Everything About Dichondra Grass
Although dichondra grass is considered a weed in some places, in many other places, it’s considered a beautiful groundcover and an attractive lawn alternative.
The round-shaped leaves of dichondra make it look like a fluffy deep green carpet, enticing enough for anyone to walk or sit on it. Homeowners planning to build a garden and wondering which lawn grass they should use should consider dichondra. Due to its cascading habit, it’s also perfect to grow in hangings baskets.
Published: October 21, 2022.
What is Dichondra Grass?
Dichondra grass is one of the many low-growing, creeping plants belonging to the morning glory (Convolvulaceae) family that are used as grass alternatives in warm climates. It’s a warm-season perennial herbaceous plant with a prostrate or creeping growth habit.
Although it’s adapted to warmer climates, it will retain its prominent green color in winter temperatures as low as 25 degrees F (-3 degree C) though its leaves may become slightly brown. It’s commonly used as a ground cover in areas where normal grasses may not perform well.
Therefore, in areas where other grasses are not able to grow easily, like gaps between garden tiles, the Japanese steps, under benches, between stairs, and other spots in the garden, dichondra is an ideal ground cover.
The plant grows up to 5 cm (2 inches) tall and spreads by runners. Its leaves are bright green or silver and round-shaped or fan-shaped, 2 cm broad, with a fine texture, and are indented where they are connected to the long stalks.
Depending upon the species of dichondra, the foliage is either silvery blue or deep green. Thus, the Dichondra repens has bright green foliage and kidney-shaped leaves due to which it’s commonly known as kidney weed, whereas Dichondra argentea has silver-white or silver-blue foliage with fan-shaped leaves.
Dichondra can be toxic when ingested by people as well as animals and can cause dermatitis. Therefore, the homeowners should be careful while planting dichondra grass if they have young kids and pets in their homes.
All through the warm season, dichondra develops lovely white, green, or yellow flowers that also lay close to the ground giving a stunning look to the garden and lawn. The grass also grows in a cascading pattern, thus making it perfect for window boxes, hanging planters, or rock walls.
Uses of Dichondra
Dichondra grass is best to cover bare spots that arise in shaded lawn areas due to a shortage of sunlight, as it can grow in partial shade although it does well in full sun.
Dichondra is a ground-hugging and fast-spreading plant with kidney-shaped leaves, and one can plant it in heavily shaded areas and it will thrive and spread in all areas where lawn grasses refuse to grow.
One can walk on it and mow it just like any other grass without causing any ill effects.
In areas with no foot traffic, dichondra is an excellent no-mow lawn substitute that can prevent the growth of unwanted weeds. Dichondra will never grow tall or build thatch as grasses do. Also, while it likes to spread fast, it’s easy to control. It also needs minimal care and is drought resistant.
Dichondra is hardy to US Department plant hardiness zones 7 through 11.
Dichondra Grass Varieties
Dichondra comes in different varieties that are native to the world’s different regions. Some of the most popular dichondra varieties are:
Dichondra repens (Lawn leaf): This is the most common variety used as a lawn alternative or a rock garden filler.
Carolina ponysfoot (Dichondra carolinensis): This variety is native to the southwestern US and Bermuda, and has small leaves and very tiny flowers.
Silver ponysfoot or silver falls (Dichondra argentea): Also called silver nickel vine, this variety grows about 2 inches tall and spreads up to 3 feet. Its leaves are silver-gray, and it’s deer resistant and salt-tolerant.
Oakwood ponysfoot (Dichondra recurvata): This variety occurs in Texas in abundance. It develops flowers in early spring i.e., from March to May.
Western dichondra (Dichondra occidentalis): Also called western ponysfoot, this variety is a rhizomatous plant that loves low moisture conditions. Its flowers are small and cream-colored.
Asian kidney weed (Dichondra micrantha): This perennial, creeping variety is native to Japan and China and is also called Asian ponysfoot. It often occurs on roadsides and mountain slopes.
When to Plant?
It’s best to plant dichondra seed when the area’s temperature is around 70°F (21°C) in the day and 50°F (10°C) at the night.
This can be either in late spring or also early fall. Dichondra is frost-intolerant hence one should plant it when the danger of frost is over.
How to Grow Dichondra Grass?
Dichondra grass needs proper preparation of the seedbed. It’s best to choose a weed-free raked spot.
Dichondra likes clod-free, loose, well-drained soil. Therefore, sandy loam is perfect for dichondra. Clay soil can remain wet for too long and thus cause the plant’s death. If the grower has clay soil, they should consider planting dichondra in a raised garden bed or a container. The pH of the soil should be neutral i.e., between 6.5 and 7.5.
