August 7, 2012

A Great Alternative to Turf Grass

With an increasing trend toward water conservation throughout the country ( aided by a record-setting nationwide drought), we should take a new look at our need for turf grass in its current application. In so many landscaped areas, I see turf grass in places it should not, cannot, or  never will grow. Researchers come up with new turf varieties that are drought tolerant, new types of grass that are shade tolerant, and new products to tend to the burgeoning array of turf varieties. Yet again and again, I see turf in places where something else would do the job better. The question I have is: why do we HAVE to have grass over every bare area or open spot ?
There are egregiously expensive commercial turf cutting machines that cost as much as a small house, turf fertilizers that contain some VERY interesting ingredients with unusual names, and a truly impressive array of turf chemicals to treat insects, pathogens and soil compaction. If you look at all these factors, a curious person might ask why we have such a passion for something that needs so much care, water, and other resources. 
I know there are great alternatives, and one in particular fits a lot of needs perfectly. Decades ago, university researchers found a neat little groundcover called Perennial Peanut that grows really well in sunny areas with good drainage. Some varieties are especially suited to growing in nearly arid conditions, perfectly suited to parking lots and roadway applications, whereas some varieties grow better in light shade. All varieties of perennial peanut spread quickly, and can be planted as plugs or small potted plants, planted about 1 foot apart. The resulting mat of vegetation grows tightly enough to crowd out weeds, the cheery yellow flowers are a nice bonus to the green foliage, and the plants are tough enough to withstand light foot traffic. To my knowledge, there are few reports of diseases or pests which affect Perennial Peanut.This plant requires very little maintenance, and can even be mowed with a turf mower to maintain a desired height.        

Marketed under the name of 'Eco-Turf', this plant has been around a long time, introduced into Florida in the late 1950s, but fairly widespread since the 1980s. There are several varieties, but usually the variety sold in your particular area is suitable for your conditions. Perennial Peanut can grow in a dozen different US states, so there are options available for gardeners in the Gulf as well as the Eastern seaboard. The plant can be obtained in both sod and plug form, establishing quickly with less water and care than for grass sod. Perennial Peanut also requires far less fertilizer or water than grass sod. Where it is practical, consider planting some of this versatile and different material. I have never heard a complaint of it becoming invasive, or overgrowing the bounds in which it was planted. With the Green Movement in full swing, why not try something that grows with less effort, sweat or money while keeping your garden green....?  

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens


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