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Monday, August 22, 2011

Garden Design Round Table: Sunshine Mimosa, a Lawn Alternative for Florida

Sunshine mimosa makes a great groundcover.
Florida native, sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), which is a legume and vining groundcover, makes a great lawn alternative. While it does take a while to get it started, it will grow in lousy soil and stays low enough so it can be mowed several times per year to keep the other plants cut back while it's growing in. After it's established an annual mowing is all that is needed.

Mimosa takes moderate foot traffic and it lives up to its other common name, the sensitive plant, because the leaves fold up when touched.

Members of the bean family, the legumes, have the ability to work with Rhizobium bateria in their roots to capture nitrogren from the air and turn it into useable fertilizer for the plants. In soil where other legumes such as clover the bacteria will already be in the soil, but if you plant it on a sterile subsoil, it will take several months to a year before nitrogen-fixing root nodules will form.

This mimosa plant is starting to spread. You can let it go
it's own way or you can trim back the runners and root
them to make new plants. 

It's best to start sunshine mimosa with plants spaced out over the area where you want to populate. You can also start mimosa with seeds, but they take a long time to sprout and to become established as I related when I wrote about a meadow project in St. Augustine, FL.

"To increase the germination rate, the volunteers covered part of the meadow with black plastic for six weeks before sowing the seeds to kill off the competition. Now they have a good stand of this wonderful native groundcover..." where it plays well with other Florida natives.

Mimosa in a meadow with scarlet sage & tickseed coreopsis.


This meadow is mowed once a year and receives no fertilization or irrigation above the normal 50" annual rainfall.

See more details on this meadow see my article onThe Lawn Reform Coalition: A St. Augustine Meadow Project.

The Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN) provides a list of their members who carry sunshine mimosa.

University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (IFAS) article: Native Wildflowers: Mimosa strigillosa
The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants provides the native range and additional photos for Mimosa strigillosa

A lovely, easy-to-grow groundcover. Don't you want some?
This post on a lawn alternative is part of a blog roundtable hosted by Garden Designers Roundtable and The Lawn Reform Coalition. Read about other lawn alternatives and ideas posted in blogs across the Internet today:

Susan Harris : Garden Rant and Gardener Susan’s Blog : Takoma Park, MD
Billy Goodnick : Cool Green Gardens : Santa Barbara, CA
Evelyn Hadden : Lawn Reform.Org : Saint Paul, MN
Saxon Holt : Gardening Gone Wild : Novato, CA
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA
Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT
Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden, Life, Home : Atlanta, GA


Sunshine Mimosa for the Sunshine State!
Ginny Stibolt

38 comments:

  1. It's lovely.
    Unfortunately, our HOA would never allow something so beautiful. They require the high-maintenance and thirsty
    St. Augustine.

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  2. The Florida Friendly Law means that no one or no organization can prevent you from maintaining a Florida-friendly landscape. See my interview with one of the directors here: http://fnpsblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/everything-you-need-to-know-about.html

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  3. I live in a rental house with a sloping, sandy, weed infested front yard. When it rains, the sand all ends up in the street but didn't want to invest a ton of money into redoing the yard. So last year I discovered Sunshine Mimosa at the USF plant sale and brought three home to try. I planted them in a small corner to see how they would do in the desolate conditions...to my surprise they have spread to over 1/4 of the yard within the year and still going! So easy, I never have to water and just a high buzz with the lawn more neatens everything up in a jiffy. I'm anxiously awaiting the fall plant sale at USF so I can load up on more and finish off my "lawn"!

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  4. What a great plant. I love learning about this. With 50 inches of rain a year (!) I would think you guys in FL would really need something that stays low and does not grow to become a jungle ...

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  5. Daisy our HOA is not happy with us but there is nothing they can do. We have mostly Sunshine Mimosa in our front yard. Our HOA is currently testing the waters with us and another family in our subdivision, but it's about educating them as well because the board has not been exposed much to ideas such as this. We have to be their educators.

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  6. My neighbor and I have joined together to form a lawn free example for our neighborhood. It has helped that there are two of us...

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  7. What a lovely groundcover for your region, and it's heartening to hear your commenters' success stories with it. Plus, just think of the environmental benefits: less mower pollution and no chemicals washing off into the local creeks and rivers.

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  8. Thanks for your comments and please pass the word on mimosa and other lawn alternatives. There are some great examples for lawnless and less lawn landscapes on the other 17 blogs.

    Sunshine Mimosa for The Sunshine State!

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  9. Thanks for such a through introduction to a perfect lawn alternative for *your* region. Tuning in to the realities of your garden location are key!

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  10. Stand up to the HOA's! Ginny is correct!

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  11. Also - the Creeping Mimosa makes a wonderful 'Green Roof' Lawn too! See photos of the plant on the Green Roof here - http://kevinsonger.blogspot.com/2011/08/august-23-2011-green-roof-biodiversity.html

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  12. I've never even seen this ground cover - thanks for showing me something new!

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  13. Has anyone tried it in northwest Florida? I see on Florida Vascular Plants that it hasn't been documented west of Leon County.

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  14. Ginny, You gotta love a groundcover that can thrive in poor soil conditions! So many homeowners try every year to grow grass in soil that simply won't grow much more than weeds. It's wonderful to see an attractive, natibe lawn alternative for Florida homeowners.

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  15. Thanks for the encouragement, everyone. We know about the FL-Friendly laws. We don't have the means to fight the HOA. They are totally outta control here...

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  16. A wonderfully thorough post, Ginny. Exactly the kind of information needed to make an informed decisions about culturally appropriate lawn alternatives.

