The perennial peanut as a turf alternative groundcover
By Ralph E. Mitchell
Why would anyone want to plant peanuts in their landscape? I’m not recommending that you plant regular peanuts as a landscape groundcover alternative to turf, but rather perennial peanuts which feature butter-yellow blossoms and bright green leaves. While perennial peanuts have historically been used as a forage crop and hay, they are now well-adapted for landscape plantings in place of turf areas. Perennial peanuts are drought and salt tolerant, require minimal fertilizer and can be walked on to some degree. Perennial peanuts work well in urban areas such as may be found with road medians, berms and canal banks. The perennial peanut has been in Florida since1936. Do they have a place in your yard?
The word “perennial” is key when we talk about perennial peanuts. As such, “perennial” means that they last year-after-year and spread. No nuts are produced as are found in the famous annual peanut. The perennial peanut produces rhizomes and roots that help it survive during dry periods – perfect for our area! As it is a legume and has an association with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, fertilizer needs are low. It can be established with potted plants, rhizome pieces or as sod pieces. While winter is the best time to begin a planting, preparation is best started months before. A weed-free planting bed is a must to start.
Perennial peanuts are well-adapted to our relatively poor, sandy soils and can in fact fix nitrogen from the air in association with specialized bacteria. Best in full sun, cultivars such as ‘Ecoturf’ and ‘Arblick’ are low-growing and flower freely. Available potted, as cut sod or in rolled mats, perennial peanuts are best established with some initial irrigation. Plant container grown plants about eighteen inches apart. Sod strips of no smaller than ten inches wide spaced twelve to eighteen inches apart can also be used. Plugs cut from sod into squares can be planted up to eighteen inches from center to center in a staggered pattern. As nitrogen (N) is obtained from associated bacteria, this nutrient does not need to be supplemented. Phosphorus (P) is also already present in the soil in sufficient quantities. Fertilizer containing potassium (K) and magnesium-sulfate can be applied as per label instructions. Edging will help keep this rhizome (underground stem) producing plant within bounds. Mowing is not necessary, but will keep the planting looking neat, and encourage a thick and flower-filled groundcover. Mowing at four inches once a month will also help with weed control.
Perennial peanuts, square foot to square foot, are more expensive to establish than St. Augustine. However, as far as perennial peanuts being a good choice as an alternative groundcover (even a turf substitute) one study suggests that within four maintenance categories including fertilization, water, mowing and pesticides, perennial peanuts cost less per year than St. Augustine grass with lower mowing costs being the most significant reduced cost. Check local garden centers and sod farms for perennial peanut planting material. If you have any gardening questions, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Paul Schumaker
Rouse, R. E., Miavitz, E. M. & Roka, F. M. (2019) Guide to Using Rhizomal Perennial Peanut in the Urban Landscape. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.