The Use of Alternative Groundcovers: Part 2

As a follow up to the previous article on alternative groundcovers, this entry will explore the costs associated with establishing and maintaining bahiagrass and perennial peanut lawns as alternatives to St. Augustinegrass.
Generally, the cost of establishing a lawn will increase if the vendor furnishes delivery and labor. To avoid these costs, the homeowner can pick up each pallet from the vendor and lay the sod at her or her home. This will require the use of a pickup truck as a pallet will typically contain 400-500 ft2 of sod or approximately 150-180 pieces. For many homeowners, the only practical option is to have the sod delivered and laid by the vendor. In addition, any existing vegetation in the area where the sod is to be laid should be removed. This can be accomplished by spraying all vegetation with Roundup. It may not be possible to destroy all existing vegetation, but as much as possible should be removed to ensure that the muck-side of the sod is touching the soil. In addition, any irrigation lines should be in place prior to laying the sod.
The following table represents cost estimates for each groundcover:

 Total Costs (including delivery and laying sod) per square foot
St. Augustinegrass45¢
Perennial Peanut$1.25

Bahiagrass is the cheapest sod and requires no watering, even in the dry season, if planted on a level surface. Perennial peanut requires little to no watering (except in periods of severe drought). By contrast, St. Augustinegrass requires approximately 20,000 gallons per 1000 ft2. This equates to approximately $15 per year for each 1000 ft2 of St. Augustinegrass. Therefore, the cost savings of Bahiagrass is approximately $165 per 1000 ft2 relative to St. Augustinegrass (planting and watering). Sodding perrenial peanut costs approximately $800 more per 1000 ft2 compared to St. Augustinegrass. Mowing costs for bahiagrass and St. Augustinegrass are relatively similar. By contrast, perennial peanut requires virtually no mowing. Depending upon the size of the lawn and cost of the lawnmower and/or landscaping fees, the higher establishment costs of perennial peanut may be well worth it in the long run.
Unfortunately, we were unable to locate any nurseries in West Boca that sell perennial peanut or bahiagrass. There are a number of companies in the Delray area that can special order bahiagrass at a rate that is markedly lower than St. Augustinegrass. For those not in need of an “instant lawn,” bahiagrass seed can be purchased at Home Depot or Lowes. The price is $66.98 for 10 lbs. of seed, which will cover 1,000 ft2 of new coverage or 2,000 ft2 of over seeded coverage. As discussed in the previous article, this is the cheapest way to establish bahiagrass and may be the best option for homeowners that can wait for the new lawn to grow in. The use of bahiagrass seed is another advantage over St. Augustinegrass, which can only be established with sod.
For additional information on lawns and lawn care, contact the Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension office at (561) 233-1700.

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.

West Boca Library Offers Help with Taxes

taxesThe West Boca Public Library is offering fee tax preparation assistance. AARP volunteers will be available on April 1, 5, 8 and 12 at 10 a.m. Bring your ID, current income information and last year’s return. Walk ins are accepted but appointments are preferred. For more information, call 561-470-1600

Removing a stuck light bulb from a high ceiling high hat fixture

Today we encountered a problem that’s somewhat common to West Boca residents (and others in Florida and beyond) who have high ceilings. It can be a hassle to remove light bulbs from way up there. And it’s worse when a bulb is stuck and doesn’t want to come out. So here’s the first (and perhaps last) how-to video from West Boca News.

FYI, here’s a telescoping light bulb changer at Walmart.