In November 2009, The WOW Magazine ( World of Westchase) in Tampa Florida Featured a very interesting article about Controlled Landscape Services converting an existing landscape into an Florida Friendly Landscape.
Florida Friendly Landscaping:
How Will It Affect Westchase?
Governor Charlie Crist took homeowners associations across the state by surprise on July 1. After stating he was leaning toward vetoing Florida Senate Bill 2080, he signed the measure into law.That stroke of the governor's pen re made Florida's political and environmental landscape.
Touted as a significant water saving measure, the law restricts associations and other local governing entities from stopping homeowners from converting their yards to Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL).
Does a disaster await HOAs accustomed to tony and trimmed emerald green yards, lushly carpeted with thirsty St. Augustine grass?
Further, do the benefits of FFL really justify costs of conversion? As the Westchase Community Association (WCA) still prepares a set of guidelines for converting your property to a Florida Friendly yard, WOW set out to answer some of the most salient questions about this revolutionary change to the Florida suburban landscape.
What is Florida Friendly Landscaping? Giving HOA attorneys across the state hives is the new law's rather vague definition of Florida Friendly Landscaping.
Landscapes that are Florida Friendly, however, follow nine general principles:
1. Selecting the right plant for the right place
2. Watering efficiently
3. Fertilizing appropriately
5. Attracting wildlife
6. Managing yard pests responsibly
8. Preventing storm water runoff
9. Protecting the waterfront
The principles were developed by The Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program (FY&N). Established in the early 1990s, the program resulted from efforts to tackle pollution such as nitrate runoff into the state's bays. It also aimed to address water shortages, erosion and disappearing habitats. In general, Florida Friendly yards dramatically reduce the need for water , chemical fertilizers and pesticides - all of which are devoured by yards carpeted in St. Augustine turf grass.
Without such human and chemical intervention, the popular suburban plant would likely perish in the state. Does this mean Westchase homeowners can hang up the lawnmower and tear up their grass? The answer will be made clearer when the Westchase Voting Members adopt Florida Friendly guidelines for homeowners next year. Yet county employees well-versed in Florida Friendly principles will tell you that,s odd - even areas planted in St.Augustine - is not necessarily Florida unfriendly. Sod maybe correctly incorporated in a Florida Friendly lawn, depending upon its water demands and use. Further, Westchase's governing documents require that 50 percent of each home's front yard (defined in the Residential Guidelines as that portion of a yard from the street to a home's front foundation) be St. Augustine grass Is the rule in violation of the new law? Call your lawyer and even she may scratch her head.
As associations across the state tackle their homeowners 'requests for conversion and resulting, expensive legal disputes wind their way through the courts, the power of associations to maintain current deed restrictions will become clearer. Future legislative sessions may also provide greater clarity.
In the meantime, associations and homeowners are treading on new legal ground. Rather than challenge the association and rack up legal bills for themselves and their neighbors, Westchase residents will find- as did WOW - that they can make significant changes to their yards that comply with existing Westchase rules and still go a long way toward making their yards more Florida Friendly .It's also important to acknowledge that Westchase's governing documents are not hostile to Florida Friendly concepts. The association's new guidelines, after clarifying the turfgrass requirement for front yards, state, "Xeriscaping shall be approved, provided plantings, placement and ground cover meet Florida Friendly Water Wise recommended applications. "In this light, this article aimed to comply with existing Westchase restrictions while converting a significant portion of a home's backyard to FFL, as permitted by the guidelines. To this end, WOW invited Steve Rey of Green Thumb Nursery and Mark Mattison of Controlled Landscape Services to offer suggestions for converting only the rear portion of a Westchase lot to FFL. The two landscapers were given two challenges regarding the 2,500 square foot space. First, the new landscaping had to conform to Florida Friendly principles while also proving low maintenance and deer resistant. Second, Mattison and Rey had to propose two approaches for the space: an inexpensive, stripped down plan for homeowners on a constrained budget and a more expensive proposal containing a wider variety of plants and other decorative landscaping options such as a patio or bird feeder. WOW also requested the landscapers provide a line-item breakdown of all costs to determine how much a Do-It-Your-selfer could save by undertaking the work. The experience proved educational.
