By Carla McMahon
Native gardening is a hot topic in Florida. Not only do native plants provide food and shelter for wildlife, but they are also naturally suited for the warm climate and sandy soils which means they require less irrigation and fertilizer. This is especially important for the Indian River Lagoon. Nutrient rich runoff contributes to the toxic algae blooms that have been threatening the health of the estuary for years. If you have a yard, you can be part of the solution by starting with something as simple as your lawn.
Traditional lawns are known as “turf grass” which can encompass a variety of species. The unfortunate commonality among turf grasses is they require a good deal of fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. The excess chemicals not used by the grass or other plants wind up in local wetlands and waterbodies when nutrients run off the landscape after a storm. You don’t have to settle for the traditional green carpet though. There are a number of native ground covers that are lower maintenance, environmentally friendly, and even more attractive.
One such native is Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa). Also known as Powderpuff, this low-growing native ground cover is increasingly being used to replace lawns in Florida. The foliage is bright green fern-like leaves that are sensitive and fold up when touched. In spring, summer, and fall it blooms continuously with beautiful pink flowers that resemble powderpuffs.
As a ground cover, it is as delightful as its name, as a lawn replacement, it’s a brilliant strategy. Sunshine Mimosa spreads very quickly. Just four or five pots can cover up to 300 square feet in a single season. It’s not aggressive so it can be phased in with turf grass and other plants without causing havoc.
It is also not susceptible to disease or major insect issues. Best of all, it develops a deep root system that makes it drought tolerant and mowable.
Sunshine Mimosa may be planted in full sun or partial shade. Once you purchase and plant a few containers, new plants can be started from cuttings. New plantings require some watering to get established and after that, your new ground cover should take off on its own.
You can do your part by reducing water consumption and your impact on the ground water by limiting your fertilizing. Check out Sunshine Mimosa and bring a little native fun to your lawn.
Carla McMahon is a Vero Beach resident with a passion for Florida gardening. She volunteers at McKee Botanical Gardens, is a member of Florida Native Plant Society, holds an AS in Horticulture from IRSC and is currently studying to be a Master Gardener with the Indian River County Extension Office. When she doesn’t have her hands in the sandy soil she can be found paddleboarding in local waters.
Learn more about the Florida Native Plant Society at www.fnps.org.