March 23, 2020

Ground covers and lawn alternatives: zone 9b gardening

By Amanda Rose Newton

Groundcovers simply refer to plants that are low growing and have a spreading habit.

Most of us grew up with traditional turf grass lawns and may have never considered the abundance of other options that exist. Many of the alternatives discussed below come with added benefits, such as not having to mow, water, or fertilize as frequently in order to maintain lush appearance. There are over fifty groundcovers that fair well in Brevard county.

In this post, we will focus on a handful of groundcovers that are easy
to find at your neighborhood nursery.

Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa): My personal favorite, sunshine mimosa adds color, texture, and functionality to the landscape in one move.

The fern-like foliage covers like turf grass and is soft to walk on. Its bright pink lollipop-like blooms attract pollinators and compliments alike. As a Florida native, once this plant is established, it requires little upkeep.

Be sure to keep spacing 3-4 ft apart, and it performs best in full sun.

Perennial Peanut (Arachis glabrata): Though it does not produce edible peanuts, it is also a member of the important legume family of plants. This distinct group is well-loved by gardeners and farmers for its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil in a form that is easy for plants to take in through their roots. Increased nitrogen availability means increased growth and happy plants. In addition to being functional, perennial peanut is beautiful, with
its bright yellow pea-like flowers and light green dense foliage. This groundcover can be walked on an even mowed! If it gets at least five hours of sun a day and is spaced 3-5 ft apart, it should flourish in your Brevard county yard.

Blue My Mind (Evolvulus hybrid): This new cultivar of blue daze is causing quite a stir in the green industry with reason! It is more resistant to drought, heat and perfect for Florida gardens. The trailing growth habit makes it a great lawn replacement, filler for empty flower beds and produces a great spill-over effect in a hanging basket.

The blue flowers, a rare color in the plant world, close each day at about 4 pm and open again in the morning. Versatile, unique, and Florida-friendly, this is a great choice for a variety of spots in your landscape. As with the choices above, make sure to follow proper spacing recommendations (3 ft) and grow in full sun.

Asiatic Jasmine (rachelospermum asiaticum): Have areas without full sun? No problem! Asiatic jasmine performs well in areas that are traditionally hard to grow grass in, such as high shade and moisture-retaining spots. Its vine-like growth habit evokes images of an English cottage garden and fits in well with those not looking for a tropical landscape.

There are several colorful cultivars available to choose from including a variegated and tri-color variety. Asiatic jasmine can also be used in flower beds, and even vertically against walls. Spacing for this groundcover is 3-5 ft and it can take full sun to shade.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea): While purslane many might know as a weed in lawns, the ornamental form of this groundcover can be quite stunning. It also happens to be exceptionally drought tolerant, making it perfect for those who reside beachside or for those who are only part-time Florida residents. Purslane comes in a wide variety of bright colors including pink, orange, and yellow, as well as softer whites and pastel shades. This plant flourishes in full sun and low water, especially when spaced 2-3 ft apart.

Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis): It’s hard to picture beachside Brevard without this plant. With its cheerful blooms that resemble sunflowers and its ease of care, they can brighten anyone’s day. Their natural sprawling habit can be put to good use as a ground cover in your yard, making a lovely alternative to mulch in flower beds and aid in providing erosion reduction on your property. Spacing for these is roughly 4-5 ft apart and as their the name suggests, they love full sun.

Railroad Vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae): Another coastal classic, railroad vine is a visually striking choice to round out your native Florida garden.
The heart-shaped leaves and large flowers may not instantly scream groundcover, but as the name suggests, it trails along the ground just fine, creating a dense mat of foliage. Like the dune sunflower above, it also aids in erosion control and can be a vital tool in reducing runoff during the rainy season. Railroad vine loves the Florida sun and appreciates being spaced 3-5 feet apart.

Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum): Herb gardeners have long been onto the fact that many herbs double as lush turf alternatives. Creeping thyme fills in partially shady areas nicely and adds a rich herbal aroma to your landscape. The periodic flowers attract pollinators and you always have a steady supply of herbs at the ready. Other herbs to consider include mint, creeping rosemary, and Cuban oregano.

Whether you are trying to replace your lawn or just add texture and color to a flower bed, there are a wide variety of groundcovers that naturally grow well here in Brevard. Think outside the box, research, and have fun designing your new reduced turf landscape.