Landscaping helps homeowners express their personalities while achieving such practical aims as reducing water use, providing noise or visual buffering, beautifying the property, accommodating wildlife and more.

Now I have it, how do I care for and maintain it?

When you are working on landscaping, you'll need to consider four major maintenance tasks:

  1. Irrigating
  2. Fertilizing
  3. Trimming and pruning
  4. Pest control

We are living with watering restrictions now, and they will probably become more stringent. If your landscape is planned well and drought-tolerant plants are used wherever possible, you'll be saving water and money in the long run. Even if you have an assigned day to water plants, it doesn't mean you have to do it. Only water when it's necessary and let your plants tell you when they need watering.

Recognize the signs of overwatering

  • Yellowing leaves (may also indicate nutrient deficiency) and loss of leaves
  • Spotted or black foliage
  • Fungus (gray leaf spot, brown patch, rust, etc.)
  • Plant does not perk up when watered (overwatering drowns and kills the root system, which means more water won't solve the problem)
  • Insect and disease problems: Excessive irrigation and fertilization cause weak, tender growth that is especially appealing to insects and diseases; additionally, some insects, such as grubs, require excessive moisture to complete their life cycle.
  • Thatch (may also be caused by over-fertilization)
  • Recognize drought symptoms
  • Lawns should be irrigated when about half or more of the lawn shows signs of wilt, including:
  • Folding/curling leaf blades
  • Blue-gray color
  • Footprints remain visible long after they were made
  • Make sure your irrigation system is efficient
  • Measure the application rate (inches per hour) so you know the amount of time necessary to apply ½ to ¾ inch of water. Applying this amount saturates the root zone without "losing" water below the roots.
  • Test the coverage/uniformity of your irrigation system. Note inconsistent coverage areas (too light or too heavy) and make repairs to fix this problem.

Fertilizer provides nutrients for plant growth. Choosing fertilizers wisely, with the specific nutrients needed, will help your landscape develop as you intend – to encourage new green growth, blooms or more fruit. Many plants, particularly natives, are well-adapted to Florida's nutrient-deficient soils, so if you are happy with your plants' health and appearance, fertilization may be unnecessary.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are water pollutants so it's especially important to not over apply these nutrients. On a fertilizer label, the first number represents the percentage of nitrogen in the bag, the second number refers to phosphorus and the third number refers to potassium. For example, the pictured bag of fertilizer contains 16% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus and 8% potassium.

Do not use more than the recommended amount of fertilizer. Slow-release fertilizers make nutrients available to plants over a longer period of time but excess fertilizer (whether slow release or quick-release) can pollute our water supply no matter where we live. We all live on "waterfront property" because leaching and runoff can carry fertilizer into our water supply, even if we live miles from a water body. When using any fertilizer, use it wisely and according to the package directions. "More" is not better – in fact, excessive fertilization and irrigation makes plants more vulnerable to some insects and diseases The objective is to give plants the right amount and type of fertilizer in a way they can use and to avoid allowing polluting runoff into our water bodies.

Trimming and pruning
Plants store necessary nutrients and water in their leaves. Never prune more than one-third of a plant at once, because the leaves are its food source. Other rules for pruning are:

  • Don't prune new plants until they have been in the ground for at least one year.
  • Don't use a wound dressing; this can seal moisture and disease into the wound.
  • Don't prune branches flush to the trunk. Look for the branch collar (a swelling of bark around the limb) and cut parallel to and outside of it (see diagram). The branch collar contains healing tissue necessary to seal the pruning wound.
  • Pruning healthy plant parts should be done only from mid-March through early October. Pruning (and fertilizing) during winter can force new growth that may suffer cold damage.
  • Diseased, dead, damaged and insect-infested plant parts can be pruned at any time.
  • Palms are especially vulnerable to over-pruning. Never remove green fronds because the green color means that the frond is providing vital nutrients that the palm requires. As the nutrients are removed from the frond, the frond turns yellow and it can be removed if necessary, but bear in mind that the frond still contains some vital nutrients. Brown fronds can be safely removed without disrupting the palm's food source.

Pest control in your landscape
What are "pests" in your landscape? They could be insects, fungus/diseases or weeds. For each, there are basic guidelines for prevention and treatment.

Insects love tender, weak growth that results from over-fertilization and over-irrigation. Avoiding these practices can go a long way in preventing infestations in the first place. Become familiar with beneficial insects and identify specifically what's in your landscape. If control is necessary, start with a nontoxic method, like hand-picking or spraying pests off with a blast of water or removing the infected plant part. Other Florida-friendly methods include use of horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps. For best use, be sure to follow the package directions when using these and all other garden products. Environmentally safe commercial pesticides can be found at local retailers. Remember, the label is the law. Apply at recommended rates.

Fungus and other growths
Fungus requires water to thrive, so take a good look at your irrigation practices. Are you watering too much or too often? What time of day are you watering? Watering after 6:00 p.m. can promote fungus because of insufficient drying time before nightfall. To reduce fungal problems, water early in the morning when dew is forming, between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.

In landscape beds, maintaining a two to three inch layer of mulch will greatly help to suppress weeds. Hand-pulling of weeds is recommended for these areas. Weeds develop in bare spots resulting from insufficient care; a healthy, dense lawn will crowd out weeds. If weeds are a problem, take a look at your maintenance practices: how high you're mowing the lawn, frequency of chemical applications (can stress the lawn), and your soil (is there adequate humus/compost to trap moisture in the root zone?), etc. Identify weeds so you can select the correct product for their control. Weeds are classified in two ways: growth habit (broadleaf, grass or sedge/rush) and life cycle (annual, biennial or perennial). Identify the weed by its growth habit and its life cycle to obtain the correct control product, then spot-treat only the affected areas rather than applying an unnecessary "blanket" application. Apply weed control products only at recommended rates. If weed control chemicals are not taken up by the plants (for example, due to over-application), those chemicals can end up in the water we drink.