One of the questions that has been asked at the Master Gardener help desk is whether or not a lawn substitute called Dichondra is well-suited for the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Being new at managing the help desk, I had to do some research on this ground cover. Today’s blog is information that I discovered in my research, and hopefully, it will help one of my readers make a decision on whether or not Dichondra is right for them.
What is it? Dichondra repens is a warm-season, low-growing (usually 1 – 3 inches in height) perennial ground cover that is often used as a lawn alternative. It is only recommended for USDA Zones 8 – 11. It has nearly round, kidney-shaped leaves that measure 1/2 to 1 ½ inches across and sometimes form a hollow or cup. Dichondra spreads by slender creeping stems that root at the nodes (stolons). It can form a fairly dense carpet of leaves, and looks somewhat like a carpet of lily pads.
What are the benefits of Dichondra:
- Bright green in color and very attractive.
- Does not require mowing (although many people do mow it).
- Does well in full sun to partial shade.
- Tolerates light to moderate foot traffic.
- Tolerates heat.
- Establishes very quickly either from seed or plugs.
- Great for slopes that cannot be mowed.
- Looks nice growing around stepping stones.
Challenges with Dichondra:
- Slugs and snails.
- Flea Beetles, Weevils, Nematodes.
- Not cold tolerant.
- Has a fairly high requirement for Nitrogen.
- Not drought tolerant.
- Needs well-draining soil.
Here are some interesting facts:
- Dichondra is in the Convolvulaceae family (same family that Morning Glory is in).
- It produces a small, rather inconspicuous flower.
- Dichondra is a weed to many people and a lovely groundcover to others. It has several other names such as: Pony Foot, Lawn Leaf, or Kidney Weed.
Care for Dichondra:
- Water deep and infrequently to maintain Dichondra’s deep root system.
- Watering too frequently causes weed invasions or disease activity.
- Mowing regularly to a height of ¾ inch (higher during hot weather to avoid stress) will encourage a small leafed, even Dichondra lawn. Mowing to a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches can be done less frequently, and this will promote a less consistent texture and leaves of varying sizes.
- Fertilize lightly each month during the growing season.
- Hand-pull broad leaf weeds. A pre-emergent can be used to control crab grass and other grasses. Read the label to ensure that the chemical can be used on Dichondra.
- Watch for signs of disease and insect infestation.
- Soil temperature needs to be 70°F for Dichondra seed to germinate.
- Prepare a weed free seedbed that is free of clods, loosened 6 inches deep, and is raked even. This is important because herbicides have very limited use on Dichondra and hand-pulling can be very difficult.
- Broadcast 1 pound of Dichondra seed per 500 square feet and lightly rake the seed in. Cover no more than 1/8 of an inch.
- Water throughout the day to keep the seed moist but not saturated.
- Germination is usually within 7 – 14 days.
So, to answer the question: Is Dichondra recommended for the Willamette Valley? In Taylor’s Guides, Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, it states that Dichondra performs best where it rarely frosts, and in Zone 8 it needs frost protection. The Willamette Valley is Zone 7b or 8a depending on which map is being used. The Master Gardener’s desk does not recommend growing Dichondra here … yet I know a few people who have it thriving in their landscape.
Question for the week: Does Dichondra sound like a good choice for your situation?
By Kimberly Bell