May 1998, Vol. 57, No. 5

Planting 'Peanuts' In Your Yard

Imagine having the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful lawn without the hassles of constant watering, fertilizing and mowing. This dream can become a reality with the inedible perennial peanut.

The perennial peanut (Arachis Glabrata) originated in South America. It is a member of the same classification group as the eating peanut (Arachis hypogaea) and is a true perennial because it survives from year to year without replanting.

"The peanut produced a thick mat of low-growing greenery, which makes for a very attractive lawn," said Dr. Edwin C. French, University of Florida Associate Professor. "And the best part is it doesn't require a lot of mowing, fertilizing or watering."

For starters, the perennial peanut requires less maintenance than traditional grasses such as Bermuda and St. Augustine because it is a legume. Legumes require no nitrogen fertilizer applications because of their association with nitrogen-fixing rhizobium bacteria. Also, the perennial peanut is a very drought-tolerant plant.

This has been demonstrated in a number of instances in Florida. A perennial peanut lawn was maintained without fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation and remained in good condition for the six years following its establishment in Gainesville, FL. In another instance, the perennial peanut has endured as a highway beautification program for 30 years, receiving only normal mowing.

"The perennial peanut has a lot of potential for stabilizing roadsides and providing an aesthetic value for roads," French said.

When first planted, the perennial peanut developed rhizomes. Rhizomes, an underground system of modified stems, are the perennial peanut's survival mechanism. This underground growth allows dead top-growth to be replaced by green shoots after the end of a dry spell.

French compared low-growing types of perennial peanut such as Ecoturf and Arblick against St. Augustine grass. The studies, which began in the early 1980s, compared the performance, water use and maintenance requirements of the plants.

The study found that less water was required for Arblick and Ecoturf to maintain a superior wilt and color score compared to St. Augustine grass.

The perennial peanut remained healthy without insect control, irrigation or applied nitrogen. The St. Augustine grass required chinch bug control, irrigation and nitrogen fertilizer in order to maintain a healthy appearance.

Perennial peanuts used signifigantly less water than St. Augustine grass.

"The maintenance costs for perennial peanut are one-third that of St. Augustine sod," said Tom Cunilio, president of the Center for Sustainable Agroforestry, Inc. (COSAF). This is because perennial peanut utilizes available water for growth and storage.

When soil water isn't available, the plant maintains itself by using its extensive rhizome system to conserve moisture from a large volume of soil. St. Augustine grass mines a smaller area of soil compared to perennial peanuts, resulting in faster wilting.

The perennial peanut can be established now easier than ever with the use of a clay "chip", which was developed by COSAF. The chip allows the perennial peanut to be transplanted easily and affordably," Cunilio said. "It assures greater survival for the perennial peanut because of the fertilizer in the clay."

Cunilio calls the "chip" an idiot proof system to develop a perennial peanut lawn in about two years.

by Lisa Trapp



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