Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If you build it, they will come: the UF/IFAS Landscape Unit

August marks one year since the completion of the Landscape Unit research plots at UF and a perfect occasion to reflect on the aims and usefulness of this site.

Modest beginnings
Last summer, thanks to UF’s Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, Turfgrass Science, and the Florida-Friendly Program, a weedy, derelict expanse off SW 23rd Terr. in Gainesville was transformed into a paved, fully operation research area.

A freshly scrapped site
Planner's conference as the structure takes shape
Removing fumigation plastic: Mackenzie Boyer fears no poison
The terrain was scraped and fumigated, a road and concrete rest areas were built, and landscaping and irrigation was designed and installed. 

Bring on the landscapes!
July 26, 2013: Planting Day
When installing irrigation, the ditch witch is your friend
All told, four plots were erected: three to resemble homes (in terms of square feet) with front and back yards, and one for showcasing different plants and turfgrass species.

That green green
The timetable for the initial build did not allow for the installation of warm season turfgrass. Ryegrass was used as a placekeeper throughout fall and winter. 

Fall 2013: the ryegrass emerges
Summer 2014: the St. Augustinegrass goes in
Early this summer, however, many of the initial landscaping team reassembled to lay St. Augustine sod in the research plots as well as Bahia, Centipede and Zoysia turfgrass for the demonstration area.

You weren't out there? Relive the magic

Getting out what you put in
Once the final ingredient was in place in the research plots, the real work began: logging resource expenditures - where resource includes fuel for maintenance equipment, labor hours and water use quantity. 

Front to back: zoysia, centipede, bahia, and St. Augustine
In urban landscape irrigation, one of the tenants of outdoor water-use efficiency is designing a landscape with minimal water requirements. In our case, this means a Florida-friendly landscape (FFL) – composed of native or drought-tolerant trees, plants and groundcovers, and perhaps also a smattering of turfgrass, all of it watered with an emphasis on hydrozoning and low-volume irrigation.

Attracting wildlife is one of the FFL principles
Groundcover de jeur: perennial peanut 40 weeks old
The antithesis of FFL is termed “traditional.” This landscape features maximum, jolly green turfgrass and sparse use of ornamentals, usually irrigated with no consideration for plant-type or water need. (As an irrigation tech I can testify to the prevalence of this design in urban irrigation.) The work in the Landscape Unit will reveal which of these two landscape designs is really the most resource efficient.

Courtesy East Bay Regional Park District
This is a topical question right now. Residential landscapes are often implicated in contributing to nonpoint source pollution (run-off and leaching of fertilizer and chemicals). In the drought-mired western U.S., water conservation programs target turfgrass landscapes with turf removal rebates, encouraging the use of drought-tolerant plants. And in California, where 2/3 of the state is now in exceptional drought, “brown is the new green” aptly describes a cultural moment where maintaining healthy turf and conserving water is no longer a tenable equation.

Quiet on the set

Drip irrigation up close and personal
As a visual media producer, I've come to see the Landscape Unit as a living set. To date it has played a role in no less than eight videos – some profiling aspects of the site, others capitalizing on the rich assortment of plants and irrigation equipment located there. 

Dr. Michael Dukes at a recent training with FL Extension personnel
Over the past year the site has also hosted an FNGLA conference, a Florida Irrigation Society course, an Extension Agent in-service training, and several master gardener tours.

Take an aerial tour

The Landscape Unit research site is a valuable resource, and I look forward to following the progress of the on-going plot study and helping develop future uses.

About the author: 
Michael Gutierrez is a water resources 
technician with UF/IFAS in the Ag & Bio 
Engineering Dept. He tweets, blogs and 
also shoots still and video media in South 
Florida, Gainesville and anywhere else a 
camera is handy. (image: Stacia Davis)

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