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Florida Friendly Landscaping Principle #9: Protect the waterfront

By JANETTA FOX - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Jun 3, 2021

“Water is the driving force of all nature.” — Leonardo da Vinci

The nine principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping offer a science-based approach that homeowners can use to both conserve water and help protect water quality. The focus of FFL is on proper landscape planning and maintenance along with the use of least toxic pest-control methods. Previous articles addressed each of the first eight principles, those being: 1) Right plant, right place; 2) Water efficiently; 3) Fertilize appropriately; 4) Mulch; 5) Attract wildlife; 6) Manage yard pests; 7) Recycle; and 8) Reduce stormwater runoff. With this edition we move to the final principle: Protect the waterfront.

Florida encompasses over 2,000 miles of shoreline, hundreds of miles of coastal beaches and thousands of freshwater lakes. These and other waterways support a vast array of aquatic life, add to the quality of life for Florida residents and offer its population and visitors an abundance of leisure-time activities. When our waterways become polluted, the environmental, economic and health consequences can prove far-reaching, examples of which include fish kills, lost revenue from snowbirds and considerable clean-up costs. While there are a number of contributing factors to this pollution, homeowners prove to be considerable contributors when we misuse water, fertilizer and pesticides in our landscapes.

As homeowners we have a role to play in protecting our waterways through our landscaping practices. Making certain to always follow local ordinances, if you have a waterfront property, create a buffer zone of 10-25 feet between landscape and the shoreline or seawall, with no mowing or use of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. The actual distance for the set-back will vary based on your location. For example, Cape Coral currently calls for a buffer zone of 10 feet, while Sanibel’s zone extends to 25 feet. Consider creating a low-maintenance landscape in this zone, ideally including deep-rooted natives and other pest and disease resistant Florida friendly plants that are both drought and rain tolerant. The plants’ root systems will serve as filters for rainfall runoff and associated pollutants, and help prevent erosion by holding the soil in place. When properly planned, the vegetation can also easily serve as a wildlife habitat, providing food, water, shelter and space for our native animals and birds. Diversity in plantings is key to attracting a diversity of wildlife.

The only things that should be in our numerous bodies of water are fish, wading birds, aquatic invertebrates and other wildlife. Our waterways should not be trash receptacles. Therefore, avoid throwing used plastic containers and other trash into them. Additionally, avoid throwing or blowing organic material into canals and other waterways, including, but not limited to, palm fronds, coconuts, mangoes and yard debris. And, for the boaters out there living on the waterfront, use only environmentally friendly cleaning products. Further information regarding clean boating habits can be found at https://floridadep.gov.

To learn more about protecting the waterfront and the other eight principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping, check out two great resource documents, “The Florida Friendly Landscaping Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design” and “The Florida Yard and Neighborhoods Handbook.” Both can be found at https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/resources/publications.

Janetta Fox is a Lee County Master Gardener volunteer and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.