You are a True Floridian. Your mom, on the other hand, hasn't quite gotten the knack of  designing her yard for the place she lives NOW ... Read More

Dear Yard 911,

We have a lanai which covers our pool in the back of our home and there is a hill behind it. T...

- Fighting An Uphill Battle, Holiday

Dear Fighting An Uphill Battle,
If you have had to replace sod every year in this location, that is a clear signal that sod is probably not the long-term answer to your landscape problem. We would actually NOT recommend using grass on a hill because of the difficult of mowing, watering and fertilizing it evenly.  We can't imagine... Read More

THE ART OF BEING FLORIDIAN

These wild and whimsical flamingos were painted by area artists to support the "Be Floridian" campaign.
Our mascot, the familiar plastic pink yard flamingo, is reimagined in this colorful exhibit.

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Kicking the lawn habit

Start small. Replace a corner of your lawn with a bed of shrubs, small trees and groundcovers. Or plant that butterfly garden you always wanted. Dig up the grass, or cover it with newspapers or plastic sheeting for a few weeks and then remove it. Turn over the soil a bit, plant your new plants, and cover them with about 3 inches of mulch. Water and weed regularly until the plants get a toehold in their new home. You can install some edging to define the new bed and keep that troublesome turf from creeping in.

Then grow. Expand your landscape beds over time, and before you know it you’ll be devoting your weekends to relaxing instead of mowing, weeding, and edging. Add interest to your yard with meandering pathways that define your landscape beds and reduce maintenance time. Pathways can be created from shell, gravel, flagstones or mulch. Add a seating area or water feature, such as a pond or bird bath. You can create themed gardens — with butterfly plants in one bed, and maybe a scent garden in another with tea olives, gardenias and jasmine.

Keep what you need. Pets and kids need a place to play. Respect their turf. Look for unused portions of your lawn to convert to landscape beds.

Location, location

These Florida-friendly plants just need the right home.

Sunny and dry. Hibiscus will produce beautiful flowers with little-to-no care.

Sun/mixed shade and dry. Muhly grass is a low-key beauty that turns bright pink in the fall.

Soggy spots. Florida canna likes to get its feet wet and is a butterfly magnet.

Shade. Cast-iron plant has deep green leaves, needs very little water, and grows in a variety of soils.

Anywhere. Beach sunflower is a low-maintenance ground cover that never stops blooming. It tolerates poor soil, needs little water, and never needs fertilizer.

Waste not, want not

Here’s how to avoid overwatering:

Sure signs. Before watering your plants, look for signs of wilt or if leaves curl. Your lawn needs water when the grass blades fold in, or you can see your footprints when you walk on it.

Get some sense. Place an inexpensive rain gauge in an open area so you can tell you how much rain your yard received, then supplement only if needed. Installing a moisture sensor will also help you know what’s happening at the root level where moisture is most important.

Supervise your sprinklers. If you have an in-ground irrigation system, make sure none of your sprinklers heads are broken. Check on the sprinklers to make sure you’re not accidentally watering the sidewalk or driveway. Keep water restrictions in mind when you set your timer and irrigate early in the morning so the water doesn’t evaporate in the heat of the day. Install a rain sensor if your system doesn’t have one already. Make sure the sensor is pointed up so it can detect when it has rained and prevent your system from coming on.

Indulge. When you do water, give your landscape a good, long drink (one-half to three-quarters inch per application). Your plant and grass roots will grow deeper and stronger than they would if you used less water more frequently. Healthier plants with deep roots need far less water and are much more resistant to disease and pests.

Pest patrol

Know thy enemy. The No. 1 rule for pest control is to know what’s infiltrating your territory before calling in the chemical troops. Call your county extension office if you need help.

Learn to recognize the good guys. Ladybugs love aphids, mites, mealy bugs and leafhoppers. Spiders are your friends — widows and recluse spiders are the only poisonous varieties in Florida.

Less is often best. Many insect pests, such as eastern lubber caterpillars or tomato hornworms, can be easily removed by hand and squashed or drowned in soapy water.

Go natural. A soil-dwelling bacteria called Bacillus thurengiensis (BT for short) is a widely available alternative to chemical pesticides. Sprays made with pyrethrins — natural organic compounds — also are effective.