“Why didn’t I come to you first?”
That’s a commonly uttered question at our Pasco County Extension office, when homeowners come in with landscape problems.
Usually, this question is preempted by a “put the right plant in the right place” discussion.
This Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM (FFL) principle is simple to grasp, but not obvious until someone puts it in plain English by saying “you didn’t put the right plant in the right place.”
It’s often an “ah ha” moment for folks that’s followed by remorse.
Most landscape woes can be prevented by simply doing a bit of homework to determine if a particular plant will be happy in a particular spot in the yard.
One of the more common issues leading to landscape remorse is the urge to use turfgrasses in shady locations.
We do not have any turfgrasses for Central Florida that are adapted to shade. St. Augustine grass and Bahigrass, the most common in our home lawns, need at least five hours to six hours of full sun daily to thrive; anything less leads to a weak plant. Remember the first principle of FFL – turf in a shady spot is putting the “wrong plant in the wrong place!”
No matter how many times you sod or seed that same area, lack of sunlight will limit vigor and have the same result every single time – remorse.
But, there’s good news – better yet, great news! There are alternatives to turfgrass in shady locations.
Groundcovers are an excellent option for shady spaces.
A groundcover is a low-growing plant used to cover areas where grass can’t grow or isn’t preferred, such as a shady spot.
Groundcovers not only cover bare soil; they also can be beautiful focal points and even provide a more functional use of the landscape, such as redirecting foot traffic.
Groundcovers also serve as practical lawn alternatives with many benefits.
One advantage is the ability to use them in areas where mowing isn’t easy — especially where there are narrow strips of soil along sidewalks, driveways or walls.
Groundcovers also help prevent soil erosion on slopes.
The right groundcover in the right place can lower maintenance costs, reduce weeds, provide color during winter months, and reduce overall landscape maintenance.
There are several considerations to keep in mind when selecting a groundcover, such as: plant type (evergreen, flowering plant, vine, shrub, etc.), growing conditions and maintenance.
Select a plant type that will satisfy your needs and aesthetic desire. Ornamental grasses, vines, flowering plants, and small shrubs all can serve as groundcovers.
Like other plants, sunlight needs for groundcovers can vary.
For example, if you need a low growing, spreading groundcover where there’s plenty of sunlight, select shore juniper or dwarf yaupon holly. These are handy in areas where you need to direct foot traffic.
The beach morning glory and the beach sunflower can provide a nice pop of color in sunny spots and even attract butterflies.
Perennial peanut does great in full sun and provides excellent contrasting colors and textures.
Our native coontie is a nice addition in full sun or shade along with brightly colored daylilies, which produce a nice focal point or dramatic effect in the landscape.
Another plant that does well in partial shade or full sun is the purple queen, which produces small, pink flowers and succulent stems.
In partial shade, choose Mondo grass or Liriope, aloe plants, false heather, or Dwarf Asiatic jasmine. Asiatic jasmine does have a tendency to “creep and leap,” so be prepared to do some frequent maintenance to keep it from overtaking other plants and sidewalks. In dense shade, choose holly fern, cast iron plant, or Algerian ivy for a contrast in texture and color.
Arrangement and spacing will depend on the growth patterns for each of these plants. In general, staggered row plantings will provide the quickest coverage, and a 2-inch to 3-inch layer of mulch will help reduce weeds and will lock in moisture.
Some groundcovers can be planted 2 inches to 3 inches apart, while others need more room, some requiring 3 feet to 4 feet of space between plants, like the native coontie.
Spacing depends on the plant itself, so plan to do a little research to be sure of your desired plant needs prior to purchase.
Water and fertilizer needs also depend on the plant type, so do your homework on that, as well.
You can plant most any of these groundcovers anytime in our area, but do plan to add organic matter to the soil prior to planting, which helps increase water holding capacity and nutrient availability.
You can use compost, peat moss, and even well-rotted manures incorporated into the soil 6 inches to 12 inches deep.
Once established, most groundcovers will be low-maintenance, long-term, grief-free additions to your landscape.
For more information about ground covers, call the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Pasco Extension Office at (352) 518-0156.
By Whitney C. Elmore
Whitney C. Elmore is the UF/IFAS Pasco County Extension director and Urban Horticulture agent.
Published November 18, 2015