by Greg Nelson
Landscape Support Species
Linda and I have incorporated many permaculture techniques into our landscape. As for what permaculture means, I’ll quote Bill Mollison, one of the founders of permaculture: “The aim is to create systems that are ecologically-sound and economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable in the long term.” One way to achieve these goals is by planting support species that allow you to maintain your landscape sustainably and economically. These techniques include nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, “chop and drop” mulching, and cover crops. We have learned which species are best for these techniques and we have many to choose from in Florida. Nitrogen is vital to plants for photosynthesis and building proteins. And of course, without plants there is no life on earth. Even though nitrogen makes up 78% of the atmosphere, it can’t be used by plants in this form. Some plants called nitrogen
Pigeon pea, tamarind, and ice cream bean are all edible nitrogen fixers. Ornamentals such as royal poinciana, dwarf poinciana, Bahama cassia and natives such as coontie, necklace pod, pencil flower, and wax myrtle are also nitrogen fixers. Sunshine mimosa, another native, is a beautiful groundcover with pink blossoms. It can be planted instead of a lawn, saving money and energy since it doesn’t require mowing.
Dynamic accumulators are plants that gather minerals and nutrients from the soil storing them in high concentration in their tissues. These plants can then be used as fertilizer and mulch by chopping and dropping. Moringa is one of the most useful plants there is. It is an amazing dynamic accumulator whose leaves provide incredible amounts of vitamins and minerals for the soil and us. The raw leaves add a spicy peppery flavor to salads and can also be dehydrated and sprinkled on food. Moringa grows incredibly fast when pruned, up to 18 feet per year, so it makes an excellent chop and drop plant for mulching. Mexican Sunflower is another incredibly fast-growing dynamic accumulator with beautiful flowers. You can prune it several times a year and use it as mulch around your other plants to add nutrients to the soil.
Chop and drop mulching is a technique of pruning your plants and then dropping the cuttings onto the ground around your plants instead of putting them out to the street. When they decompose, they will release the nutrients stored in their tissues back to the soil. In this technique we are mimicking a forest. The nitrogen fixers and dynamic accumulators that I already mentioned are especially good for this. Many grasses can also be used for chopping and dropping, such as the native Fakahatchee and sand cordgrass and nonnative vetiver and lemongrass.
Cover crops are also good support species. These plants grow so vigorously that they suppress weeds, hold nutrients in the soil, protect the soil from the intense Florida sun, and often can also be used for food. We use sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and peanuts as cover crops for our vegetable gardens in the summer while we are gone. In the fall when we come back, we have lots of food to harvest and large amounts of material for the compost pile. Not only are the sweet potato tubers edible but the greens can be eaten as well. After we harvest, we save some sweet potato cuttings and small tubers and plant them into the ground in our food forest as a winter cover crop.
I urge you to consider using these permaculture techniques and plants instead of the methods we have all grown used to. Instead of fertilizing, try incorporating nitrogen fixing plants into your landscape. Instead of disposing of all your yard waste, consider chop and drop mulching. Try planting sunshine mimosa to replace some of your lawn. These techniques and plants enable you to achieve a sustainable landscape that is great for the environment, wildlife, pollinators, provides food, and is economical to boot.
Greg and Linda Nelson are landscape designers who have transformed their Englewood yard using Permaculture techniques. They offer landscape consultations, design services, and free monthly tours through their business: Love Your Yard. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-449-9012 or visit their website at https://weloveyouryard.wixsite.com/swfl.