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Michael Dukes: Florida-Friendly Landscaping is Critical for Meeting Future Water Demand | Guest Column

October 20, 2023

Water use in Florida is expected to reach 6.5 billion gallons per day in Florida in less than 50 years.

This doubling of water use is due in part to the rapid influx of people and development related water demands. The demand for water is creating a crisis for some Florida cities and sending the state in search of simple ways to reduce water use.

New research from the University of Florida shows in some counties the highest water users are consuming up to 70 percent of their total water use for irrigation.

Action is needed to avoid a water crisis.

And, with some irrigation cycles using more than 1,500 gallons of water or more, making changes to irrigation systems and landscapes could make a big impact.   

Thankfully, water conservation is already a focus for both FNGLA and the UF/IFAS Center for Land Use Efficiency (CLUE).

Both organizations have shown their commitment to this issue by working together on expanding plant palettes for alternative landscapes research. They have done this in many ways including through the FNGLA Landscape Irrigation Committee, and by partnering with state agencies like the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to update Florida-Friendly Landscape Irrigation Design Standards. Yet the strongest tool to affect change for water conservation might be a program which has been providing science-based solutions for 30 years.   

The Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM (FFL) Program offers simple solutions to residents looking to have a beautiful landscape which uses less water and requires fewer inputs.

FFL landscapes utilize “right plant, right place.” principles. 

Ultimately, the result is water conservation and a more resilient landscape which can better adapt to increasing heat and drought conditions.

The FFL program offers a path forward that will allow Florida to meet the water demands of an increasing population and the preferences of a changing demographic of homebuyers who value natural landscapes and less irrigation.

In 2021, the FNGLA Board formally endorsed the FFL program as a sustainable, environmentally friendly, and long-term approach to staying profitable while protecting Florida ecosystems.

The board understands this industry cannot succeed without keeping Florida water abundant and clean, and that FFL is a key component to achieving both of these goals.

Through partnerships with UF/IFAS, developments like Tavistock in Central Florida are proving alternative landscapes which include less need for sprinkler irrigation, more native plants and non-traditional groundcovers. These alternatives can reduce water use and increase home values.

And, consumers who are willing to pay more for an approach that is better for the environment can be an opportunity for the green industry.

More than ever before, there is a direct return on investment for landscape professionals who become FNGLA certified, and for plant nurseries willing to produce less commonly used plants.   

With a potential generation of consumers willing to pay more for FNGLA certified landscaper professionals and new plant material, FNGLA is well positioned to help protect and conserve water while at the same time find new ways to stay profitable.

And while we know that not every resident, commercial property or industry professional will be able to adopt all nine FFL principles, we also know that many individuals making small changes can make great impacts across the state.   


Michael Dukes is the Director of the UF/IFAS Center for Land Use Efficiency (CLUE), which focuses on social, environmental, and economic issues affecting urban landscapes and agriculture in Florida.  

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