By Natalie Strom
The butterfly guy is back! Mike Malloy shared his gardening expertise with Coastal Breeze readers in the last edition. Educating readers on the best types of plants to use in the oh-so-unique climate of Southwest Florida, Malloy is now sharing his best tips on how to reduce water costs, use less pesticides and ensure an easy, affordable garden full of color, fragrance, and, of course, butterflies.
The “Johnny Appleseed” of Naples spent a number of years working for the University of Florida’s Florida Friendly Yards and Neighborhoods Program. “I would visit private homes and communities, showing them how they can become more Florida friendly – to save more water. It’s not that we are going to run out of water, but it’s already becoming too expensive for people to water their lawns,” explains Malloy. “People are listening more and more because it’s gotten into their wallets.”
Designating homes and communities as Florida friendly, “was really butterfly gardening in disguise – no pesticides, less water, less grass.” Many are shocked by Malloy’s theories, but his thriving, 500-plus species garden is proof that sometimes less is more.
One of Malloy’s best tips on reducing water costs pertaining to landscaping is to use less grass. “I have not a blade of grass in my yard. It is one huge butterfly garden. We live in a community association and when we started this 15 years ago, everyone frowned on removing grass.” As people caught on to this money-saving idea, “they wanted to do it but their communities wouldn’t let them do it.” Often times condominiums, individual homes and community associations have written in their by-laws that a certain amount of grass must be put down. “Two years ago, the Florida Senate actually passed a law that says that if you want to become more Florida friendly, this bill supersedes any type of these documents. That has opened the door for anybody to go ahead and become Florida friendly,” explains Malloy.
“It’s basically a bonus for wildlife for Florida because we are giving them back their territories that we have ruined by planting grass, which none of the wildlife really uses for anything. If you don’t have children or you don’t play croquet, there’s no need to have all this grass. It would be much nicer to look at blooming shrubs and flowering plants that actually help the wildlife in Florida.”
Less grass not only means less water, but it also means less pesticides. “I haven’t used pesticides in my yard in 20 years!” exclaims Malloy. “Ninety-nine percent of the bugs in your yard are beneficial, so when you spray for bugs, you kill everything. Every spring I release five or six thousand ladybugs into my yard and they take care of my bug problem for the whole year. Ladybugs take on all kinds of soft shell insects. They eat 600 times their own body weight in a day and they only fly away when there’s nothing more to eat in your garden. That’s all it takes.”
Malloy purchases his lady bugs at local nurseries. They are easily available for purchase on-line, the Home Depot being one large on-line supplier.
Offering further insight into the danger of pesticides, Malloy continues, “if you leave your yard alone, mother nature will sustain that yard and build up its own immune system to almost anything. If you constantly use chemicals in your yard, it becomes dependent on those chemicals. It strips your yard of any kind of immunity.”
Malloy sticks with his theory that plants are better off untouched. “Most plants are killed by people who start bathing them, pampering them, wiping them, dusting them, etc. If you leave these things alone, you’ll do much better.”
But what about weeds? “You’re not going to get rid of weeds in Florida. It’s impossible! I don’t care if you spray every week, you’re still going to have weeds in your yard because that’s Florida.” But on the brighter side, “a lot of major lawn weeds we have in Florida are host plants for butterflies, if not major nectar plants.”
One of Malloy’s best tips to reduce weeds is by using pine straw as mulch. Not only is it native with a nice color, but it holds water well and is one of the best natural weed-retardants available.
Now that we have weeds, water and pesticides under control, Malloy still has a few more pointers up his sleeve. “It’s all about trial and error,” he says. To find out what grows best, look around your neighborhood and see what’s growing. “Right there you are going to know what grows because it’s already growing right where you live.”
Give new plants time to adjust to their new home. “When you buy a plant and you have a specific spot for it, put it there in a pot. Wait a week to ten days to see if it’s going to be happy there. If it isn’t, instead of having to dig it up and move it, you just move the pot to another location. That way you won’t shock the plant.”
Remember to look at what the plant will need in order to thrive. “When you plant, make sure you have your drought tolerant plants together and your water plants together. This makes for minimal watering and you are less likely to kill one or the other by either not enough water or too much water.”
“Right plant, right place. That is one of the keys to Florida friendly gardening,” adds Malloy. “It’s all so easy once you have the formula.”
Look for future Florida friendly plant articles in upcoming issues of the Coastal Breeze by the butterfly guy, himself. As the author of two books, and a third close to completion, Malloy will soon be contributing as a regular columnist, sharing more of his fifty-plus years of landscaping experience.
Mike Malloy’s two books, “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy in Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color: A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden” offer more great tips on how to landscape the perfect Florida garden. Malloy is also available every Thursday at the Naples Botanical Garden, offering free advice and education on gardening and butterflies. Visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com to learn more and to view his butterfly artwork, a more recent endeavor.