Pelican Cove

Communities of Excellence Winner, Large Community

Right Plant, Right Place, Right People

by Kathy Danforth

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Pelican Cove, a previous Communities of Excellence award winner, was named the Florida-friendly Landscaping Community of Excellence in the larger communities category. "Pelican Cove has always been environmentally-conscious," says grounds manager Mike O'Byrne, who has been at the property for 10 years. With over 35 years in the industry, he found Pelican Cove to be an adjustment. "To see it is to believe itit's like going into a different world entirely. It's an absolutely beautiful botanical garden. But after coming from subdivisions and golf courses, I had to learn the non-manicured look."

Pelican Cove takes their stewardship of the Little Sarasota Bay, which they border for approximately three miles, and their property's plant life and environmental impact very seriously. Approximately seven years ago they hired an arborist to proactively manage their tree canopy. "The trees had been growing naturally on the site for over 100 years, and the association has been here for thirty years," OByrne relates. "We brought an arborist in to evaluate one-third of the property. From his analysis we learned that 30 percent of the trees were invasive, diseased, or inappropriately planted. That meant that we would need to remove nearly 4000 of the 12,000 trees on the property, and that was excessive!" he remarks.

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The community took a more gradual approach, removing 350 trees over seven years, and replacing one-third of them. "Last year an arborist went over 3000 of our trees and selected 45 for removal this year," OByrne reports. "Costs for the arborist, tree removal, and replanting were about $35,000 last year." The community has received six grants in the past five years from the Sarasota County Neighborhood Program to pay for removal of invasive species and replanting. "They will pay half of removal and planting costs up to $12,000 per project, with up to two projects each year," OByrne reports.

The main invasive species found on their property are Australian pine, melaleuca, and carrotwoods. "The melaleuca were brought to the Everglades by sugarcane growers to help drain wetlands because they use a lot of water," OByrne explains. "The Australian pines were brought in for holding the beaches because they are an extremely fast-growing tree and send out suckers and spread very quickly. The carrotwood trees are also very fast-growing and spread by seed very quickly, which is why they are considered invasive." Ironically, in the earlier part of his career OByrne was on the other end selling carrotwoods, a popular item in the 1970s before they were deemed invasive in the 1990s.

For replacement trees, OByrne says, "We probably use at least 25 different types of trees. We bring in some that are more tropical to put along the bay in protected areas and add to the variety." A variety of oaks are the foundation, with species such as royal poinciana, jacaranda, Hong Kong orchid, willow bustic, hollies, weeping podocarpus, tabebuias, maples, mango, avocado, and various citrus and palm trees added for accent.

A grant project three years ago replaced 12,000 square feet of invasive Brazilian pepper and melaleuca with a native assortment designed to attract butterflies. "Originally we got a lot of grief that we were butchering trees, but now the residents all love it when they see the butterflies in the summer. We have berries for the birds, and we've been seeing finches back on the property, which we haven't seen for years."

With this setting, high winds are no light matter. OByrne recalls, In 2002 we had a no-name hurricane that was barely a category 1, and we lost 120 trees. Thats pretty severe in terms of blocking roads and emergency vehicles. For four years the community was spending $12,000 per year just for dead wood removal as they went through each quadrant, but that has been reduced to $6000 per year, an ongoing task and expense. Other trimming is in line with maintenance and safety, but as OByrne points out, Were not a manicured subdivision and we dont want it to be. If you trim for wind, youd be trimming everything off. Nevertheless, plans for next year include judicious thinning for hurricane preparation and for the health of the existing tree canopy and understory plantings.

Most of Pelican Coves irrigation is the 30-year-old original manual system installed by the developer. OByrnes assessment is, Developers usually install the least expensive irrigation system because no one knows it until theyre gone. For conserving water, a manual system has its good and bad sides. We only water when we want to water, and we keep a close watch on the amount of rain, OByrne states. However, turning the valves on by hand takes one person 24 hours to water the entire propertytime that could be spent upgrading the system and switching to micro-irrigation where appropriate. The cost of automating the system would be approximately $250,000, and the community is pursuing a grant through SWFWMD for that project. With an automated system, reclaimed water from Sarasota County would be used as the water source. This would enable the community to discontinue use of two of the three wells on the property and would help preserve the aquifer.

To preserve the Little Sarasota Bay, minimal chemicals are used on the property, and grasses are kept at about ten inches in the areas along waterways to help filter runoff. We created our own 8-1-10 slow release fertilizer, OByrne comments, but we use just enough to keep the plants looking good and viable without a lot of succulent growth. The more you fertilize, the more things grow, and the more work you have to do with trimming and picking up waste. Pesticide and herbicide use is minimized, also. If theres a huge disease or insect infection, Ill treat it, but we try to let things play out according to nature, OByrne shares.

Pelican Cove has had an arrangement for several years to receive recycled mulch from tree-trimming operators in the area. The mulch is free, and OByrne points out, It makes it easier for them also since they dont have to drive several miles to a recycling plant. We all come out ahead.

With the variability of weather, living things growing and changing, and outside factors, OByrne states, In this industry, if you dont learn something every day, youre truthfully not doing your job. The plants are changing, the chemicals are changingsomethings changing every day.

Managing the property in an environmentally-friendly manner is an ongoing challenge and goal for the community. In addition to the Florida-friendly landscaping award, Pelican Cove worked with a neighboring property in addressing stormwater runoff and received a Trendsetter Award for their innovative solution, which will be the focus of a future article. The community has strong resident leadership through committees, and they address issues, seek grants, perform hands-on work, and educate old and new owners of the possibilities and benefits of environmentally-friendly policies. In 2008 the board adopted a landscape policy, including the nine Florida-friendly landscaping principles, staff education, and meeting or exceeding established standards for environmental protection. The communitys commitment to maintaining their property in its natural beauty takes an investment of time and money, but OByrne observes, When residents come in to Pelican Cove, they know its a botanical garden, and this is where they want to be!