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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - April 19, 2009

From: Panama City, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Groundcover or grass for Panama City, Florida
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants I live in Panama City Florida and am having great difficulty growing a lawn. I would prefer no lawn as grass, it seems a pointless use of resources but my husband requires green. I refuse to put more zoysia, augustine, centipede down as our soil is surrounded with overhead oak trees, composed mostly of quartz and is continually registering 7 to 8 on the Ph scale (we live very near the gulf of Mexico). I use organic humus and peat moss for the majority of my amendments but for the most part - I pick native plants. Please help in suggesting some type of grassy ground covering that will not only survive but indeed add to this harsh environment.

ANSWER:

First of all, Mr. Smarty Plants commends you for getting rid of the water-hungry non-native grasses!  Here are a couple of native grasses that don't grow too high and would be attractive groundcovers.  Also, there are a couple of shrubs and small herbaceous plants that are good groundcovers.  Perhaps you could combine the grasses with the low shrubs and herbaceous plants and create a very interesting yard.

GRASS:

Eragrostis elliottii (Elliot's love grass) grows in clumps 6 to 18 inches tall and is relatively drought tolerant.

Eragrostis spectabilis (purple lovegrass) grows 8 to 18 inches high and is reasonably tolerant of drought and flooding. Here is more information and photos.

SMALL SHRUBS:

Licania michauxii (gopher apple) is a low-growing (about 1 foot) shrub that is tolerant of poor soils, drought and salt.  Here is more information and more photos.

Mitchella repens (partridgeberry) is also a low-growing shrub (less than 1 foot) and makes a great groundcover. However, it does like acid soils (pH<6.8) so it would take considerable supplement to grow in your soil.  Here are more photos.

HERBACEOUS PLANTS:

Phyla nodiflora (turkey tangle fogfruit) is 3-6 inches tall and, although not grasslike, it is evergreen, tolerates drought and flooding, and will grow in limestone and caliche soils with high pH.

Sesuvium portulacastrum (shoreline seapurslane) is not a grass but it will grow in alkaline and acid soils and is drought tolerant.  Here are more photos and more information.


Eragrostis spectabilis

Mitchella repens

Phyla nodiflora

Sesuvium portulacastrum

 

 

 

 

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