The Suburban Jungle Maintaining Lush Landscapes

Florida is well known for its sunshine, sandy beaches and lovely semi-tropical landscapes. The verdant backdrop of native plants is studded with pops of color and graceful palm trees wave overhead. Condominiums and HOAs typically find landscaping and lawn maintenance expenses are second only to insurance costs; fortunately, the benefits of a thriving landscape continue to outweigh the expense.

Property value, real and perceived, is enhanced by an attractive landscape, and residents tend to take more pride in their homes. Additionally, a well-manicured landscape is an added benefit when units are placed on the market. Maintaining a healthy, attractive landscaping scheme can be tough, but with the help of experienced staff and competent plant pros, it doesn't have to be such an uphill battle.

Maximizing the Elements

Sun, soil and water requirements dictate what will bloom best in any given location, but even naturally lush landscapes need care and attention to maintain optimum beauty and health. The proper mix of elements doesn’t happen by accident, even in semi-tropical Western and Central Florida, where the growing season is pretty much all year long. Winters here are brief and relatively dry, while summers coincide with hurricane season and so are wetter—sometimes too wet. Florida landscapers must deal with these seasonal adjustments, just like states to the north face the challenges of snow and ice.

“Using native plants, in the best possible location with proper sun exposure and irrigation is a smart and economical way to maximize a landscaping budget,” says Michael Cihal, vice president of operations and a certified horticulturist for Total Landscape Concepts, Inc. in Pembroke Pines. Cihal has a heavy design background, and says that when he's working in confined areas, he pays close attention to the space and the lighting—both are issues as plants mature. He favors dwarf varieties of native plants, understory palms, and other unusual palms. “There is a narrow margin on temperatures and moisture for many tropical plants,” he says. “If temperatures fall below 60 degrees or water is restricted, plants can decline quickly without protection.”

Cihal recommends a more deliberate, controlled look for plants at property entrances, and a more organic, tropical style for back property areas. “St. Augustine strains are the most common grasses for lawns, but Bermuda and Zoysia turfs are also good choices in South Florida. They are tolerant of wind, salt, and high temperatures,” he says.

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