Lesson 1: Pick a Florida Friendly Landscaper Carefully .Many landscapers offer free landscape plans in exchange for their services. Plans, however, vary dramatically in creativity and cost, so homeowners should acquire several for comparison. Be sure to interview all landscapers to determine their familiarity with FFL as it is a new concept to some. Even landscapers experienced with FFL will make errors. Green Thumb's Rey, for example, incorporated Boston Fern into his second plan. The plant, however, consumes too much water to be considered Florida Friendly. Your search will prove an educational process as you seek the best solutions for conversion. When in doubt, tap valuable resources like Lynn Barber, the Hillsborough County Extension agent in charge of the Florida Yards and Neighbors's Program. Other sources include an FFL site, http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu, and a searchable Florida Friendlyplant database at http://floridayards.org. The Southwest Water Management District (who funds the county program) offers a free 187-page publication titled A Guide to Florida-Friendly Landscaping. It includes an 80-page plant list for hundreds of plants' growing conditions, light and water requirements, and other helpful notes.
Go to www.swfwmd.state.fl.us and look under publications.
Lesson 2: Conversion Comes with Costs as might be expected, Florida Friendly Landscaping is far more economical if installed when a home is built. Conversion costs for the entire 2,500 square foot area of sod, which should suit most Westchase homes, ranged from $3,500 for Green Thumb's less expensive option (including$1,600 in labor costs) to $11,000 for Controlled Landscapes more expensive plan, which featured a new patio, two walkways and a small gazebo. (Controlled Landscape did not break out labor costs for DIYs in their price estimates.)Further, while ground covers can be used to minimize mulch, both designs remained rather mulch-intensive.While Controlled Landscaping did not provide an itemized mulch cost, Green Thumb's estimate, which incorporated pine bark, was $700. Much would need refreshing in future years, providing a continual maintenance cost. (Acceptable mulches are defined in the Westchase guidelines.) So what are the savings?
Assuming the WCA keeps its minimal sod requirement for the front yard, you'll still need your lawn maintenance company. Assuming savings of 30 percent for the existing yard in mowing and fertilization, annual savings would be just under $500 per year, requiring a seven year payback for conversion costs.
Lesson 3: What About Intangible Savings? Calculating true savings from FFL is affected by Westchase's unique access to reclaimed water, which is delivered at a monthly fixed rate of $9 per home. Savings from FFL will therefore be far greater for homes whose irrigation uses potable water, whose users are charged for the quantity used. There are, however, other significant yet less tangible savings arising from FFL conversion. It takes six homes to produce enough reclaimed water for one sodded Westchase yard. Reducing your use of reclaimed water makes it possible for the county to expand the service to other communities, thus lowering the county's overall demand for a very limited resource. Further, if you mow your lawn, converting your yard will markedly reduce the time spent on yard maintenance. In addition two-stroke, gas-powered mowers pollute far more than many cars and trucks. According to the EPA, simply converting 1,000 mowers with two-stroke engines to electric mowers is the equivalent of removing 230 automobiles from the road. FFL's near complete removal of mowers would produce an even greater environmental impact.
Other FFL beneficiaries are our estuaries, bay and gulf, whose dead zones could be addressed by significantly reducing run-off from lawn fertilizers and pesticides.
Lesson 4: Don't Forget Irrigation . WOW's landscapers' estimates are offered with a caveat. Neither landscaper included costs for reconfiguration of the yard's irrigation system, which could run hundreds of dollars more. Such work is essential to FFL. If watered by existing rotor heads designed to quench thirsty sod, your new Florida Friendly Landscape won't thrive. Doing so also undermines one of FFL's primary goals: water conservation. Don't forget to insist that any landscape planner include costs for retrofitting your irrigation system to suit the needsof your Florida Friendly yard.
Lesson 5: Conversion Means Less Beauty? Not at all. Because of their significant maintenance costs, only wealthy Americans could afford lawns and their
requisite groundskeepers until the invention of mechanical lawn mowers and commercial fertilizers in the late 1800s. Such inventions allowed America's growing middle classes to emulate the wealthy by planting lawns. While vast expanses of grass became a 20th century status symbol that stuck in the American psyche, did it necessarily produce a prettier, greener yard? A look at our landscapers' plans suggests otherwise. The FFL plans, which incorporate dozens of native Florida plants and ground covers in various shades of green, offer an aesthetically dynamic look that provides a stark contrast to the existing flat and homogenous expanse of sod. After all, which is prettier? One hundred square feet of St. Augustine or a butterfly garden? And while other associations view Florida's new law as a threat to their communities' beauty, our own WCA has faith in the aesthetic appeal of the new Florida yard. When it completed its new office building adjacent to the West Park Village pool, the association didn't plant a blade of grass. Instead it used Florida Friendly Landscaping.
To download copies of the landscapers' plans as well as their estimates for their work, find this article on www.WestchaseWOW.com and click on the link at its end. Homeowners are reminded that no change can be made to Westchase yards or home exteriors without first obtaining approval from the WCA's modifications committee.
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