Although once established, dichondra fights weeds well, the grower should remove all weeds from the soil before planting it. Then they should loosen the top 6-inch layer of soil and remove rocks, roots, and other debris, and smash large clods of soil with a rake.
If the soil is heavy or clay, the grower should amend it by adding a 3-inch layer of coarse sand or chunky compost and mixing it into the top 6 inches of soil. This will help soil drain quickly.
The planting site should receive plenty of sun, a minimum of 6 hours a day. The grass can also bear partial shade.
However, it develops less dense foliage in shade.
In the case of Dichondra repens, one can collect its flowers and dry them completely by placing them in a dark spot like a cupboard. Once the flowers are dried, one can just collect seeds from them. Alternatively, the grower can buy seeds of the variety they wish to plant from a garden store.
One should scatter seed lightly over the loosened soil bed with a hand-held or broadcast spreader and then water the soil till it’s wet but not soggy. They can even press seeds lightly instead of just scattering them, but should make sure that the sun can reach them.
In sunnier areas, the grower will have to water the seeds a few times a day till they start germinating. For moisture retention, they can cover the seeds lightly with peat moss.
Depending on the conditions, seeds will germinate within 7 to 14 days.
With Plugs or Dice
Planting with plugs or dice is safer than with seeds directly to the ground. Plugs are sown in a tray that has cells, each containing a plant with its fully developed foliage and roots. This way, dichondra can be spread immediately after transplantation.
Once the seedlings are transplanted, the grower should water them lightly during the first 10 days. Afterward, they should continue with deeper and more spaced waterings until the grass is fully developed.
Propagation of dichondra is a breeze because of the vigorous growth habit of the plant. The grower should just dig out some pieces of stems with roots and replant them in wet potting soil. However, they should do this very carefully as the roots are very delicate and careless handling can break them.
The soil should be kept moist (though not soggy) until the plant starts showing new growth. After that, the grower can transplant it wherever they wish.
How to Take Care of Dichondra Grass
Dichondra is a low-maintenance plant. Here are tips on how to care for it.
Once the grass is established, the grower should give it a deep and frequent watering. The plants should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings. They will suffer poor growth or even death in waterlogged or soggy soil.
Excessive watering should be avoided as it causes root rot and other diseases or weed invasion.
When used as a lawn alternative, the dichondra can be mowed to around 1.5 inches (4 cm) in the summer and to ¾-inch in the winter. It will need cutting every two weeks.
Growers should apply nitrogen every month during the growing season for best results. They should follow the proportion recommended on the fertilizer package for the size of their lawn.
They should apply the fertilizer when the foliage is dry and then water the lawn to wash away any granules of fertilizer that may remain on the leaves.
Applying pre-emergent weed control helps prevent weeds. The grower should remove broadleaf weeds by hand for best results.
Note: The grower should never use a herbicide containing 2-4D on dichondra grass because it will kill the grass.
Pests and Diseases
As such, dichondra is disease-resistant and is troubled by very few pests. Still, it suffers leaf damage from flea beetles and cutworms. Most dichondra can ward off these pests by themselves, but the grower too can help by using an organic insecticide.
Flea beetles are very small, black insects of around 1 mm (1/25 inch) length and enlarged hind legs. Their larvae are white with a light brown head capsule and fine bristles. Larvae live in the soil and are not normally visible.
Larvae feed on roots causing the plant to wilt and die, whereas adults feed on leaves, forming crescent marks on their upper surface.
The grower should look for small, black, shiny beetles that jump when disturbed. An organic insecticide can help as mentioned above.
Cutworms are highly dangerous pests in the garden that destroy healthy seedlings by chewing their stems near the soil, within just a few hours.
They are active during the summer but typically they cause problems during spring, though gardeners may need to monitor some plants through the summer.
Their population can vary and if they’re too many, they can destroy a healthy garden. But a little preventive care can save gardeners from further loss.
Firstly, the gardeners should keep checking their garden regularly. They may spot the worms in the afternoon or early evening. They should keep an eye on plants that are severed close to the ground or those that are markedly wilting.
Gardeners should keep the garden weed-free and free of plant residue so the worms will get less space to lay eggs and feed on weeds. They should till the garden before planting so as to bring any larvae up and kill them.
They should prefer compost to green manure as the latter can encourage egg-laying. If they till in the fall, the soil can get rid of overwintering larvae or pupae.
Dichondra is a robust and low-maintenance plant that can be used as a ground cover and add a softness to the overall landscaping. Homeowners who don’t have a lot of time for lawn maintenance should consider planting dichondra as a lawn substitute and enjoy pleasant greenery.