University of Florida researchers test landscaping that saves water, money

Plants used in newly-built Central Florida community

ST. CLOUD, Fla. – University of Florida landscaping research is helping to save water, money, and the changing climate.

“I’ve been gardening my whole life, since I was a pre-teen with my grandparents,” Brooke Moffis said.

That’s why Moffis said she decided to make gardening a career.

She works as a UF Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences extension agent in Lake County.

News 6 spoke to her as he examined her “laboratory” near St. Cloud, where she and other UF researchers are helping to cultivate landscaping that is beautiful and relies mostly on rainwater.

“I’m checking to see how dense the soil is,” she said. “We call it bulk density — how compact it is.”

Moffis is quick to point out this landscaping is not new. The plants are actually native to Central Florida.

“One of my favorites is the Starry Rosinweed that we see over that we see over here,” she said. “That’s what that yellow flowers are. They bloom heavily.”

She said they attract birds, bees and other native insects.

“The Firebush is great for attracting hummingbirds,” she said.


Tavistock Development decided to use these native plants in Sunbridge Weslyn Park — one of their new communities just down the street from Moffis’ lab.

“We’re looking at a model home that has the alternative landscape,” Richard Levey said .

Levey helped develop Weslyn Park.

A Tavistock housing community in St. Cloud is now using plants native to Central Florida in their landscaping to save water. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

“Everybody kind of knows what the cost is to maintain a lawn,” he said. “Here, it’s different.”

Here, Tavistock is only using native plants, while the sod is left on the pallet.

“Water consumption on the outside of the home exceeds water consumption on the inside of the home,” he said. “I don’t think people realize that at all. I think their irrigation timers are set.”


UF Researcher Basil Iannone said the plants do not just save water.

“My background was in ecological restoration, trying to restore habitats that humans have destroyed,” he said.

Iannone said the plants also eliminate pollution from weed whackers, lawnmowers and chemicals from fertilizer.

He estimates the landscaping in Weslyn Park’s 300 homes will save about 94,000 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution a year.

That is the same as saving 19,587 cylinders of propane you may use on your backyard grill.

With thousands of new people calling Central Florida home each month, he is hoping natural landscaping will help get results for the environment.

“We’re incorporating nature into a home landscape, and if enough people do it, our home landscapes and our communities could function almost as a state park,” Moffis said.

“It makes me happy,” Iannone said. “It makes me happy to know that my research is actually having a real-world impact.”

Moffis and Iannone said anyone can transform their landscaping to these native plants, and they are seeing more big box hardware stores carrying them.

They encouraged homeowners to look at the UF/IFAS website for tips on choosing the right plants.

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About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.