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Back Ten Feet House, Lee, FL

Featured Site Created By Sue Scott

Sue Scott, the site owner of the “Back Ten Feet House,” is passionate about gardening for wildlife. So much so, that she has made it her life’s work. Scott operates a consulting business, “The Back Ten Feet with Sue Scott,” where she visits clients and provides them with guidance and resources to create beautiful landscapes in Southwest Florida, utilizing native plants that are beneficial to birds, pollinators, and other wildlife. She has a unique approach when encouraging clients to begin to reduce the size of their turf-grass-only properties – by converting the back ten feet of their yard to flowers and shrubs native to their region. It’s a gradual introduction to wildlife gardening that wins a lot of people over. Based out of the Fort Myers area, Sue has become an expert on how to create a dynamic and beautiful landscape in a very hot and dry part of the country. Scott says, “South Florida is not tropical, rather sub-tropical and often dry for 8 months out of the year. What I love is that even here in Florida, there really are seasons. And, the native plants all bloom at different times, providing for the birds and other animals who are passing through.”

What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?

I removed Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex), a nonnative and invasive plant, by hand – it’s the best way to get the roots out. Sometimes you have to invest in human power. I also added Florida native wildflowers and shrubs, such as firebush (berries for birds, flowers for all pollinators), scorpion-tail (tiny white flowers are favored by ALL pollinators, and it’s a short lived perennial in Florida that can grow into a small shrub), blue porterweed (again, a real powerhouse for pollinators), and American beautyberry (not only pretty pink flowers for nectar, but the BEST bright purple berries for ALL songbirds, especially migratory birds, and the purple berries are very attractive in the landscape). All of these plants can handle a variety of soil conditions and are drought tolerant, which is especially important in our well drained soils.

Stokes aster

Photo © Sue Scott

I use organic mulch, which is whatever I clip that day, plus, Florimulch from Forestry Resources, a local company that takes melaleuca, an invasive exotic, and turns it into the best mulch ever. Also, call any local tree trimmer and they will eventually dump a truckload of free mulch of whatever they chipped that day. I mulched an entire site when I lived in Cape Coral that way. I do not use fertilizers or pesticides in the landscape, and will apply pesticides only if the home owner requests it around the base of the home.

I’ve also added a small pollinator house and a bee house, and both have been used. Here in Florida, if you leave some open sandy spots, and leave snail shells in your plant beds, you are creating housing for some of our solitary native bees. I provide water by adding several water dishes on the ground for all wildlife to use. Suburban Florida is rich with wildlife, such as Virginia opossums, raccoons, black racers, ring-necked snakes, Eastern glass lizards, Southern toads, box turtles, gray squirrels, and bees.

What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")

I’ve witnessed more diverse wildlife species, especially more birds, butterflies, and other pollinators. I love knowing I can share with certainty with others the fact you do NOT need any chemicals to have a beautiful landscape even here in SW Florida.

Even a narrow side yard can be filled with beneficial native plants

Photo © Sue Scott

Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?

The only tough decisions are leaving a few invasive exotics in the landscape, at least for now, since their removal is expensive. And, in southwest Florida, most “improved” lots have been scraped of native soils and the living organisms that reside there. So, we basically have to add everything back that was taken away. Also, our soil is sandy, and usually so well drained it is bone dry shorty after a heavy rain. We need to add mulch, and to resist using fertilizers and pesticides, both of which actually kill all the good living organisms our native plants depend on to live. We also have a short rainy season, then a long dry season.

With this site, I was lucky because it did not have turf grass on the sides and in back. I am now trying to prepare one side of the front yard for growing vegetables but it’s a challenge because it’s too hot in the summer, so I may end up using raised plant beds. This will be a work in progress!

I am so thrilled to be featured by Yard Map. I hope more people throughout the country share their yards and stories with you and appreciate how much they can contribute to the health of our native bird populations.

Blanketflower grows well in dry, sandy soils

Photo © Sue Scott