Planting for efficient water use

The most efficient way to organize your landscape is to group plants according to their water needs and soil conditions. If plant placement is done correctly, plants will need little to no supplemental irrigation once established.

Strive to establish a yard that is largely sustained by existing conditions. If specialty plantings such as vegetables or roses are desired, a more labor- and resource-intensive planting bed can be created in one or two areas.

Plants native to Florida can play a very dependable role in the landscape. Many of Florida’s plants have evolved through periods of extreme wet and then dry weather, so they survive through drought and don’t get root rot standing in water. They have also developed defenses to the diseases, fungi and insects that originate in Florida. Many have proven wind tolerances in areas that experience tropical storms and hurricanes.

Many landscapes typically have the following areas:

  • Natural zone — Place plants here that have adapted to the wet and dry extremes of Florida’s climate so that regular watering won’t be necessary, except during prolonged drought.
  • Drought-tolerant zone — Place plants in this area that can survive extended periods of time without rain or supplemental irrigation.
  • Oasis zone — Place plants here that may require some watering.

Remember, for best results in water savings and environmental protection, put the right plant in the right place.

What to plant

Plant lists should be generated for the different areas of the landscape based on growing conditions and desired characteristics.

Plantings should be placed with consideration for changes which will take place over time. In natural plant communities, these changes are called succession. Succession is the orderly process of community change. It is the sequence of communities which replace one another in a given area.

In most landscapes, succession is halted by deliberate maintenance practices. Yet plants tend to strive toward succession. By planning for each plant’s mature state, a dynamic landscape can be planned to include natural changes.

When plants are first put into a landscape, the area should look unfinished, as the landscape must be given space and time to grow. Plan to replace sun-loving plants with shade-tolerant plants as the larger elements in the landscape such as trees and shrubs grow and create shade.

Remember, many so-called shrub species are actually 20-foot multi-trunked trees. Select plant species that will mature to a height and width that will fit the planting location. If you want a shrub that only grows 2 to 4 feet tall, find a dwarf variety or use ornamental bunch grasses or flowering perennials like pentas and scarlet milkweed.

Publications about Florida’s plant communities are available through your local library.