What you can do about red tide

 by Barbara Joy Cooley, Chair of the COTI Environment Committee

What can you do about red tide?  There is something.  Maybe you have done it, or are already doing it.  Maybe you haven’t done it yet, but you will – hopefully, soon.

What is it that you can do?  Go Native!  Get rid of that green, grassy lawn and replace it with native vegetation.  City of Sanibel guidelines state that at least 75 percent of your yard and garden should be planted with native plants.  To meet the guidelines, only 25 percent can be non-natives.

In many ways, green, grassy lawns are the worst of the non-natives because, as City Councilman Dr. Scott Crater stated so clearly on March 7, “You can’t grow grass on sand.  You cannot do it.  It is impossible.  The only way to grow grass on sand is to dump chemicals on the ground.”

Those chemicals include nutrients that eventually make their way into coastal waters to feed the red tide algae, contributing to red tide blooms like those that are plaguing our coastal waters now.

Green, grassy lawns also require plenty of water; that water increases the runoff into coastal waters.

Sanibelians who are “in the know” about water quality tend to not have green, grassy lawns.  For example, each of us on the Committee of the Islands (COTI) board does not have a green, grassy lawn. 

Tempting as it may be to hire a landscaper to install sod for an immediate “greening up” of your yard and garden, please resist that urge.  Native plants may be a little more difficult to find now after Hurricane Ian, but they are available, and will become increasingly available.

Which native plants survived best after the hurricane?  “Some of the most resilient native plants were cabbage palms, saw palmettos, and green and silver buttonwoods . . . But so were coonties, wild olives, necklace pods, joewoods, Christmas berries, sea oxeye daisy, Simpson’s stoppers, sea-grapes, bay cedars and muhly grass,” said Stephen Brown, a horticultural agent with the Lee County Extension Service, at a recent Sanibel Vegetation Committee program at BIG ARTS.  “Although gumbo limbos, mahoganies, and strangler figs were badly broken, they have been quick to rebound. Sprouting from seeds in the sediment were natives such as blue porterweeds, seaside goldenrods, and beach sunflowers.”

Now is the time.  Go Native!  Don’t feed the red tide.

Here are some resources for you to use as you Go Native!

SCCF’s Post Hurricane Replanting Guide, December 2022

City of Sanibel’s Horticulturally Available Plant List, 2021

To find native plants for sale, visit the SCCF Native Plant Nursery at 1300 Periwinkle Way on Sanibel; the All Native Garden Center & No Lawn Landscaping at 300 Center Rd. in Fort Myers or on the web at nolawn.com; or Natives of Corkscrew at 13321 Peace Road in Buckingham, or nativesofcorkscrew.com. 

Have you found some useful resources or ideas for replanting with native vegetation?  Please share them with us at coti@coti.org, or post them on our Facebook page.

Photo below:  This sturdy groundcover, called “mimosa” or “powderpuff” (Mimosa strigillosa), is native to states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.  It attracts butterflies, and can even tolerate being mowed.  Photo by Barbara Joy Cooley

Photo below:  This mimosa survived Hurricane Ian and the debris piles.  Photo by Sarah Peck.


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