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


daisy g said…
It's lovely.
Unfortunately, our HOA would never allow something so beautiful. They require the high-maintenance and thirsty
St. Augustine.
Ginny Stibolt said…
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:
LIa said…
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 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"!
Saxon said…
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 ...
Colleen Miller said…
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.
Anonymous said…
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...
Pam/Digging said…
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.
Ginny Stibolt said…
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!
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!
Kevin Songer said…
Stand up to the HOA's! Ginny is correct!
Kevin Songer said…
Also - the Creeping Mimosa makes a wonderful 'Green Roof' Lawn too! See photos of the plant on the Green Roof here -
rebecca sweet said…
I've never even seen this ground cover - thanks for showing me something new!
Anonymous said…
Has anyone tried it in northwest Florida? I see on Florida Vascular Plants that it hasn't been documented west of Leon County.
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.
daisy g said…
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...
Anonymous said…
A wonderfully thorough post, Ginny. Exactly the kind of information needed to make an informed decisions about culturally appropriate lawn alternatives.
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.
Tara Dillard said…
For the name alone I want Sunshine Mimosa.

Went lawless almost 2 decades ago....

XO Tara
Ginny Stibolt said…
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...
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:

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

Thanks for forwarding the cause!
daisy g said…
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...
Ginny Stibolt said…
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.
Anonymous said…
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!
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.
chercroce said…
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!
Anonymous said…
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!
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.
Jeanne said…
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?
Ginny Stibolt said…
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.
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
Inez said…
Glad to hear it, Inez. Good luck with your frogfruit!
Sunshine and the pond making it more beautiful.
Nature's Beauty preserves and frames flowers to create wonderful unique combination.
Anonymous said…
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?
The Jolly Bloggers said…
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:
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:
Bryce Garling said…
I plant them by pulling runners up and bringing them. Anyone growing it will share since pulling it up forces the bushing effect which makes it multiply. Then using a shovel I make slits in the ground and apply an organic fertilizer. Put the runners in the slits leaving leaves exposed. Use your feet to close back the slits. It helps to get material from different locations because having different genetic strains makes more viable seed for you mimosa to self seed over time.
Unknown said…
How does one order some of these plants?
FNPS said…
Joyce, the retail and mail order native plant growers are listed on this site: You could also contact your local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society,
Unknown said…
Some HOA's are "high maintenance". I have found that if a homeowner shows interest e.g. willing to spend the time, HOA's can be how shall I say this... Helpful.
RThuryn said…
My HOA, after mediation, required me to submit a Landscape Plan, which they approved. Once it was implemented, the turned around and sued me, claiming I just had weeds in my yards. In court, they pointed at the newly planted goldenrod, mimosa, and micromeria as evidence of my "weeds" - despite being on the list of plants the approved. No decision is yet made, will keep you posted.
Please do keep us posted on your HOA issue. I would be interested in hearing the outcome. If we could get the state and county governments on board with natives, the HOA's would have to follow. Legislation requiring more natives in the landscape is what we need.
Nagy said…
Thanks to all those who shared information concerning the Florida laws. Sad but reassuring to see that I am not alone in having been put on notice by my HOA concerning my Florida friendly landscaping.
I have planted sunshine mimosa as a ground cover among my Florida native shrubs and it is filling in very nicely. The small pink powderpuff flowers are adorable. I use Florimulch mulch which work well with the mimosa.
l.c.taylor said…
What's wrong with a yard looking wild and natural? I'm disabled and that was my plan and this allows me to maintain it (pull weeds, prune and edge) when I'm able, not according to how high the grass is. I let what wanted to grow, develop and grow where it wanted, just like in the wild. I installed very few plants, sowed a few seeds, watered almost nothing. Mulch was only a hindrence as it only blocked natural seeding . The idiot head of code enforcement didn't like it and was wholly ignorant about wildlife habitat, called it zero- scaping. His problem was I "had no plan" and I "needed a plan". I said, "It's Nature's Plan, It's God's Plan". He repeatedly threatened me telling me I had to "fix it" or be fined, but refused to say what I needed to do. I was forced to destroy a lot of plants, especially shepherd's needle which no one likes or plants because it looks scraggly. However, when it was going to seed it was so attractive to bees that they were standing on top of each other and many hovering an inch away to get at it. That was a few years ago, my yard has never recovered. I grew up in Florida and spent my youth in the woods. Never or rarely have I seen the plants in landscaped yards growing wild in the woods...except in my own yard. Nature knows what is best. It's simply programming that makes people think that an artificially constructed and maintained yard is somehow better. It is not. The next time you're tempted to say that just allowing nature to do her thing is a problem, please stop and reconsider.
We moved from California to Temple Terrace 3 years ago and our front yard was all weeds and dirt ... no longer. We mulched the entire front, planted three young trees and filled in the lower half with Sunshine Mimosa, which has taken over beautifully. Yes it does appear to take over everything but that's the idea. The only issue we have been faced with is what some call Torpedo Grass and Nutsedge. So it takes diligence to weed it out.
One issue we have is a way to kill both Nutsedge and Torpedo Grass without harming the Mimosa, please let us know.
Pictures available if interested.
Ann B Davis said…
Sunshine mimosa has been our nightmare. It attracts hundreds of bees and grows from its seeds and chopped fragments, with new clusters of leaves springing up overnight. It makes big pavers disappear in the growth within a few weeks. We have spent months trying to get rid of it. The roots are thick wood and go deep into the earth. Now we might move and I am glad so many people here love it. Hopefully our house will sell fast.
Ann B Davis said…
Sunshine mimosa is a nightmare to get rid of. We may sell our house to get away from it. Be sure you like bees, deep woodsy roots, and thick growth that quickly covers pavers.
Ann B Davis said…
Sunshine mimosa is the devil to get rid of. The crosswise roots and the downward skinny roots aren't bad, but the thick woodsy roots go down as far as two feet and can't be pulled, only dug up and chopped. If you chop off pieces, the pieces should be bagged because the mimosa will start growing again from the fragments. It grows FAST, but is not particularly invasive. Sunshine mimosa looks lovely when the pink puffy blossoms are in bloom. Unfortunately, the bees adore the flowers and are attracted to them by the hundreds. This is not the ground cover to have if you want a yard to walk on, or for your kids or pets to play on. You can lay stepping stones, but the mimosa will accept the challenge and soon completely covers those stones. Mimosa may be the answer though for steep banks to prevent soil erosion, Your HOA probably doesn't like the mimosa because of the bees and the possibility of it invading sparsely covered neighboring areas.
Marilynn said…
Ann - You have convinced me! Sunshine mimosa should be perfect for my yard! I can't get grass to grow here except in faint patches. Even weeds won't grow close together, so there's always plenty of bare sand and dust.

By your description, this should grow anywhere and resist all threats once it's established, much like Bermuda grass, but without the massive expense of sod or the frustration of seed. I will look for some mimosa to buy this week. As for the pink blooms (my LEAST favorite color, which seems like the only downside to this plant), a quick mow should take care of them if I get too many bees.

I have no HOA to deal with. I made sure of that before I bought this place. I can plant anything I want as long as it won't attract the DEA. As for neighboring areas, nobody cares. One lot is vacant, and the other one is totally ignored. Nothing behind but trees.

Mimosa it is!

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