Many ground covers are suitable for residential yards

by Norman Pineault, Master Gardener

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Many homeowners, including me, have problems growing an attractive lawn. In my case, the problem is a very shady yard where grass doesn't get the optimum six to eight hours a day it needs to grow well.

One solution to this problem may be to replace the grass with a ground cover. In addition to the problem with shade or the lack of adequate sunshine, there are other reasons for a reduction in the amount of turf in your yard. These include lower maintenance, decreased water use and the beneficial effects on the environment by reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

"Ground covers" are defined as "low plants or shrubbery planted for ornament or to enrich the soil and prevent the topsoil from eroding or blowing away," according to the World Book dictionary. This definition includes grasses, as well as many other plants, but for our purposes we're talking about ground covers as low growing plants such as ivy and ferns, as a substitute for grass.

Site conditions should determine what groundcovers are appropriate for your specific use. The University of Florida Extension Service emphasizes "Right Plant, Right Place." This essentially means putting plants where they grow best and not necessarily where we think they might look good. As I found out, this one simple bit of advice can save a lot of time, money and frustration.

Groundcover

Provided by Norman Pineault
The entrance of Golfside South (Summer Beach) on Amelia Parkway features groundcover instead of turf.

The amount of sun is only one consideration in choosing the appropriate plant. Other key factors are: the hardiness zone your property falls in. For example, if you live to the west of Nassau County, your zone is 8b and it's 9a on the east side. The country is divided into "Plant Hardiness Zones," one through 11. The lower the number, the fewer "heat days" and the colder the temperature gets. The higher the number, the warmer or more temperate climate.

Other factors include soil composition (pH), mature size and other characteristics such as leaves or flower color. Be careful to avoid aggressive or invasive plants.

Some examples of ground covers suitable for Northeast Florida are:

Confederate Jasmine which does well in full sun has white fragrant flowers in the spring, grows fast and somewhat aggressively and attracts hummingbirds.

Perennial peanut likes full sun, produces yellow and orange flowers in summer and fall, spreads underground, has no pest problems, withstands some foot traffic, but it can be damaged by frost.

Cast Iron plants like partial shade, tolerate full shade, grow slowly and have no pest problems.

Vinca major prefers partial shade, has blue and lavender flowers in summer, medium to fast growth, good for small, shaded areas, but it does not tolerate hot, dry conditions.

Autumn fern will grow in partial shade, prefers full shade, grows slowly, only certain species are suitable for our area and can be used as cut foliage.

Algerian Ivy is a rich ground cover in full shade, grows fast so watch for aggressive spread, but it has no pest problems.

If you need more information on these plants look them up at www.floridayards.org. This site includes photos of some of the plants. For additional information on plants, check out hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/.

If you have any questions about your particular site conditions including soil pH levels, call the Nassau County Extension Service at the Yulee office (904) 530-6350 or at the Callahan office (904) 530-6353.

In summary, a good way to solve your turf problems, decrease landscape maintenance costs and be more environmentally friendly, is with the use of easy-growing groundcover plants. Remember "Right Plant, Right Place" as it will save you a lot of trouble. You're happy, the plants are happy and the environment is happy — everybody wins.

 

 

 

Beverly Stormoen

Norm Pineault lives on Amelia Island and is an active Master Gardener volunteer.