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  17. Great post and wonderful comments as well, bravo, everyone. All you folks in the HOAs, we're about to the point where we need a 12-step program for these HOA boards. FNPS and FANN are inundated with calls from homeowners in these developments, wanting to do the right thing but running up against a desire for conformity that has gone overboard and prevents improvements that benefit all of us. It's one thing to have standard design, another to preclude plants that can work in that design. SB 2080 was a move in the right direction but more work is needed.

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  18. For the name alone I want Sunshine Mimosa.

    Went lawless almost 2 decades ago....

    XO Tara

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  19. Hi Tara, USDA lists this Mimosa in Georgia, but not sure if it would be happy all the way to in your neck of the woods, but it's worth a shot... http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=MIST2

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  20. Great post!

    I took out my lawn, front and back, here in Austin, TX. We went a little unusual with an entirely mulch front yard! You can see how lovely it is here:

    http://www.wabi-sabihomeandgarden.com/

    I get people stopping by all the time to ask me about it.

    Thanks for forwarding the cause!

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  21. I did read the interview you suggested, Ginny. Lots of good information. From my understanding, the law is too vague. It states that HOA's cannot forbid FL-friendly practices, but yet they can designate these things to the backyard. Maybe it's just the way I'm reading it, but our HOA has no problem taking folks to court over ridiculous things, so I'm in no position to challenge them. It's so sad...

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  22. I'm sorry Daisy.
    Maybe someone with some feeling for Mother Nature will infiltrate the HOA board and "things" might change in the future. Contact the FNPS chapter near you, maybe there's someone there who can help.

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  23. Having lived in central & southeast Florida for over 32 years, I can personally attest to the fact that some HOA's are ridiculously restrictive & controlling. That is why they are referred to by many as "condo-commandos" (even when not in a condo situation). Some will enforce the most minute unimportant things, while overlooking the most obvious & important things. What hurts me most is to see so many towns & communities (both public & private, including my own, that claim to be "green", yet they continue to landscape medians & roadsides with water-thirsty sod along with other plantings which require extra water & maintainance - including pollution-producing mowing. Unfortunately, some of the "Native Florida" yards I've seen look unkempt & messy, and are viewed to be the choice of only "lazy" homeowners. If plants are chosen carefully, and not overplanted, native Florida style yards can look beautiful without looking like a neglected, wild, or abandoned property. Kudos to all who do a great job balancing the demands of HOA's with Florida friendly landscaping designs. And in particular, I am thrilled when I see cities & towns making the right choices too!

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  24. Thanks for your input! I completely agree - native landscapes can be both "Florida-friendly" AND attractive, and never look like someone has neglected to take care of them. Because many gardeners who have learned to embrace natives only do so one plant at a time, as a trial-and-error sort of thing, the end product is usually not as "put together" as most HOAs would like.

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  25. We just bought our first sunshine mimosa plants, in Cape Coral, at the native plant sale this past weekend. I've started them on the slope in our backyard...after digging up the grass in that area. We plan to include more sunshine mimosa and eliminate all of our grass. It's good to see so many people interested in Florida friendly landscapes! We bought our house two years ago and our yard is a lovely work in progress. We certainly appreciate the help and information provided by the members of The Native Plant Society!

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  26. I have St. Augustine and there are a few spots in the yard with the mimosa plant. It is tough to kill. It spreads quickly and the root is very dense and hard. As someone suggest, it would make a great ground cover in sloped areas where erosion is a problem, however, if you want to maintain a St. Augustine grass yard, do not use! A small cut sprig will create multiple new plants in the yard. I've been fighting this plant since we moved into our house 3 years ago. Be careful of it!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment! You are correct - this is one of the plants that does not play well with others - I would not plant it in a head-to-head match with St. Augustine grass. It is best in a contained area, where it won't take over adjacent plants. I have found that it does die back in the winter, but its underground roots continue to thrive and fix nitrogen straight through New Year's and Valentine's Day.

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  27. I mulched my entire back yard and added many native and drought tolerant shrubs. I planted a sunshine mimosa in the mulch and it is spreading quickly. I'm wondering if it will strangle my other plants in time. I hope not. Should I be concerned?

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  28. Jeanne,
    The mimosa will compete with turf grass and other groundcovers, but it should be fine with the shrubs and bunching tall grasses like Muhly grass. It is unlikely to climb its taller neighbors.
    Congratulations for transforming your yard to a native plant oasis.

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  29. Maybe gardeners in Dallas could use frogfruit in the same way. It has such a tiny, pretty flower blooming right now and bees love it.
    Dallas Garden Buzz

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  30. MOST OF MY YARD IS SUNSHINE MIMOSE, AND I HAVE STARTED A PORTION WITH FROGFRUIT--WILL C HOW THAT GOES. THE MMIMOSA IS BEAUTIFUL.

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    Replies
    1. Glad to hear it, Inez. Good luck with your frogfruit!

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  31. http://www.yohyoh.com/gardendesign

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  32. Sunshine and the pond making it more beautiful.
    Nature's Beauty preserves and frames flowers to create wonderful unique combination.

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  33. Where can I buy some for ground cover I want to cover about a fourth of an acre. Can you purchase seed? Also are there any low growing ground covers that are shade tolerant as well for central florida?

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    Replies
    1. The Jolly BloggersMay 21, 2014 at 2:44 PM

      If you plan on seeding a large are, I suggest you purchase your seed from the Florida Wildflower Coop, paying close attention to ecotype (this will likely yield better results than just seeds from plants grown anywhere. The bulk seed list is here: http://floridawildflowers.com/pages/Bulk-Seeds-Available.html
      Yes, there are low-growing, shade tolerant plants for central Florida, Use out plant selector tool on this page to look at what's recommended: http://www.fnps.org/plants

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