Outdoor plants need to be in the right place to grow and thrive. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
TAVARES – Like a lot of industries that relied on the housing market’s success to bring in new business, the landscaping and nursing industry rode a wave when Central Florida’s home sales were booming.
And not surprisingly, when the housing industry crashed in 2008, customers looking for products to beautify their lawn dried up as well. That’s presented a huge challenge for the landscaping and nursery industries over the past four years, said Merry Mott, director of industry certifications for the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.
The good news, she said, is that as the nation and Florida start to come out of the recession, so too does this industry.
“It’s actually beginning to recover,” she said. “As the housing industry began to grow, obviously that benefitted our members as well because they were installing more plants. As the housing market goes, so goes our market. So we did definitely see a downturn.”
Not everyone in this field survived, she added.
“Some of the smaller companies and upstarts were not able to maintain their businesses,” she said. “The work wasn’t there. The last couple of years have not been the happiest for our industry, but we’re seeing some big changes and a lot of the industry is changing their business to fit the market now, asking what does the public want? They’re diversifying their crops or services to really provide what the market is looking for.”
As the industry looks for ways to diversify and get stronger, the St. Johns River Water Management District is looking to partner with industry professionals as well, by offering an upcoming accreditation training course for those in the landscape and irrigation sectors. The Florida Water StarSM course will be held on Tuesday, May 8 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Participants are going to have an opportunity after the course to take an accreditation exam on Wednesday, May 9 at 8:30 a.m. Both the training and exam will be offered at the Lake County Agricultural Center, located at 1951 Woodlea Road in Tavares.
Developed by St. Johns River Water Management District in partnership with the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association, this is a comprehensive water conservation course that focuses on Florida-friendly landscape alternatives and irrigation requirements that can have a significant impact on water usage.
Deirdre Irwin, the water star coordinator for St. Johns, said it was designed because when the housing market was still booming, not all of the landscaping work was being done in the most water-efficient manner.
“These homes were not doing so well, because what they did outside was so different from the normal practice,” she said. “We designed the training and are administering the program so they can learn all the latest ways to design efficient systems and install them. We know this from our water use permitting program. We know from tracking homes across our district that in newer homes with irrigation, half the water is being used on landscaping. We knew that wasn’t necessary, and we knew we could cut that in half. We could see this training was really important to help the professionals who install these landscapes.”
This training will be led by nationally recognized instructors Joy Dorst and Kurt Thompson, is limited to 45 people and registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. The training and exam are free, and the registration deadline is Monday, May 7 at 5 p.m.
Those who complete the training and pass the exam will become Florida Water StarSM accredited in either landscaping or irrigation.
“It’s something that enhances their ability to distinguish themselves in the marketplace,” Irwin said.
Mott said the industry also recognized the critical role that water conservation plays in their future success.
“From the nursery and landscape industry’s perspective, we do recognize that the industry can take a lead role in water conservation and quality issues, because so much of the water being used in homes in is landscaping. We also understand that where you place your plants and where you design your landscape can have a big impact as well. The right plant in the right place thrives. That’s our goal in taking a lead in water conservation.”
That means ensuring that a plant that loves water is in a place where the soil is moist, not dry, she added. It sounds simple enough, but a poorly designed landscape that doesn’t grow will hurt the business owner’s ability to keep operating, she said.
“The principals that we adhere to are Florida-friendly (plants) and Best Management practices,” Mott said. “Florida-Friendly is geared toward the home, but Best Management are geared toward the industry. Our mantra is right plant, right place. Don’t try to grow that plant in a place it doesn’t want to be in.”
Professionals who want to take exams for both accreditations need to pay a non-refundable fee of $85. Each exam takes approximately two to three hours to complete. Continuing Education Units will be available at this event for irrigation contractors licensed in Lake or Volusia counties, FNGLA-certified professionals, registered landscape architects and Irrigation Association certified professionals.
For more information or to register, call Steve Gladwell at 352-742-3968 or email waterstarregistration@lakecountyfl.gov.
“This program specifically attracts those already in the industry,” Mott said. “We’re trying to attract working professionals. This program is definitely geared toward those doing landscaping or irrigation – or both, just so they get a look at both sides if it, because they have to work together. There’s a clear plant-soil relationship. We want them to be able to take the exam immediately — and use it.”

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