Heather Hill One

Communities of Excellence Winner, Small Community

Making Florida-Friendly Landscaping a Community-Friendly Affair

by Kathy Danforth

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Heather Hill One of Dunedin is the winner for smaller communities in the Florida-friendly Landscaping category of the Communities of Excellence contest. This 40-year-old condominium association began updating their approach to their grounds in April of 2009 with a seminar by Florida-friendly landscaping expert Doris Heitzmann. Later that year the association began making strides toward a comprehensive effort with a requirement that all new plantings must have a professional review and board approval. Durrell Wachs, board president, explains, "The intent of the Heather Hill One Board of Directors is to educate and then demonstrate to the owners the benefit of consistently applying the principles of Florida-friendly landscaping to the grounds of Heather Hill One."

"Our first major project was to landscape the front entrance during the spring and summer of 2010," Wachs recalls. "It was planned and carried out in partnership with the City of Dunedin Neighborhood Enhancement Program and the Pinellas County Extension Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program." Since the community has 39 units, the input from local experts has been very beneficial in keeping the costs from mounting up for owners. The landscaping plan was drawn up by the City of Dunedin Parks Superintendent, and includes Florida-friendly plants such as Walter's viburnum, beautyberry, sunshine mimosa, Asiatic jasmine, and native shrubs with wildlife value. The City of Dunedin Environmental Impact Committee approved the plan and the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods coordinator suggested micro-irrigation with a rain sensor until the plants became established.

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Resistance to the project came not from the residents, but from the soil. "Volunteer residents did much of the work," Wachs explains, "and our volunteers were working in very hot, humid conditions, even early in the day. The soil along the roadway was very compacted, making it extremely difficult to dig."

Wachs explains how the community is striving to meet Florida-friendly principles:

1) Right plant, right place—“We have guidelines in place to ensure that any new plantings, or the replacement of old plants, follow this principle," Wachs states. "An agent of the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program reviews all planting requests before the board of directors approves them."

2) Water efficiently—Heather Hill One has not had an automatic irrigation system and only uses the micro-irrigation system installed at the front gate. However, since there is no reclaimed water available, the community is also looking at ways to reduce the amount of potable water used in watering plants around the buildings. "We are pursuing the idea of allowing a rain barrel at the rear of each unit," Wachs reports. "The plan is to get a group of interested residents together to make the barrels and then paint them with small murals or other designs. This is very much in keeping with the spirit of Dunedin, known for its murals on downtown buildings."

3) Fertilize appropriately—Wachs points out, "The right plant in the right place greatly reduces the need for fertilization. We do not routinely fertilize—we do so only when the plant shows signs of certain deficiencies that have been diagnosed by a professional. In any event, we are following the prohibition on use of nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizer application during the summer period."

4) Mulch—Wachs reports, "The front entrance plantings were appropriately mulched with pine straw that has been recycled from various sites throughout the city. In 2011, we plan to make more extensive use of the free recycled mulch available from the City of Dunedin. When mulching, we are careful not to endanger trees and shrubs by piling mulch onto their trunks/stems."

5) Attract wildlife—"This was considered when plants were chosen for the front entrance project," Wachs explains. "Beautyberry and Walter's viburnum, for example, are especially attractive to birds. Additionally, some residents have created butterfly gardens adjacent to their villas."

6) Manage yard pests responsibly—Wachs says, "At the community level, we do not routinely spray for pests. Since we are a villa community, many residents have plants adjacent to their units that they maintain. To inform them about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Best Management Practices (BMPs) in this area, the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods agent has educated the community and the landscapers on how to manage yard pests."
7) Recycle—"Our landscape maintenance company uses mulching mowers and leaves the grass clippings in place," Wachs states. "Oak leaves are creating self-mulching areas under trees."

8) Reduce stormwater runoff—"In areas where runoff had become a problem, a swale was created to divert water into a drain," Wachs notes. Their proposed rain barrel project will also reduce runoff.

9) Protect the waterfront—Though Heather Hill One does not own property directly adjoining a body of water, their watering, fertilizer, pest control, and stormwater control practices benefit a nearby pond that receives their stormwater runoff.

The community uses a landscaping contractor with FNGLA and BMP certifications so day-to-day operations are in keeping with the community's goals. Residents have also improved the property by participating in the 2011 Arbor Day tree give-away. "Several individual residents attended that event and brought home free trees that were planted throughout the property," Wachs is pleased to report. By utilizing the resources of volunteers in their association and experts in their city and county agencies, Heather Hill One has been able to make large strides with less cost, a plus for any community.