Replacing Turfgrass with Florida-Friendly Plants

It Isn’t Just a Trend

The enduring trend in homeowner landscaping is to replace St. Augustine and ‘Empire’ Zoyzia Turfgrass with Florida-Friendly trees, shrubs, clump grasses and groundcovers, especially with plants native to the area.  This is driven by the desire to have an attractive 3-dimensional look, to reduce the cost of chemical and water use, and to attract birds and butterflies. 

Homeowners who move to Florida quickly become frustrated with trying to grow a uniform green lawn, which in our warm humid climate, requires the expensive and ongoing application of fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and fertilizer.   Along with the cost of weekly mowing during the growing season, frustration is compounded by high irrigation water bills.  Therefore, replacing grass with landscape beds provides an ideal alternative.

How much grass to remove?

The Florida-Friendly Landscaping program™ recommends limiting your turfgrass to just the functional areas needed for play, pets and access.  Create islands of grass by installing landscape beds starting from your property line and working inward, and from your house out.  See examples at floridayards.org.

If you want your yard certified by the Florida Water Star Program, limit the maximum amount of your Turfgrass below 60 percent of the total area.  (Gold standard is 50 percent.)

The Florida Native Plant Society award level requires that your residential landscape be no more than 25 percent non-native plants (i.e. turfgrass).

Will The Villages deed restrictions allow this much grass removal?

Yes.  The Villages Community Standards has adopted Florida Statute 373.185 which states: A deed restriction or covenant may not prohibit or be enforced to prohibit any property owner from implementing Florida-friendly landscaping on his or her land. (Effective 7/1/09)

In addition, our External Deed Restriction Standards states, “Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is permitted as a substitute for sod…”

The Villages Amendment to Declarations of Restrictions goes on to say, “Owners are encouraged to and may add or replace landscape that is more water conservative and drought tolerant than originally provided…”

How about a rock landscape?

An all-rock landscape is not allowed by our deed restrictions.  All-rock landscapes are not energy wise, nor do they meet the Florida Friendly Landscape Principles.  The Florida Water Star Program requires that mature plants cover 60 percent of the bedding area.  Pine straw or pine bark applied 2 to 4 inches in depth provide natural organic mulch alternatives.

Do I Need Approval to remove Turfgrass?

Yes.  Any external modifications require Architectural Review Committee approval.  Always submit an application before starting work, even if the contractor suggests otherwise.

How Do I Remove My Turfgrass?

If you have a very new home, just lift the sod square before the roots become established.  For the rest of us, very small areas can be removed by hand digging.  Cut small squares, lift and shake the soil from the roots. 
Mechanical turf cutting is the best option for larger areas.  Since this method will not remove all of the roots, application of herbicide per label directions prior to mechanical removal is a recommended alternative.  Using methods such as Solarization of grass with clear plastic for 6 weeks during the summer, or smothering with mulch is probably not practical for large areas.

Removing Turfgrass

Don’t forget to modify the irrigation system

Spray heads for landscape beds must be in a separate zone from Turfgrass.  This enables water savings and reduces the potential for disease caused from overwatering your new shrubs

Enjoy your new surroundings

As your new plants grow in height and volume, your landscape becomes more visually interesting and inviting than flat expanse of grass.   You will not only appreciate the look, but the savings as well.

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.

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