The Use of Alternative Groundcovers

Alternative groundcovers may provide a sustainable and cost-effective method of promoting water conservation. Presently, the most common groundcover in south Florida’s urban and residential areas is St. Augustinegrass (Stenotaphrum secundatum). St. Augustinegrass (yes it can be written that way) requires regular irrigation (either rain or watering).

Update: Part 2 of our series on alternatives to regular grass is now available: Alternative groundcovers in South Florida – Part 2.

Since many residential communities can only water with municipally treated water, the use of a drought-tolerant groundcover is imperative. This concern is especially pronounced in West Boca because most of the soil consists of well-drained sands with minimal moisture retention. For a St. Augustine lawn, this generally requires at least two irrigation events (either watering the lawn or rain) per week. To prevent drought, each irrigation event should provide at least 1/3 inch of coverage.
Generally, watering is not required during the rainy season (May-October). During the dry season (November-April), it often necessary to water a St. Augustine lawn. Failure to do so can result in drought, leading to unhealthy and unsightly leaf tissue as well as susceptibility to weed infestation. Bear in mind that each lawn has different requirements, so it may be worth reaching out to a company like trugreen california if you want the best advice on how to take of your lawn at home, or how to resurrect it if it has gone brown.

St. Augustinegrass Lawn
St. Augustinegrass Lawn

It would appear that expensive and environmentally costly watering is inevitable considering the limited access to irrigation from impoundments and reclaimed water resources. However, there are several alternative groundcovers available that require less watering.
Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) is a common subtropical groundcover that is often utilized in pastureland. If it is planted on a level surface, it does not require any watering. Bahiagrass can be propagated by seed or with sod. Seed propagation is relatively cheap, but germination can take time, which may be unacceptable to the homeowner. If so, sod propagation may be preferable as it can provide an “instant lawn,” albeit at a higher cost.
Bahiagrass can be easily identified in the landscape by the characteristic V-shaped inflorescence (see below). Despite its common use in agriculture, bahiagrass is rarely utilized in residential or urban settings. One disadvantage of bahiagrass is lower tolerance to alkaline soils (this becomes a greater concern nearer the coast). Also, bahiagrass has tall seed stems, which can be unsightly and require frequent mowing.
By most standards, Bashiagrass is aesthetically desirable if mowed regularly and only becomes unsightly if allowed to grow too long. By contrast, St. Augustinegrass does not appear unsightly, even at high length. Another disadvantage of bahiagrass is the tough seed stems, which can wear out mower blades, but with the likes of these Reel Rollers where they don’t overcharge silly prices for their different mower components for repair, plus their length of life makes them the suitable mower for extended grass mowing use. Despite a few shortcomings, bahiagrass is an attractive and viable alternative to St. Augustinegrass.
Bahiagrass Lawn
Bahiagrass Lawn

Bahiagrass Infloresence
The “V-shaped” bahiagrass inflorescence

Another alternative is perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata). Perennial peanut requires virtually no mowing at all, which sets it apart from other groundcovers. Perennial peanut requires far less irrigation than St. Augustinegrass, but some watering may be required during the dry season. Establishment is labor intensive and it is more expensive relative to St. Augustinegrass. However, there is a general consensus that perennial peanut is cost-effective as the establishment costs will be quickly offset by less watering and mowing. Perennial peanut also produces yellow blooms throughout the summer, which many find aesthetically pleasing. However, the blooms will not provide visual uniformity with other lawns.
Perennial Peanut Lawn

It should be noted that drought-tolerant plants are exactly as their name describes: tolerant of drought. In other words, these plants can grow and survive with very little water input. All plants grow better if irrigated regularly, and no plant prefers xeric conditions. Even plants that are famous for drought tolerance (e.g. desert rose) grow better if irrigated regularly.
Some homeowner associations require St. Augustinegrass, as uniformity within the neighborhood is considered aesthetically desirable. However, many of these HOA’s may be unaware of alternatives. The same could be said of homeowners. Anyone interested in establishing an alternative groundcover can call local nurseries and inquire whether they stock bahiagrass or perennial peanut. As water scarcity becomes a growing concern, stakeholders will hopefully explore alternative groundcovers.

Author: Warren Redlich

Warren Redlich is a real estate agent and an attorney. He focuses on selling homes in West Boca Raton. Call or text Warren at 561-536-3645. Warren is also a tech YouTuber covering Tesla, SpaceX and more. His YouTube channel is and he sells Elon Musk related t-shirts and other merchadise at Warren also publishes videos about politics at