Urban Horticulture Extension Agent
Even with the rain that we received this summer, we still have drought conditions in the Tampa Bay area. Continued water restrictions are a certainty, so, it may be a good time to consider planting a drought tolerant ground cover as an alternative to large areas of grass.
In addition to needing more water and fertilizer than ground covers, the Environmental Protection Agency states that lawn mowers and other smallengine equipment emit at least 10 times the amount of smogcausing gases as a typical car (http://www.epa.gov/otaq/consumer/19-yard.pdf). Even small gasoline spills while refueling lawn equipment will evaporate and pollute the air. Living green or environmental sustainability has become more main stream of late, so the idea of replacing lawn grass with a more environmentally sustainable ground cover that only requires mowing a few times per year to keep it looking great may be a good alternative.
Several ground covers are good options for lawn grass replacement in our area.
All are drought tolerant once established and can be maintained with little or no additional fertilizer.
Sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) is my favorite. It is a Florida native and will cover the area completely and do a good job of shading out weeds. As an added bonus, there will be pink puffball blooms held above the foliage on stalks all summer and into the fall.
Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) is a small leaved groundcover. It can have either glossy dark green leaves or there are several variegated leaf varieties. It does not have the fragrant blooms of the larger relatives.
Perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata) has been called the
ultimate southern lawn. It makes a dense cover of green with lovely yellow flowers from spring to fall. As an added bonus, the flowers make a lovely edible addition to
Establishment of these ground covers will normally take longer than grass plugs. It normally takes a little over two years for complete coverage. Keep the area mulched to discourage weeds during this establishment period. Perennial peanut can be purchased as sod. This is a good option if instant coverage needed. There are not currently sod options for sunshine mimosa or Asiatic jasmine.
Ground covers are not usually as durable to foot traffic as turfgrass. If you have children or pets that need a grassy play area or you live in a deed restricted
community that specifies the amount of traditional lawn that you must maintain, then replacing all of your lawn grass may not be an option. However, replacing even a portion of the grass will save time, money and energy and can contribute less to air and water pollution.