Florida Friendly landscaping imminent in St. Pete?

11/25/08 Seán Kinane
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Florida is in the midst of a severe drought, which has led to major restrictions on water use. In response, St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse announced this morning that he is requesting that the city examine landscaping on property it owns and, where appropriate, replace St. Augustine grass with landscaping that is Florida Friendly.

“And the logic of that is twofold. One, it will save money because the maintenance is radically reduced. And the other is that it will use about 80 percent less water. I think that’s important because St. Petersburg has a long history of being a leader in our region in responsible water conservation practices.”

Within the city limits, only the school district owns more property or maintains more grass than the city of St. Petersburg, Nurse said. He added that maintaining St. Augustine grass is the most wasteful type of ground cover both in water and in financial terms. Nurse said that the city has the largest reclaimed water system in the southeast, and a per capita water use that is lower than the rest of the region. To continue that leadership in water conservation, Nurse recommends that city codes be changed to recognize xeriscaping -- which is designing landscaping that has a reduced need for water.

“We need to take our landscape code, which is oriented toward St. Augustine grass lawns, and to move the code in a whole series of changes that result in development and redevelopment moving in the direction of either Florida Friendly plantings or groundcovers. … Not mandate irrigation systems, which we mandate now, and limit the amount of grass that we use. Currently we limit the amount of mulch area on a property.”

Landscaping is considered Florida Friendly if it uses native vegetation that grows best in the rainfall and soil conditions of the state and therefore does not need much or any additional water or fertilizer.

Nurse announced his plan Friday morning in front of a small apartment complex he owns near downtown St. Petersburg. The front yard was landscaped using native drought-tolerant plants by Bruce Turley, owner of Wilcox Nursery, who said the project cost between $1,500 and $2,000.

Bill Bilodeau is the president of the Pinellas chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. He gave a tour of the yard that is landscaped with such natives as slash pine, coco plum and dune sunflower.

City Council Chair Jamie Bennett attended the press conference to support Nurse’s requests for xeriscaping and amendments to the city’s landscaping and irrigation ordinance. Bennett hopes that he can convince his fellow council members to support the idea of a ban on the use of nitrogen-based fertilizer during the June to September rainy season when the nitrogen drains off and pollutes lakes, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

“You have a general deterioration of the quality of the water and the health of the water.”

Bennett is the city’s representative to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, which has crafted a model ordinance for local governments to use as they enact bans on summertime nitrogen fertilizer use, which Bennett told WMNF would apply to residences, businesses, and even golf courses.

Council member Karl Nurse said he would support a St. Petersburg City Council ban on summertime use of nitrogen fertilizers.

“Yes. Actually, Chairman Bennett has introduced that and I think we’re probably 60 days or so away from that. … People will save money because when you put your fertilizer on in the summer when it rains everyday, several days later that fertilizer is off your property and down the sewer and into our lakes or [Tampa] Bay.”

St. Pete City Council

Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Florida Native Plant Society

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