For a developed, man-made island, Marco Island is fortunate to have a large diversity of wildlife. Once made up of approximately 6,000 acres of mangroves, this island was developed into over 100 miles of dredged “finger” canals that are fortified with seawalls. As the largest of the 10,000 Islands and surrounded by the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Marco Island benefits from this natural environs that supports furred, finned, feathered and scaled wildlife.
Just walking to the mailbox, it is not hard to spot a native species in the neighborhood such as a White Ibis, American Kestrel or Burrowing Owl. Or sitting on a dock or in a lanai, one may see a Manatee resting in the canal or Bald Eagle fishing for dinner, dipping and skimming the water surface.
Cognizant of the wildlife that lives on the island and that one day all the properties will be developed, an effort to provide habitat in our own backyards is important to sustain these populations for generations to come. All grass, a ficus hedge and a hibiscus bush does not make a habitat and may even have high costs to maintain. But a sustainable landscape with native plant species and natural features makes an oasis for wildlife in the midst of urban development.
For example, our large population of resident Gopher Tortoises requires shrubs for cover, native plants for food, such as, Prickly Pear Cactus, Gopher Apple and Beauty Berry. Song birds, both resident and migratory, require berries and seeds from such plants as Cocoplum, Jamaican Caper and Sea Grape – all of which are excellent native species examples to plant in lieu of a ficus hedge.
Not only more interesting in leaf, flower and seed shapes than that of a ficus hedge, these species grow robustly, can be hedged (or not) to a desirable shape and provide birds, amphibians and reptiles food and cover. An added plus is the roots will not destroy sidewalks, pool decks or foundations as ficus notoriously do.
The native species do provide habitat for native wildlife, but also give the homeowner the opportunity to conserve water, protect water quality, reduce maintenance and chemical use; overall save money. A national EPA study found that homeowners use 30% of potable water on landscape! With the cost of water on our Island, using less water equates to more dollars saved!
There are simple ideas to incorporate in your landscape to enhance and create habitat for native animal species but also save money and protect the island’s natural resources for the future. One of the most important steps is to reduce lawn area. Large areas of sod are like “desert” for our island wildlife. Wildlife require cover from the elements, nooks and crevices to hide and protect offspring, and food and water sources.
Large expanse of lawn does not provide any of these basic needs. Sod also requires irrigation, pesticide and herbicide management and constant maintenance. Removing a quarter to a half of the lawn area in your yard and replacing it with native flowers, groundcovers, shrubs and trees, is a huge step toward enhancing wildlife habitat and in turn gives you a cost savings. Using the principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping, the right plant in the right place, will reduce water consumption, chemical use and maintenance. In these economic times, all dollars saved count!
The City of Marco Island partnered with the South Florida Water Management District Big Cypress Basin and the Water Symposium of Collier County and other sponsors, such as local landscape company, Island Gardeners, owned and operated by Alan Brown, to create a Florida Friendly Landscape demonstration garden. It can be visited at the City Hall Campus, 50 Bald Eagle Drive. Removing irrigation and sod, replacing Fox Tail Palms with native Sable Palms and Coontie with shell groundcover in the approximately 425 square foot area saved the City approximately $3,000 in irrigation and maintenance in less than one year. Not only very attractive and economical, the landscape is habitat for native birds, reptiles and butterflies.
Here are some easy steps to get started in your backyard:
REDUCE LAWN AREA: Replace open turf/lawn areas with “islands” of native plants. Landscapes with native groundcover, shrub and tree species reduce maintenance time and cost, water and chemical use. Landscape that is native doesn’t have to be “messy” – there are many species that can showcase a yard and home without losing street side appeal.
PROVIDE WATER SOURCE: Using a rain barrel for water collection and run off from the roof are easy ways to provide and save water on site. Using a low area in the yard that could provide a seasonal “wet spot” for amphibians, reptiles and birds is beneficial. Creating a “river bed” of rock that can be wet in our rainy months is an aesthetic feature of the landscape as well as habitat for the beneficial insects, amphibians and reptiles in the yard. Space for a pond? A perfect addition in the landscape is to plant the edges with water-loving wetland plant species and create a micro habitat in the yard.
PROVIDE FOOD SOURCES: Using native species that have flowers, seeds and berries provide natural food sources that eliminate the need for the use of harsh chemicals in our yards that ultimately runoff to the canals and Gulf of Mexico.
PROVIDE COVER/SHELTER: Provide bird houses, nest boxes, trees and even a tree log or leaf litter on the ground. Wildlife will find a home in your yard and provide shelter to raise their young. These features can be incorporated into landscape design to provide interest and beauty to a yard. And ultimately, provide the habitat to sustain wildlife for years to come.
For more information on native plant species suitable for Marco Island yards, landscape ideas, local native plant nurseries and local wildlife, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or firstname.lastname@example.org.