Want an Attractive, Low-maintenance Native Plant Landscape?

Take a Clue from the Common Areas

by Steve Turnipseed, FNPSTV, President

Most home owners aspire to have an attractive low maintenance landscape that minimizes water consumption and seldom requires chemical treatment.  When you are driving around the Villages, slow down and take notice of the common areas.  (You will find more native plants used in the newer sections South of 466A.)  Here are seven key design points you will find:

Large beds with mass plantings.  Individual species grouped together create uniformity and a sense of order.  The planting beds and the mass plantings within the beds are in proportion to the overall size of the area.  How much of a residential landscape should be planting beds?  Florida Water Star guidelines say a minimum of 40 percent; FNPS criteria is 75 percent native!  Designs from Floridayards.org suggests placing beds from the property line in, and from the house out, creating islands of grass. 

A variety of hardy species, native to our area.  Notice the use of a few large specimen trees surrounded by groups of woody shrubs, clump grasses, and low-growing ground covers.  Community Standards allows replacement of sod in residential lawns across all districts in The Villages with Florida-Friendly plants, even up to the property line.  Always obtain approval from the Architectural Review Committee before beginning work.

Continuous cover of shrubs with no gaps between plants.  A “closed canopy” shades out weeds, minimizes water evaporation and reduces the amount of replacement mulch.  In an ideal mature landscape bed you will only see 6 to 12 inches of mulch along the edges, and in between the mass plantings where one species transitions to another. 

A natural flowing look across tops of mass plantings. The soft gently rolling look, referred to as “cloud tops” is achieved by hand pruning.  In our common areas you won’t find flat sides, square edges or meat-ball pruning made by gas hedge trimmers.  Instead, the contractors selectively remove a few branches by hand.  Hand pruning is better for plant health as it creates far fewer cuts than mechanical tools.  Every cut is a wound that can stress the plant and creates entry points for diseases.

Organic mulch, never rock or synthetic material.  The Villages utilizes locally sourced pine straw as mulch.  Another acceptable alternative for home owners is pine bark.  (For a wood-chip path consider Melaleuca sold under the name “Flori-Mulch”).  Florida-Friendly landscaping principle #4 specifies the use of organic mulch. Organic mulch retains moisture and nutrients, thermally insulates the roots, and improves soil structure and aeration.  Think of the occasional addition of organic mulch topping as a fertilizer program for your shrubs.

Long Flowing Curves; Not straight lines.  The gently curved interface between grass and planting beds are maintained by edging; there is no physical barrier.  A deep edging cut is achieved with a metal blade edger rather than a string trimmer.

Annuals and short-lived perennials are isolated to a few highly visible beds.  Annuals are higher maintenance than woody shrubs.  You want annuals for their beautiful flowers and the benefit to pollinators.  For lower maintenance, limit annuals to a few strategically placed planting groups.  In a very small residential landscape you may choose to keep annuals in pots.

Small Area? For smaller spaces the mass plantings are groups of a few small plants.

Follow these design principles used by our common areas and you will have a landscape that you enjoy, that is frequently admired by neighbors, and that is low maintenance and better for the environment.

A full-time resident of The Villages, Steve Turnipseed is a UF/IFAS certified Master Gardener and is a Florida Water Star Accredited Professional.  He currently serves as president of The Villages Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.

Common area planting with Coontie, Saw Palmetto, Yaupon Holly and an Oak Tree. Photo by Steve Turnipseed.

Common area planting with Coontie, Saw Palmetto, Yaupon Holly and an Oak Tree. Photo by Steve Turnipseed.

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