In Lieu of Sod
The city prides itself on the fact that its tree canopy stands out when you cross municipal boundaries; it’s even in our “Green Plan” goals to reach 40 percent tree canopy by 2020. (We are at around 30 percent now.) Accordingly, we often receive questions about growing grass under canopy trees, which can be difficult. So what can be planted as an alternative to sod beneath the tree canopy?
First, let’s talk about the grass itself. If you’re from South Florida, all the sod you’ve really ever known is the species Stenotaphrum secundatum, more commonly referred to as St. Augustine grass. If you hail from elsewhere, you’re probably appalled by the roughness of St. Augustine grass and long for the softer grass you might find on a golf course. There is a reason most homes in South Florida use St. Augustine; it can take the heat. But it doesn’t do well with shade. Too much shade is fatal, allowing other plants or weeds to take over.
Knowing that you’re fighting an uphill battle keeping your grass beautiful under canopy trees, let’s take a look at alternatives.
• Mulch. Although there’s a limit to the amount you can use instead of plants, mulch may be placed in those areas that simply cannot sustain enough nutrients or sunlight to effectively grow plant material, such as in a larger ring at the base of the tree. Check with the city if you are unclear on how much mulch you can use.
• Shrubs. Any shade-loving shrub would love to hang out under your canopy trees. Go a step further and make the plant material a pollinator shrub and get double duty out of your space. Want to do even more? Make it a native, drought-tolerant plant.
• Ground covers. If you don’t want a shrub that might get too big, and you prefer the look of grass because it’s low to the ground, choose a shade-loving ground cover that can take the place of sod. These can take partial shade to full shade: mondo grass, peperomia, coontie, artillery plant and leatherleaf fern. These can take partial sun to partial shade: perennial peanut, blue daze, Confederate jasmine, golden creeper and baby sunrose.
Why not create a beautiful and varied garden in your shaded area? Pick a few shrubs and ground covers and be the envy of your neighborhood. And don’t forget, sod generally requires more water and maintenance than most of the plants noted above. By switching, you’ll conserve water and help both the planet and your wallet. For more information, visit sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn_and_garden.