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Dichondra is a small genus of herbaceous plants in the Convolvulaceae, or morning glory, family of plants. They produce flowers, but are best known for their small, evergreen, lily pad-shaped leaves. The plants grow in warmer climates and can be used as a substitute for grass lawns, ideally in places that get little foot traffic. In some parts of the world, they are considered a weed.
The leaves of Dichondra are 0.6 to 2 inches (1.6 to 5 cm) wide, and shaped like a lily pad or a kidney. The plants spread by their creeping stems. They are a frequent invader of grass lawns in Florida.
In the mid-1990s, these perennials had been widely grown as a lawn substitute in southern California. They fell out of favor due to attacks of insects and diseases. Dichondra is still sold as a lawn substitute. With heavy chemical maintenance and proper care, it can make a good lawn, if grown under the proper conditions.
The plants will do well in full sun or part shade. They will not tolerate heavy foot traffic, however. The best places to grow Dichondra are around stepping stones or tree trunks, or in areas of the yard that receive little traffic. The plants generally tolerate temperatures down to 20° to 25°F (-6.7° to -3.9°C) with only minimal damage to the leaves.
Dichondra requires quite a bit of moisture. It is important that the plants be watered thoroughly, on an infrequent basis, with at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water, rather than frequently receiving smaller amounts of water. If the latter method of watering is used, the plants become much more susceptible to infection by pathogenic organisms. They also need to be fertilized with nitrogen frequently, except in the summer when the temperatures are high. It is recommended to wash the fertilizer off of the plants, with water, after the procedure is finished.
To start a Dichondra lawn, it is easiest to kill off the existing lawn with herbicide. Then one should water and allow weeds already present in the soil to grow. After these have been killed, the soil bed should be dug and smoothed out. Dichondra seeds should be planted and kept continually moist until small plants are visible. The gardener can then reduce the frequency of watering.
Sources vary on the need to mow this lawn substitute. Some recommend mowing every two weeks to control weeds. The mower should be set to 1½ to 2 inches (3 ¾ to 5 cm) during the summer and ¾ inch (1.9 cm) in the winter. One should not allow clippings from the mower to accumulate, as they can facilitate the spread of diseases.
Flea beetle infestations have been a bane for many people with these kinds of lawns. The insects have driven many people back to grass lawns. If detected early, however, these insects can be killed with insecticides. If not detected, they can destroy a Dichondra lawn.
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