Florida’s topography supports a wide variety of landscapes. When considering low-maintenance alternatives that suit your budget and interest, you must also consider the soil and climate conditions where you live. Backyard designs that work well in Naples or Hialeah differ from those best suited for Brooksville or Gainesville. Certain plants thrive in sandier soils and subtropical climes along the peninsula, while others do better in clay soils and cooler winters found in northern Florida. Wherever you live, there are options available that allow you to xeriscape with Florida-friendly plants that will enhance your backyard’s aesthetic and increase your property’s value.
First, let’s consider your own backyard. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida has a Florida-friendly landscaping program. Choose from the three regions below and click the link for a guide that gives you general ideas for your region:
Northern Florida includes the panhandle, as well as most of the state north of Marion County (Ocala). Soils range from sandy mixes to clay, with many of the northern and northwestern counties having soils and topography similar to neighboring Alabama and Georgia. These areas experience greater temperature variations, as hot summers alternate with occasional hard freezes during chillier winter. Landscaping in northern Florida includes more hardwood trees, and fewer tropical or subtropical varieties.
Extending from the northern portion of the Tampa Bay region toward Ocala and the coastal areas near Jacksonville, central Florida has a variety of soils and microclimates. Winters tend to be moderate, with occasional freeze warnings but fewer hard freezes south of the Interstate 4 corridor. Landscaping conditions vary by terrain: A peninsula on a peninsula, Pinellas County has fewer freezes and different soils than central Polk County. Landscaping trends in north central and mid-central Florida, though similar, do vary slightly depending on the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic coast, and soil composition.
Southern Florida and the Keys
With fewer freezes and less seasonal variations, southern Florida remains warm and humid much of the year. Year-round plants thrive in rocky and sandy soils, as well as moist and swampy areas. Landscaping patterns in southern Florida and the Keys emphasize a wide variety of tropical plants.
A Few Words about Coastal Areas
Florida has the second-longest coastline of any state, with only Alaska surpassing it. While coastal areas tend to experience warmer winters and breezier summers due to the influence of the Gulf and Atlantic, they also require landscaping that can handle saltier conditions (including salt spray near beaches) and greater wind tolerance.
Putting Your Plan Together
IFAS suggests a three-phase process to transform your yard in this helpful source. First, conduct an inventory of your yard and develop a plan. Second, address drainage issues and examine irrigation options before installing the hardscape and trees. Finally, select plants and ground cover. As you consider your options, visit this database of Florida-friendly and native plants that is searchable by various types, with everything from grasses to flowering plants, shrubs, and trees.
You should also contact your local cooperative extension service office if you have additional questions about plants and soil conditions in your immediate area.
Other Important Considerations
Some municipalities and counties have ordinances that require permits to remove trees or other plants. Often, these regulations specify the number of trees that must be on a the property based on the parcel size and other factors. Do-it-yourselfers are strongly encouraged to check for any restrictions before cutting down trees. Determine if a permit is necessary. Also, regulations may specify that trees removed must be replaced by Florida-friendly or native trees from an approved list. If you live in a community with a homeowner’s association or other governing board, you may need to consult with that body or check for covenants before you redesign the landscape.
A little planning at the beginning will allow you to create a low-maintenance, high-quality backyard landscape perfect for your area of Florida.