How the Animated Interactive Yard Works
The Interactive Yard enables users to select a map region of Florida within which they live. The user is presented with a plan view of a typical Florida home and yard. The user can add planting beds to the front, side and back yards as well as around the home's foundation by dragging a planting bed graphic into the yard. The user then selects each a bed and is presented with a pallet of plants. Each bed has specific characteristics such as if it is south or north facing, is shaded by the home or trees or whether it has irrigation installed. Some of the beds are also adjacent to a saltwater lagoon in the back yard. So the user has to select plants with some salt tolerance for that bed.
Based on the planting beds characteristics, the user selects a plant icon and drags it into the bed. The plant then populates the bed, unless it is a wrong choice. In that case the user is asked to make a different choice. The plant options include shrubs, trees, flowers, groundcovers, and grasses. The plant choices that are presented are also available through the Plant Database
. You can search the plant database by Florida region and based on the specific characteristics (sunlight, soil moisture and texture) of the planting beds as well as whether you would like all native plants and plants that attract wildlife.
Once the user completes the bed in the Interactive Yard, he/she moves on to complete the next bed. There are 10 beds in total in the yard.
Adding Enhancements to the Interactive Yard
The user is also able to add Florida-friendly enhancements including a rain barrel, a compost bin, a rain sensor, a micro-irrigation system, mulch and a swale. Below are descriptions for the Florida-friendly enhancements.
Microirrigation or low-volume irrigation helps you conserve water while irrigating your plants where they need it most -- at the root system.
In the Interactive Yard's design, microirrigation is placed in the beds at the home's foundation. Beds on the perimeter do not have irrigation and are reserved for plants with higher drought tolerance or lower water needs.
There are a variety of microirrigation supplies available at home improvement stores and through irrigation contractors. The most common systems feature "micro-sprayers" or "bubblers" in which the spray heads apply water directly to the base of the plant. Drip irrigation systems release water through tiny holes in the hose can be placed directly in the planting beds on top of or under mulch.
Automatic Rain Shut-off Device
One simple but important step to conserving water in your yard is to have maximum control over your automatic irrigation or sprinkler system. Be sure to include an automatic rain shut-off device to override your irrigation system for your planted beds and lawn. Set the rain shut-off device to turn off your irrigation system if you receive a half an inch or more of rain. Since 1991, Florida law has required rain shut-off devices for all newly installed automated sprinkler systems.
Soil moisture monitors are also growing in popularity. Instead of monitoring rainfall, soil monitors evaluate the amount of moisture in the soil and prevent sprinklers from working when watering is not necessary for the lawn or planted beds.
A common misconception is that plants need fertilizers. Plants need nutrients, and a natural source of nutrients is compost. Composting is an excellent way to turn yard wastes (grass clippings, leaves, etc.) and kitchen wastes (vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, etc.) into a source of nutrients for your plants. Compost also improves and increases the water holding capacity of the soil.
There are many ways to compost materials including just creating a pile and letting nature take its course. However, a compost bin would be ideal for this yard. Bins can be homemade or purchased from a hardware store or online supplier. Some bins enable you to tumble and mix your compost to accelerate the composting process. Composting is easy and helps reduce the amount of wastes that end up in the landfill and also helps you reduce your reliance on plant fertilizers.
Learn more about composting by visiting and bookmarking the website of Florida's Online Composting Center.
Adding 2" to 3" of mulch to your planted beds is, perhaps, one of the most important things you can do for your plants. In Florida's hot weather, mulch helps maintain soil moisture, reducing evaporation and the need to water plants. In the winter, mulch keeps soil around plants warmer. Mulch also inhibits weed growth, can improve soil as it decays and also adds to the appearance of beds and your yard.
There are many different types of mulch. Some natural (and free) sources of mulch include grass clippings, raked leaves, and pine needles. Some communities and utilities that collect yard wastes or remove trees offer free mulch. Mulch can be purchased at nurseries in bulk or in bags. Homeowners are discouraged from using cypress mulch because harvesting of cypress trees can harm wetlands.
Swales are important features in many yards and help collect stormwater runoff from lawns, driveways and roads. Swales are like ditches but have gently sloping banks and are wider than they are deep. During rainstorms, stormwater is held in the swale reducing the runoff of sediments, automotive oils, heavy metals and fertilizers into nearby streams, lakes, lagoons and bays.
It is possible to design a swale into the landscape. Existing swales should be maintained in order to maximize their function and to prevent water from ponding too long or flooding. Other ways to minimize stormwater runoff is to design a "rain garden" into your landscape. Like a swale, a rain garden is an area designed to capture and hold excess storm water for a short period of time. The garden is planted with vegetation that prefers a slightly wetter environment, but can tolerate dry times, too. Rain gardens are easy to maintain and many rain garden plants attract birds and other wildlife.
Rain barrels are designed to collect rainwater from your downspout and to store it for future use. Water from rain barrels can be used to hand water plants or for other common water uses like washing tools or lawn furniture. Soaker hoses -- with pressure valve removed -- can also be connected to a rain barrel and run through a planted bed.
Using a rain barrel can help you save money on your water bill and reduce the amount of water withdrawn from the aquifer.
Rain barrels can be purchased at a local hardware store or garden center, or you might consider making your own rain barrel. For an excellent description of how to make a rain barrel, visit and bookmark this web page by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Learning more about Florida-Friendly Landscaping
The principles taught in the Florida-friendly Interactive Yard are also presented in detail in the "Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook"
which can be downloaded in PDF format. You can also learn more by completing the nine tutorials on Florida-friendly landscaping
and by completing the Florida-friendly landscaping quiz.