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Home & Garden
home : features : home & garden May 24, 2016

Home & Garden

Jean Airey
Home & Garden

There are times when you just might have to give up on grass for your lawn. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, you can choose a different option that will still give you a “green” look and be “green” as well. And no, I’m not talking about colored cement. 

This Florida “winter” time is a good time to explore replacing some or all of the grass that doesn’t grow with a native ground cover. There are several available and, by using a native variety, they’ll flourish without the fuss of grass areas – particularly grass that isn’t growing anyway.

Several years ago I had to find something that could be planted around a culvert pipe drain opening. Grass was not a choice, as the slope would not allow anything but personally powered lawn sheers, and I was not about to get into that. 

I was looking for something that would not grow too tall and could handle being mowed without dying (for the immediate area around the drain, which would probably be impacted by the mower). And it had to be tough and green. 

An excellent guide is available from the University of Florida (click here) - and it covers just about everything you might want to know about Florida Landscaping. Note that this booklet considers us as “Central” Florida for growing information, but the USDA puts us in the 9b category for cold hardiness. You can also stop by the Elsie Quirk Library to talk to the Master Gardeners about what you are dealing with and what you can do to make your lawn care easier. They’re there every Tuesday from 10 – noon. Since both the Florida regional definitions and the USDA categories cover a lot of territory, it’s a good idea to ask a “Master” to be sure that what you select will actually grow in Englewood. 

Another element in the booklet to notice is that while it is presenting “Florida Friendly” landscaping, not all the plants recommended are native plants. When I had to do my selection, I wanted a true native plant, even if there were others that might “work.”

My next concern for a ground cover was height. I didn’t want anything that was going to be a foot or more high – in case the mowing didn’t happen quite as often as it needed to. So I went through and selected what seemed to be viable options. I wound up with: Oblongleaf Snakeherb (1/2 – 1+), Sunshine Mimosa (1/2 – ¾ +), and Capeweed (1/2 – 1+).

Had I included non-native options, I would have added: Carpet Bugleweed, St. Bernard’s Lily, Perennial Peanut, Japanese Ardisia, Blue Daze, Canary Ivy, Horizontal Juniper, and Mondo Grass. Some of the descriptions of these sounded very nice, but I was determined to go native. 

Looking at the three options I’d selected, I then had to choose one. So, more details:

Oblongleaf Snakeherb could grow over my foot limit, and it was a fast grower, with a spread beyond the initial planting of 1 – 11/2 feet. It preferred full sunlight (perfect) and good drainage (Hey, it’s by a drain!). It attracted butterflies, and had lavender year-round flowers. It did need slightly acid to slightly alkaline soil. (If you don’t know where your soil falls on the acid-alkaline scale, the Master Gardeners can check it for you. Just bring in a sample from where you’re going to plant.)

Sunshine Mimosa might grow more than ¾ of a foot but probably not up to my one foot limit, grew fast, and spread 8 – 10 feet. For some people, that might have been a turnoff, as it would spread into everything (grass!) around it. I didn’t care. If it was low, mowable, green and durable, I’d live with it. It had a medium resistance to drought, needed bright sun and good drainage. It needed acid to slightly alkaline soil. It did attract butterflies and had pink powderpuff flowers. 

Capeweed could grow over a foot and had an 8 – 10 foot spread. It preferred sun but could handle shade. It could handle any type of soil, had small purple white flowers and was an excellent butterfly attractor. However: the notes said it could become “weedy,” and might go dormant in a drought – although like a true native, it would come back.

I decided to go with the Mimosa – and it was, I think, the right choice. Several years in, the area around the drain is green with a plant that, for many months, persists (even through mowings) on producing its pink “powderpuff” flowers. Yes, it has spread throughout the side lawn, mixing with the grass, but I love to see the flowers and hope it spreads to the rest of the lawn as well.

So if your grass is driving you crazy, check out a groundcover and stop worrying! 

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