Turfgrass alternatives offer residents additional groundcover choices, UF/IFAS experts say
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Spring is right around the corner, and for some residents it may be time to think about sprucing up the yard with new landscaping.
Covering more than 5 million acres in Florida, turfgrass is the state’s most popular groundcover – but it may not be the ideal choice for every situation, say experts with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Emphasizing the Florida-Friendly Landscaping principle “right plant, right place,” UF/IFAS Extension faculty members suggest that residents who are considering groundcover options start by assessing their needs and site conditions.
“We need turf for recreation, for that open front-yard spot in your landscape, and to give us that green look,” said Wendy Wilber, an Alachua County environmental horticulture Extension agent. “A good-looking Florida-Friendly Landscape can have a mix of plants and features, if the conditions call for it.”
Turf may be the best option for areas that receive heavy foot traffic and plenty of direct sunlight, Wilber said. Many varieties have been bred for hardiness and can withstand the wear and tear associated with frequent outdoor activity.
Turf alternatives can be a good choice for covering shaded areas, making an eye-pleasing transition between turf and taller plants, or establishing low-maintenance zones where foot traffic is infrequent.
Some of the best-known turf alternatives include low-growing plants, mulch, gravel and structures such as decks and patios.
Low-growing plant options include perennial peanut, sunshine mimosa (also known as powderpuff), largeflower Mexican clover, threeflower beggarweed, Asiatic jasmine, bronze beauty jasmine, creeping inch plant, Florida pusley and Liriope (also known as lilyturf).
For a UF/IFAS video on Florida pusley, see http://tinyurl.com/b72g8b4.
“One issue with plants is, are they steppable?” Wilber says. “In other words, will foot traffic harm them? If so, you’d want to put down stepping stones or create a mulch path through the planting bed if you’ll need to walk through it.”
Also, keep in mind that low-growing plants established from seed, plugs or cuttings may take a year or more to fill in planting beds and cover the ground, said David Shibles, a Polk County horticulture Extension agent.
“You may have to do some weeding in the meantime,” he said.
For larger yards, it may be practical to put a high-quality turf variety out front, and bahiagrass in areas that aren’t so visible, Wilber said. Commonly known as a forage, bahiagrass is hardy and drought-tolerant.
Decorative mulches such as pine bark and cedar chips can be obtained from garden stores and nurseries, though mulch can sometimes be gathered at home by raking leaves or pine straw to the desired spot.
Gravel can be an eye-catching addition but tends to reflect heat. Also, prices vary widely, depending on the type of rock involved.
The options for patios, walkways, decks and other structures are virtually limitless. These structures offer function as well as appearance, but require more planning than other groundcovers.
Finally, residents of communities with specific landscaping standards, may want to check with the local board that oversees the standards before making dramatic changes, said Doug Caldwell, a Collier County commercial landscape horticulture Extension agent.
Recently enacted state law promotes Florida-Friendly Landscaping, but it doesn’t necessarily support every modification a homeowner might want to make, he said.
“It’s just easier to do things right the first time,” Caldwell said.
Florida-Friendly Landscaping is an approach developed by UF/IFAS experts and collaborators to promote beautiful, affordable and sustainable landscaping on residential, commercial and public properties. To learn more, see http://www.floridayards.org.
Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Wendy Wilber, 352-955-2402, email@example.com
David Shibles, 863-519-8677, ext. 109, firstname.lastname@example.org
Doug Caldwell, 239-353-4244, email@example.com
Perennial peanut, seen here in this undated file photo, is one of many groundcover options available to Florida homeowners. A low-maintenance legume native to South America, perennial peanut sports dark green foliage and bright yellow-orange flowers. Experts with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences recommend that anyone considering new additions to their landscaping follow the “Right Plant, Right Place” principle of Florida-Friendly Landscaping and make sure to choose plants suitable for their needs and growing conditions. UF/IFAS photo.