There are numerous species of turf grown on lawns whose sole purpose is to improve the aesthetic of the outdoor space while also providing a fantastic relaxation spot. Over time, you may want a break from the grass and find a suitable replacement that fulfills the same needs.
Dichondra is a suitable alternative to grass lawns. It adds ambiance and thrives even when mixed with other grasses without choking them. Its low maintenance needs no mowing and aesthetically appearing but is prone to diseases and high traffic damage. Fertilization with high nitrogen content and infrequent watering make dichondra lawn thrive.
Here is how to grow dichondra and some secrets for maintaining and caring for it to grow successfully on your lawn.
What is Dichondra?
Dichondra (dichondra repens) is a fast-growing, warm-season perennial ground cover usually used as an alternative to grass in the lawn. It belongs to the Convolvulaceae family.
Dichondra has light green, broad circular leaves that sometimes resemble a kidney. The leaf margin is smooth and has no hairs. Dichondra produces white to greenish, inconspicuous flowers. The ground cover plant has a creeping growth habit, extending 2 inches tall.
Because dichondra is low-growing, dense, and appears like a carpet, it looks attractive on the lawn. This ground cover is common in three areas.
- Small lawns
- Hard-to-mow areas
- Where other turf types are not performing well
The cool coastal zones 7-11 provide conducive conditions that favor dichondra growth. It prefers well-drained soils and full sun but can moderately tolerate partial shade.
Dichondra establishes in seeds and plugs. Although it is a warm-season ground cover, it can withstand temperatures as low as 20oF. It tolerates heat but will wilt during extreme drought.
Dichondra is vulnerable to common broadleaf weeds. It wears when exposed to high traffic. That’s why it’s a terrible cover choice on constantly used lawns. It is highly prone to diseases such as leaf spot, dichondra flea beetle, blight, and pests such as nematodes.
Dichondra needs good fertilization with high Nitrogen content (approximately 4lbs of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn annually) to grow healthy. Watering should be done deeply but infrequently.
Rather than being used as an alternative to grass, dichondra is grown to help control soil erosion.
Growing dichondra instead of grass is an excellent choice for small lawn areas for the following benefits.
It is aesthetically appealing.
Dichondra has broad, light green leaves and grows low to form a dense carpet cover, making the lawn more attractive.
Dichondra is the best choice if you want a cover for your lawn that would take minimal time, money, and effort to maintain. It doesn’t need frequent watering; you water when the leaves dry, which takes longer. You can also choose to leave it unmowed. Even if you decide to mow, you do it once in two weeks, unlike other types of turf.
Dichondra doesn’t choke grass.
Dichondra can be mixed with other grasses without choking them or taking over the lawn.
However, growing dichondra has some challenges you may want to know before using it on your lawn:
Dichondra is prone to pests and diseases
Leaf spot, dichondra flea beetle, rust, nematodes, and southern blight are common in dichondra lawns. You will have to treat them from these diseases constantly. But leaf spots can be avoided by watering sparingly.
Dichondra doesn’t tolerate heavy foot traffic.
Dichondra feels soft but is not the best choice for lawns frequented by kids and pets. While the flat lilypad-resembling leaves make an incredible sight, they would do terribly on a regularly used walkway. It wears and takes longer only to recover partially.
Dichondra can be a weed.
Some people find this beautiful ground cover a nuisance and avoid growing it on their lawns.
Dichondra is a perfect alternative to grass for people with small lawns who want a low-maintenance, attractive cover.
Does dichondra make a good lawn?
Dichondra makes a perfect cover for small lawns or lawns with low traffic. Its light green, broad leaves form a dense carpet appearance making the outdoor space more aesthetically appealing. Where traffic is low, dichondra retains this ambiance as it doesn’t wear.
How do you grow dichondra grass?
Successfully growing dichondra grass needs the proper environmental conditions.
The best time to plant dichondra seeds is late spring or early summer when the daytime temperature is 70oF but 50oF at night. The soil should be well-drained, and there must be full sun to grow this grass. Meeting these conditions ensures your dichondra grows fast and spreads quickly.
