Groundcovers in Florida are worth the investment, but you need to choose groundcover plants that like Florida and aren’t invasive or climbers (unless you really want vines). You also need to consider your Florida weather, including typical extremely wet seasons and alternate hot, dry conditions.
We’re going to guess you’re considering groundcover because you either want to upgrade your landscaping—groundcovers are currently “in”—or you’ve decided you’ve had enough of the problems, work, and expenses associated with lawns.
Groundcovers in Florida can save money on lawn maintenance, as in there’s less to mow. So, whether you’re doing it yourself or wisely hiring a professional team, it costs less to maintain groundcover.
Replacing lawn with groundcover also saves you on watering costs, fertilizing to prevent that brown look, and gives you some fun. You can experiment with colors, styles, and sizes of groundcover to see what looks best to you. It will be pricey at first, but once the right groundcover is established, you’re going to enjoy a pretty look.
Areas to choose for groundcover are the ones that require additional maintenance or that grass simply doesn’t like. For instance, if you have fences or banks, groundcover can cut back on weed trimming. If the bank is in the front of your home where no one walks, you can go with flowering groundcover that will fill in.
To get the most out of the plants you choose, consider ones that spread and, better yet, reseeds itself. You will still have weed removal to do the first year or two—and you will have to mulch around the groundcover plants you use—but before you know it, that groundcover becomes self-maintaining.
A popular Florida groundcover plant is the beach sunflower (Helianthas debilis), which spreads by reseeding itself and grows to just a couple of inches tall. You get bright green foliage and pretty, yellow flowers. The beach sunflower likes full sun and well-drained soil, which makes it one to consider for banks.
For shady areas, such as under trees, you probably want to think of short groundcover, but you also need to choose plants that prefer shade and/or partial shade. This is not something to disregard. If the nursery says a plant likes full sun, you are foolish to place it in partial sun or shade. It won’t thrive.
With shade in mind, you do need to be careful that you might inadvertently choose a climbing groundcover or vine that will go right up the tree—that can be a nightmare, as you watch the vine choke your tree. Consider the dwarf oyster plant (Tradescantia spathacea). It has attractive purple and green leaves and will grow to a height of around 6 inches. It likes to spread, but you can trim it as needed without harming it. The downside of this attractive plant is that its sap is toxic.
Another pretty, low-growing (1 inch in height) flowering groundcover plant to consider for Florida is the powderpuff mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa). A member of the pea family, it has soft pink “puffy” blooms. This pretty plant likes most soil types, and it is said to be drought-resistant, a real consideration if you travel a lot and can’t water (or just don’t want to!). It spreads easily. According to the University of Florida, just four to five pots can spread up to 300 square feet in a season.
Groundcover is truly an excellent choice. It replaces boring, hard-to-maintain patches of grass. It can give you an easy-care replacement for tall shrubs that are blocking views from your windows (and giving would-be burglars a hiding spot), and it can save you a ton of time on weed removal along fence lines, house borders, trees, and curbside mailboxes. On fence lines, you can choose a ground cover that climbs, if you’re looking for privacy, but bear in mind that, eventually, you could see wire fences begin to sag under the weight of the unforgiving vine.
Groundcover isn’t completely maintenance-free, but good groundcover choices in Florida abound, and many homeowners are upgrading their landscaping with easy-care attractive plants.