ECOS0608P19I1.jpg(300)Homeowners across the country are making their homes more environmentally friendly by installing low-flow faucets and showerheads or avidly recycling. Amelia Park Development, Fernandina Beach, Fla., is taking sustainability further by making it part of the landscaping for a 420-home neighborhood in Amelia Island, Fla. The developer implemented water-wise landscaping, or xeriscaping, when it began outlining specific plans for the Amelia Park neighborhood in 1998.

The St. Johns River Water Management District, Palatka, Fla., manages water for the site and defines water-wise landscaping as a “common-sense way to landscape that conserves water, protects the environment and is based on the seven basic principles of xeriscape that can be successfully applied anywhere.” The seven principles are implementing proper planning and design, obtaining a soil analysis, choosing proper plants, using turf wisely, irrigating efficiently, using mulches and performing proper maintenance. Following that concept, Amelia Park Development landscaped with as much natural vegetation as possible and enhanced the area with drought-tolerant plants.

Semi-public, front-yard areas in Amelia Park preserve the existing character of the natural environment. Because turf grass isn’t native to the environment and requires irrigation and fertilization, it is limited to no more than 25 percent of the front-yard planting zone and a contiguous area of 200 square feet (19 m2). Homeowners conserve water by planting turf areas and planting beds in separate irrigation zones because their water needs are different.

Amelia Park Development strives to preserve trees to shade homes, reduce energy costs and give the community a mature look. Minimum plant specifications include shade trees with an 8- to 10-foot (2- to 3-m) height, 2- to 2 1/2-inch (51- to 64-mm) caliper and 5- to 6-foot (1.5- to 1.8-m) spread; understory trees; shrubs with heights of 15- to 18-inches (381- to 457-mm) and 12- to 15-inch (305- to 381-mm) spreads; and full groundcover and native grasses as available. In the Coastal District, the final phase of development, homes are set back amid the aforementioned vegetation to provide privacy and oneness with nature.

Mulch use also is encouraged. Mulch helps soil retain moisture, moderates temperature, reduces weed growth and slows erosion. Being knowledgeable about plants’ mature sizes, sun and shade requirements, and soil and water needs also can help in choosing plants that will flourish with little water or fertilizer.

ECOST0608P19I2.jpg(300)In the development’s Garden Walk, a series of pedestrian blocks that form a continuous 1-mile (1.6-km) path through the neighborhood, plants do not require fertilization and irrigation is limited except in extreme droughts. Amelia Park Development encourages homeowners and developers to work with landscape architects while making plant selections. Even if an owner’s landscape budget is sparse, a master plan for a water-conscious landscape still can be developed over time.