If the dry weather has taken a toll on your lawn, there are alternatives; turfgrasses are not the only plants that can cover bare ground. The term ground cover refers to any plant that grows low to the ground and can be used in areas where grass will not grow or is not wanted.
One of the tenets of a Florida friendly landscape or water conscious landscape is to reduce turf areas. Groundcover beds, with the right plant can be very drought tolerant. Groundcovers offer other solutions in the landscape; some grow in shade, others in bright, hot sun. They stabilize slopes to prevent erosion and fill areas where mowing would be difficult.
Choose a groundcover like you would any other plant, base the decision on site conditions. Site evaluation includes light intensity, drainage, soil, and irrigation availability. Select plants that match your site conditions. And like other plants in the landscape, ground covers will require proper fertilizing, watering, and weed control to maintain their attractiveness. Newly planted areas will need special attention until they are well established.
Groundcovers are not perfect. Besides being less tolerant of foot traffic than grass, they need to be pruned occasionally to keep them in bounds. Some also send out suckers that can migrate to other areas. During establishment, which can take up to a year, weeds can be a problem.
Weed control in groundcover beds can be somewhat difficult. The combination of mulching and hand-weeding is most effective and will usually control weeds until the ground cover has become established. Once a planting has grown in, the plants compete very well with undesirable plants. There are pre-emergence herbicides that will suppress weeds in beds, just be sure to read and follow the label instructions to insure compatibility with the desired plants.
Here are few of my favorite plants for use as groundcovers along the Treasure Coast: Carissa macrocarpa or Dwarf carissa – select dwarf cultivars and plant in full sun, Cyrtomium falcatum or Holly fern – a great low growing fern for shade locations, Helianthus debilis or Beach sunflower – good for coastal gardens, it binds sand and is salt tolerant, Ophiopogon japonicus or Mondo grass – a lily that resembles a dwarf clump of grass, it has some wear tolerance but must be planted in at least some shade and Zamia floridana or Coontie – a drought tolerant Florida native for sun and part shade, resembles a fern and is the home to the Florida Atala butterfly.
All in all, groundcovers offer a good alternative to turf that can reduce resource inputs from the amount of water and fertilizer required for maintenance to the amount of time spent mowing. Take stock of your lawn and picture a groundcover bed in those locations that are failing to thrive. Make a plan to replace those areas with a groundcover once the rains have returned.