Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lawn Marshpennywort For Wet Places

Lawn Marshpennywort is a solution plant for wet places.  As anyone who has such a site can attest, lawn grass doesn't perform well in water.  But Lawn Marshpennywort does.  It goes by the botanical name, Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides (pronounced hi-droh-KOT-il-lee sib-thorp-ee-OH-eye-dees), which means "water cup resembling Sibthorpia."  The genus, Sibthorpia, was named after John Sibthorp, an 18th century English botanist.

Native to parts of east Asia, Hydrocotyle was introduced to North America and found some areas of the continent very much to its liking.  It is now naturalized east of the Mississippi River from Indiana to New Jersey and southward to Florida.  It is also found in Arkansas, Louisiana, California and Hawaii.

Hydrocotyle is a relative of fennel and celery in the Apiaceae family.  Insignificant pale green flowers are produced mid-spring to mid-summer.  It grows very low, spreads very quickly, and forms a dense carpet.  Mature height is only 1".

I have often argued that a weed is simply a plant that is in the wrong place, or for which one is ignorant of a use.  So Hydrocotyle is sometimes considered to be a weed, and invasive at that.  But it depends upon your perspective.  It certainly makes a fine ground cover and lawn substitute in soggy areas.  Furthermore, it is said to be edible either cooked or raw, and tastes something like parsley.  It has been used in oriental medicine to purify the blood and to reduce fever.

The glossy green or variegated foliage makes an attractive mat that looks great around water features, stream banks and container gardens.  Hydrocotyle is also quite suitable for terrariums.  For collectors of herbs with medicinal interest, it's a natural.

Hydrocotyle performs best in sun or light shade in moist to wet soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  It is hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 9.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The fee is nominal, but that's because you're already paying for their services with your tax dollars.  (Use it or lose it.)  The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

It is often impossible, even unnecessary, to cultivate wet soils.  To kill existing, unwanted vegetation, you may wish to use glyphosate herbicide.  Take care, however, that the chemical does not leach into ponds, lakes and waterways.  Always wear protective clothing and follow all label instructions.  When the unwanted vegetation turns brown, plant your lawn marshpennywort directly into the site.

Space the plants 24" to 30" apart. Dig planting holes into the soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant Hydrocotyle with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly.

This is a low-maintenance plant, having no serious pests or diseases.  If you are concerned about it spreading too far, establish its limits.  For ponds, stream banks, water gardens and wet sites with poor drainage, Hydrocotyle is an excellent choice.

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