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Wedelia puts the lawn on a budget

This hardy groundcover with the saucy yellow flowers trims the expenses traditional lawns demand.

By John A. Starnes Jr. Special to the Times
Published May 26, 2007


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Conventional thirsty lawns like those with St. Augustine grass are increasingly obsolete because they are wasteful. They consume huge amounts of money, time, pesticides and water, and during their brief periods of "perfection" they are marred by insects, fungi and weeds.

Yet we all want our yards to look green, lush and inviting. What's wrong with this picture?

Enter the almost perfect ground cover wedelia.

Native to South America, Wedelia trilobata can be a great, undemanding lawn substitute. Its dense, ground-hugging growth readily chokes out most weeds, and the yellow daisies it bears throughout the year are charming.

We've all seen beds of it in parks, municipal landscapes and home flowerbeds. Some gardeners allow it to grow to a height of a foot or so. Others set their lawn mowers to "high" and mow the wedelia three or four times a year to increase uniformity and density.

While wedelia loves damp soil and is used for erosion control along lakes and retention ponds, it thrives as a lawn substitute, requiring only a fraction of the water and fertilizer needed by St. Augustine grass. I've seen beautiful curbside plantings of wedelia in St. Petersburg doing very well indeed in dappled shade, yet here in Tampa it looks stunning in full sun with no irrigation at the entrance to Picnic Island Beach.

Wedelia's one flaw is that it can spread into wild areas and is, therefore, listed as a Category II Invader. This means it is best to grow a wedelia lawn where it cannot creep into a neighboring forest or wetland. But before you become outraged at the notion of planting a non-native, remember: St. Augustine grass is native to South America and can also become an invasive plant.

Wedelia does not produce underground stolons, and its seed production seems very minimal, so just confine it with the edgings, driveways and sidewalks that normally define lawn areas.

You can convert a grass lawn to wedelia two ways. One way is to wipe out your existing lawn with herbicides such as Roundup. Or suffocate the grass by covering it with overlapping flattened cardboard boxes smothered with six inches of free mulch made of tree trimmings. A few months later, plant lots and lots of baby wedelia plants grown in one-gallon pots.

But I am a lazy gardener, and I prefer to just make a deep cut into the lawn with a shovel, slip in an eight-inch wedelia cutting, walk three feet and do it again until the entire lawn area is sprigged with cuttings spaced three feet apart. Water deeply each week for a month to get them rooted, then cut back to twice a month to stress the lawn grass as the wedelia takes over.

Over a period of a year or two, the wedelia will win this "war" as the grass languishes from the lack of water and fertilizer and is smothered by this lush and lovely groundcover, attractive to both humans and butterflies. You will have to mow less and less often as the wedelia predominates over the grass.

Wedelia can be the perfect substitute for the thirsty lawns that make less and less sense these days.

Florida is at a crossroads. A booming human population, with nature and water resources in full retreat, forces us to rethink what is "normal" and desirable as severe water restrictions become a fact of life. Say goodbye to thirsty lawns and say hello to groundcovers like the so-not-weedy wedelia.

John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for Florida. He can be reached at johnastarnes@msn.com.

Winning wedelia

Scientific name: Wedelia trilobata.

Common names: Wedelia, yellow dots, rabbit's paw, trailing daisy, creeping ox-eye.

The details: Native to northern South America and the West Indies. Dark-green leaves, daisylike yellow flowers year-round. It spreads rapidly as a ground cover and also does well in hanging baskets.

What it likes: Full sun or partial shade. Thrives in moist, but not soggy, areas as well as dry areas with poor soil. Fairly salt resistant.

Good to know: In some cultures wedelia is used to treat hepatitis and infections and to clear the placenta after birth.

The last word: "It would be hard to find another ground cover better suited to hot, dry conditions than wedelia." - University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services.

Sources: University of Florida, tropilab.com, turfscience.com, magnoliagardensnursery.com, greenpatio.com

 

[Last modified May 25, 2007, 13:11:37]


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