Friday, December 3, 2021

Options for Eco-Friendly Groundcovers

The picture of a perfect lawn is a lush carpet of green turf, but the reality is more like endless cycles of mowing, edging, weeding, watering, heavy feeding with fertilizer and regular pesticide application. However, does it have to be this way?

Sue Oldershaw and Donna Kay of Marco Island and members of the Calusa Garden Club started slowly by removing the grass in small areas of their lawn. They expanded their flower beds reducing grassy areas and planted shrubs and added mulch around them. Over time, the turf was replaced with mulch and Florida friendly groundcovers—creating a natural informal look to their landscape—with minimal use of water and using NO fertilizer or pesticides.

Living on Marco Island, both Sue and Donna are familiar with the water restrictions and the need to protect our waterways from leaching chemicals. Both living with sea walls, they faced the challenge of what groundcovers to use on that 10 feet section that is designated a fertilizer free zone. 

For this article, groundcover simply refers to plants that are low growing and have a spreading habit. All the groundcovers mentioned are salt-tolerant, drought resistant, low maintenance, not prone to insect pests and does well in Marco’s coastal landscape.

Below are five groundcover alternatives that are eco-friendly, functional, as well as adding texture, color and beauty to your landscape.

Sue planted dune sunflowers (Helianthus debilis), a Florida native plant, on the area of her backyard bordering her seawall. They have a natural sprawling habit that aids in erosion control with yellow daisy-like flowers that attract butterflies and birds year-round. However, dune sunflowers tend to grow a bit wild in the summer and will need trimming back. Fun Fact: the flower heads always follow the sun throughout the day.

Photos by Maria Lamb | Asiatic Jasmine Minima—a woody evergreen, hardy and great for mass planting. Also includes a variegated or tricolor variety.

Sue also added a small patch of dwarf Emerald Blanket Carissa to a side yard. Also called the Boxwood Beauty or Natal Plum, it is small, slow-growing with stunning emerald foliage and white slightly fragrant flowers. It is very suitable for xeriscape setting. Fun Fact: It produces an edible fruit called red plum.

Donna Kay, a Master Gardener, has her front yard blanketed with Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), a Florida native. The fern-like foliage covers the area like a thick mat; soft enough to walk on. Its bright pink puffball-like blooms are pollinated by honeybees and it’s also a host for the Little Sulphur butterfly. It also makes its own nitrogen—so no need to fertilize. You can easily intermix it with your existing grass to make them fuller. Donna cautions that they spread quickly to adjacent beds so have a plan to control its spread. Fun Fact: The leaves fold up when touched!

Photos by Maria Lamb

‘Needlepoint or Ecoturf’ Perennial Peanut (Arachis glabrata) has beautiful bright yellow pea-like flowers with light green dense foliage. It makes its own nitrogen, so no need to fertilize. You can walk on it and even mow it every two to three weeks. It can be used as plugs into your existing turf but have a plan to keep the perennial peanut inbound. It has the tendency to travel to adjacent beds and it does look a bit rough during cooler weather. Fun Fact: Edible flowers have a nutty flavor.

Asiatic Jasmine Minima grows where little else would grow such as high shade and moisture-retaining spots. It is an evergreen groundcover that’s woody, hardy with a tangled look. Great for mass planting. Fun Fact: Includes a variegated and tricolor variety.

The plants mentioned are available at the following nurseries: Golden Gate, Driftwood, Native Plant Nursery and Lowes. Call ahead for availability.

Calusa Garden Club members contribute to this monthly column to educate our Marco Island neighbors and to encourage interest in our beautiful landscape, sustainable planting and eco-friendly practices. Calusa Garden Club is a member of the Florida Federation of Garden Club and membership is open to those interested in horticulture, floral design and the environment. For club information, visit or visit the Club’s Facebook page Calusa Garden Club.

3 responses to “Options for Eco-Friendly Groundcovers”

  1. susan neustadt says:

    This is such an informative article. I especially like that I can get these plants locally! More articles such as this are extremely important to inform new homeowners on Marco that fertilizers are not necessary with Florida friendly plants and we need to conserve water and keep our waterways clean.

  2. Sara Straight Wolf says:

    Great article! So educational— we Marco residents are very concerned about our water quality.

  3. Donna Kay says:

    Great article on alternate ground cover here on Marco. We need more articles like this to inform residents about better horticultural practices.

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