1. Prepare the seedbed
You must thoroughly prepare the seedbed to create a conducive environment that favors the growth of the seeds. Remove all the weeds on the lawn in the early preparation stages. Hand removal of shallow-rooted weeds helps. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide to kill seeds of weeds lying in the lawn.
Clear debris, sticks, roots, rocks, and other litter from the lawn. Dichondra prefers well-drained, loose soils. Therefore, rake the soil deep and break clods as deep as 6 inches to loosen them.
2. Scatter and cover the seeds
Scatter the seeds lightly on the ground using a drop spreader. Ensure they don’t clump at one place but spread evenly. Apply the seeds at a rate of 1 pound per 500 square feet of lawn. Cover the spread seeds with topsoil so birds don’t eat them or winds don’t carry them away. Peat moss is an excellent alternative to topsoil to help preserve more moisture from the soil. If using peat moss, let the layer be ½ inch thick.
3. Water the seeds lightly
Avoid soaking the seeds with excess water. Instead, apply water to the covered seeds. Overwatering floats the seeds, preventing them from growing. Continue watering lightly on the following days until the seeds sprout. Dichondra seeds take between 7 and 8 days to sprout if the seedbed was prepared well. Reduce the watering frequency as the seeds germinate.
4. Apply fertilizer
Apply fertilizer after the dichondra sprouts. You can even mow at this point. It’s optional, though. A fertilizer with a good NPK balance will be more appropriate to support healthy growth. Mow the grass to 2 inches if actively growing in summer, keeping the height to less than ¾ inch in winter.
Do you have to mow dichondra?
Mowing dichondra is not necessary to keep it healthy and attractive. This ground cover is low-growing and extends to only 2 inches tall, which most lawn keepers prefer. Mowing is a personal preference more than it is a care practice.
Tips for care and maintenance
Dichondra needs good fertilization, infrequent watering, low mowing, and using the correct weed-control herbicides to thrive fully.
1. Fertilize regularly
Dichondra needs approximately 4 lbs of nitrogen fertilizer per 1000 square feet of the lawn when actively growing in summer applied yearly. The fertilizer granules should be added to the leaf foliage and watered in to remove excess from the leaves.
Monthy applications should be less than 1lb per 1000 square feet lawn. If a soil test indicates the soil has low pH, add lime in summer to raise it.
2. Water infrequently
Dichondra is highly susceptible to leaf spots, whose primary cause is overwatering. The best practice to keep such diseases at bay is to water the plant deeply but infrequently. The following watering should be done when the foliages dry. Watering infrequently also discourages weeds from growing on the lawn.
3. Mow less often
Mowing dichondra is by choice rather than necessity. Cut dichondra once in two weeks to 1 ½ inch when actively growing in summer and less than ¾ inch in winter. When mowing, apply the one-third mowing rule. This rule states you should never remove more than one-third of the grass whenever you mow. Also, only use sharp blades.
4. Don’t use 2-4D herbicides
2-4D herbicides may kill dichondra during weeding. Instead, use Celsius WG selective herbicide to control broadleaf weeds in the dichondra lawn. The weeds should be less established when using herbicides. Also, use pre-emergent herbicides to prevent weeds from growing on the lawn when developing the seedbed.
Safe fungicides also treat common dichondra pest and disease problems. To prevent weeds, pests, and diseases from growing, take good care of the lawn to make the cover healthy, dense, and competitive.
5. Grow the plant in full sun with well-drained soil
Dichondra thrives in the full sun, at least six hours a day, thus grown outdoors. If grown indoors on planters, the temperature should not be less than 70oF. The plant can also survive in areas with partial but not total shade.
The soil the plant grows in should be loose and well-drained to allow water, nutrients, and air infiltration to grow the plant’s roots deeper and healthier.
- NC State Extension Publications: Dichondra.
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: Dichondra – Dichondra spp.