July 12, 2014
1 - Sedum and some other plants may be used to replace turfgrass in some landscapes.
Yard and Garden July 12, 2014
You toured two beautiful gardens in Roswell, New Mexico in the PBS program.
One had a beautiful green "lawn" that did not need to be mowed. Sedum of some kind, I guess. Would such a lawn work here in the northeast heights in Albuquerque? I have converted the dichondra that I had in my courtyard to ice plant. Like dichondra, there is a period where it is ugly and brown, but at least the ice plant takes less water. I would love to have a lawn that required no attention.
The lawn in you saw on the PBS "Southwest Yard and Garden" program taped in Roswell was a sedum lawn. The gardener was growing mostly dragon's blood sedum. These have large flat leaves and red flowers. In some varieties the leaves can turn reddish or purple in the winter. This characteristic can be used to a gardener's advantage. By grouping plants in drifts of differing colors, the gardener can have interesting winter patterns and color in the lawn instead of the traditional tan color of dormant grasses. Some sedum plants have cylindrical leaves. These plants will lend different textures to the landscape. Some have gray leaves, some have green leaves. They look somewhat like iceplant with which they may be mixed to provide additional summer flowering and to conceal the winter dieback of the iceplants. As you mentioned, in the winter the iceplant is more likely to dieback somewhat and leave "holes" in the landscape. If you choose to add iceplants to the landscape, choose their location carefully to minimize the blotchy look while they have died back until they resume growth and flowering in the spring.
Both sedum and iceplant are succulents and may need little irrigation. Harvested water running off the roof into the landscape may provide much of the water that they need. Be sure that the soil is well-drained to avoid development of diseases in these succulent plants. Be prepared to irrigate during periods of prolonged drought, even in the winter. If there is no precipitation for 1 to 2 months, irrigate to keep the plants hydrated. In the winter, drought for 2 months may indicate that iceplant needs a little irrigation. The sedum plants may not need irrigation unless the drought is even longer.
Because these plants are succulents, they will not withstand foot traffic. Properly placed flagstones or other pavers will be needed to allow access across the areas of sedum and to allow access for removing weeds (yes, weeds will grow through them).
There are other low-growing groundcover plants that may be used to provide a lawn-like look. These include germander, English ivy, prostrate junipers, and other low-growing, spreading plants. However, most of these will require more irrigation than sedum plants and many will not provide the flowers and color that sedum can supply.
None of these plants can replace lawn grasses when foot traffic or heavy use is required of the landscape. Choose the appropriate plant for your intended purpose.
Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!