110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
posted Jun 24, 2010 - 11:34:34am
Three homeowners in the Waterford Lakes neighborhood are taking a grass-roots approach to Florida’s water shortage.
They uprooted their lush lawns, and planted native landscapes that require little or no water.
Susan and David Hensley were the first to rip out their St. Augustine grass nearly four years ago.
“We don’t water at all,” Susan Hensley said. “Everything in our yard is a Florida native.”
Anything that might require a few sips of water during a dry spell is watered with rain barrels.
“My husband was in the military, and we moved around a lot,” Susan Hensley said. “We were stationed in Arizona, and we lived in a home with xeriscaping.”
When they moved to DeLand, after struggling to keep the St. Augustine green, the Hensleys decided to use the lessons they had learned in Arizona.
Their yard is such a successful model of Florida landscaping that it was recently certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
George Nelson, who lives around the corner from the Hensleys, grew weary of the need for constant lawn maintenance.
“I got tired of St. Augustine grass,” Nelson said.
He rooted it up and put in a combination of native flowers, Asiatic jasmine and rocks. Instead of mowing twice a week, he now edges the jasmine a couple of times each year.
“St. Augustine grass is a thing of the past,” Nelson said. “There is just too much upkeep. It’s susceptible to everything. It’s just horrid.”
Nelson doesn’t know how much money he will save, but every drop will be potable water. His sprinkler system did not use reclaimed water, but the more expensive, drinkable stuff.
“The reality of the water in Florida is it’s not going to get any cheaper,” he said. “It’s a cash cow. In the future, people will have to decide to take a shower or water the lawn.”
Nelson hopes to install gutters and rain barrels, to further reduce his yard’s consumption.
“I’ve had 100-percent positive feedback,” he said.
The City of DeLand supports such initiatives, Utilities Director Jim Ailes said.
Waterford Lakes residents are getting support from their neighbors, too.
Unlike some homeowners associations, which actually require residents to plant and water St. Augustine grass, the Waterford Lakes Homeowners Association is encouraging water-wise efforts, resident Karen Szczesniak said.
“In many communities, about half of the public water supply is used to irrigate residential yards and gardens,” she said.
“Waterford Lakes is to be applauded — keep up the good work — to help conserve our most precious resource,” she added.
Szczesniak talked about the Asiatic jasmine some homeowners are using to replace grass. It is resistant to disease and tolerant of drought, requires no irrigation, pesticide or fertilizer, and only rarely gets infiltrated with weeds.
“Now, how great is that?” Szczesniak asked.
Ed Garland, spokesman for the St. Johns River Water Management District, said the Waterford Lakes homeowners are doing just what the district hopes more people will do.
“As a general rule of thumb, the average home-owner uses more than half of all of the water used in his home for irrigation,” Garland said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average lawn uses 10,000 gallons of water a year, in addition to rainfall.
Exactly how much water individual xeriscapers will save is unknown, because water use varies so widely from one lawn to the next, Volusia County Extension Service Director Dave Griffis said.
Griffis is a devoted water conservationist. He said most people over-water their lawns.
“I haven’t watered my St. Augustine grass this year,” Griffis said. “It’s doing just fine. My neighbor has to water twice a week.”
Saving water isn’t the only reason to change landscaping. Waterford Lakes residents Pat and Monika McGraw are also saving money.
The McGraws lost three St. Augustine lawns to cold weather. After this year’s freeze, Monika McGraw was determined to find a better way.
“I really don’t like St. Augustine grass,” she said. “In the front yard, we had to replace the St. Augustine turf three times in a row. I told my husband we were insane if we do it again.”
When the grass froze, the couple had to buy sod, water it in, and keep it fertilized. In January, wrapped in layers of clothes against the freezing cold, Monika McGraw got rid of the grass instead.
In April, she bought alternate landscaping for a good price at a fundraising sale hosted by the Master Gardeners who volunteer at the Volusia County Agricultural Center.
Now the McGraws water less and use no fertilizers. They did have to use a pesticide to combat scale on a fern, but Monika McGraw’s goal is to have a yard that grows entirely without chemicals or potable water.
“It’s not that difficult,” she said. “I did this change myself. We all have to look at changes.”
Her husband was wary at first, but Monika McGraw said he got on board.
“He could see the benefit of mowing less,” she said.
The McGraws’ yard now blooms constantly with different flowers. It’s gone from a traditional, high-maintenance St. Augustine lawn to a natural haven.
“It’s very interesting to look out now,” she said. “There is always something blooming. And, now I have butterflies in the yard. St. Augustine doesn’t attract butterflies.”
— Is your yard xeriscaped? Send a picture of your water-friendly lawn; we’ll post the photos on Jen Horton’s blog, Randomocity. Send .jpgs with “great lawns” in the subject line, to email@example.com.
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