Healthy yards are possible in Florida

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Posted June 18, 2021 | By Jennifer Odom, Special to the Ocala Gazette

It’s sad but not unusual. Someone moves to Florida, and after several disappointing years of gardening and a lot of expense, they throw in the towel. Their once-green thumb has turned to dust.

They’ve tried all they know, but their luscious green plants from the nursery have turned wimpy or died. Their mail-ordered lilacs are withered, the roses refuse to thrive, the grass is scraggly and the water bill is out of sight. Their expensive landscaping rocks are a plant-baking, weed-penetrated disaster. And now they’ll have to resort to weedkillers. 

Poisons? Wasted water? It’s not what they planned.

Things couldn’t be worse.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a class, or if someone could come over and help?

Good news. There are classes, and such people do exist.

It’s not the gardener’s fault. They’ve spent their lives learning how to grow in their own USDA zones, not Central Florida’s, which is a split of 9a and 9b.

For those struggling, there is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping (FFL) Program provided through Amanda Marek, the FFL agent with UF/IFAS Marion County Extension in Ocala.

“The principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping can be used by Florida gardeners to reduce the maintenance and water their landscape needs to be healthy and attractive,” Marek says.

She adds that she will be happy to help “assess your soil, check your irrigation, and provide recommendations on plants best suited for your site and how to manage them.”

“In order to get a yard tour, though not required, we recommend a person attend the four classes first,” said Joyce McElrath, a master gardener and volunteer with the FFL program.

Students of the four classes learn details of nine FFL principles:

• Right plant, right place

• Water efficiently

• Fertilize appropriately

• Mulch

• Attract wildlife

• Manage yard pests responsibly

• Recycle yard waste

• Reduce stormwater runoff

• Protect the waterfront

“The FFL team spends about 30-45 minutes at each yard,” McElrath said. “We evaluate and tell them how to fix the problem. That’s their reward for going through the four classes. We were doing (classes) on Zoom. But now we’re going to be able to go out to the peoples’ houses.”

Is your yardman FFL certified?

Homeowners aren’t the only beneficiaries of the FFL package. Professionals can be certified in the best management practices as well. Residential builders, property management and local governments can also access the program.

“By implementing these nine principles, our state’s precious water can be conserved, and our natural resources can be protected, allowing for wildlife and future generations to thrive,” Marek said

To learn more about FFL or to request a one-on-one yard evaluation, please contact Marek at 352-671-8400 or Information about the program is available at

Landscapers and other commercial providers can get information at

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