Tropicana Field's native garden is a winner

By MARY COLLISTER, Times Correspondent
Published September 13, 2007

I don't make many trips to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, so when my mother and I decided to go see a recent Devil Rays game, I knew I would want to spend some time looking at the landscaping project made possible with a grant from the Pinellas County Environmental Fund.

Mom, being a baseball fan, has hooked me into watching most of the Rays games on TV the past couple of months. They often mention the landscape project that focuses on Florida-friendly plants and design, so I was eager to take a look at it.

The project is concentrated along Booker Creek, with nearly 200 native trees and more than 5,000 shrubs and ground covers. It was initially billed as a demonstration garden. Devil Rays fans should take a few minutes to look around the area, read the literature and decide whether some of the plants are suitable for their home gardens.

The landscape reminded me of how important it is to conserve our resources and use plants in our yards that are native to our area. Native plants require less water and fewer chemicals to thrive, so in the long run are less demanding on our limited resources.

As much fun as I had at the game, I still had to complete my gardening chores. The previous week I had done some major pruning in the yard and have decided that after 16 years in our home, there may be some rather large shrubs that need to be removed or rejuvenated. My new small chain saw will come in handy shortly.

I have an area in the southwest corner of the yard that functions as a secret garden, with two chairs and a small table hidden from view from the house by lots of foliage.

The two golden dew drop shrubs have gotten much too large and the tops of the branches are growing into the canopy of the oak tree. Now there are few if any leaves on the branches until they reach at least 5 feet tall.

As I continue to study the bushes, I may decide to cut them back to the ground instead of removing them. The golden dew drop is so hardy I think I will end up with two very bushy shrubs to replace the bare sticks I now have out there.

With these two shrubs out of the way, I will be able to get into the area and remove the overabundance of vines that are growing in there also. A good cleaning out will not only do the garden good, but it will be quite a therapy session for me as I have always found pruning to be quite relaxing.

I think I will attack the area next month so the plants have plenty of time to recover before the threat of any cold weather comes our way.

Around the other side of the house, I was amazed by the number of weeds inhabiting the bed. The only good thing is that they are easy to remove because it is a raised bed with loose soil. After about 30 minutes of extreme weeding, I have that area back in shape. I will add mulch to the bed this fall. The rest of the beds are in good shape, and adding mulch will give them a fresh look going into fall.

This is a great time to add fall color to your yard. If you do add perennials or annuals, make sure they are watered. Our rain has been hit or miss, and newly planted flowers will not survive long without daily water.

During walks around my yard, I have thought about my use of fertilizer, and became aware that I use very little and have limited it mostly to my annuals. My perennials don't receive much. I don't see anything in my yard that seems to be suffering much, so will continue using meager amounts of fertilizer. The lawn is treated by a commercial company.

I think it helps that the soil in my beds continues to get better and better as I add organic matter. I also try to use plants that are native or at least very hardy.

If you look around your yard, you may think of a few ways to become a little more ecofriendly, and probably without too much effort.