Grass lawn occupies a major space in the design of most home landscapes, but it is far from the only option for a large-scale ground-cover. If kids and dogs do not need to use the lawn, consider replacing the grass with an ornamental ground-cover such as small-leaf Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), also known as Confederate jasmine, Asiatic jasmine and dwarf jasmine. Unlike other jasmine species, it is not vinelike but stays trim and neat on the ground, forming a lush sea of viridian green. This jasmine variety is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 11.
Tough and dainty, small-leaf Confederate jasmine is a woody, evergreen ground-cover that grows to a maximum height of 12 inches. Don't expect many flowers from it as you would from other forms of jasmine, but its fine-textured foliage and prominent leaf veins stand out when the variety is planted en mass. Occasionally, the plant bears creamy yellow flowers in spring, but they are rare and do not produce viable seeds. It is simple to propagate from established plants' stem cuttings and division, however. Small-leaf Confederate jasmine has the ability to grow in both full sun and shade, but it looks best when it receives at least some shade in late afternoon.
Confederate Jasmine vs. Grass
Small-leaf Confederate jasmine does not hold up well to regular foot traffic, which is its main disadvantage when it is compared to grass lawns. As a tall ground-cover, it is also more likely than grass to harbor mosquitoes and other pests in its dense foliage. One of its huge advantages over grass is its ability to grow in shade -- particularly around the roots of large, established trees where lawn grasses inevitably fade away over time. Plus, its mowing, fertilizer and irrigation requirements are very minimal compared to those of grass. Like many lawn grasses, however, small-leaf Confederate jasmine easily can invade areas where it was not intended to grow, requiring a barrier of some sort or regular maintenance to limit its spread.
Converting a grass lawn to small-leaf Confederate jasmine involves an investment of time and effort upfront but drastically reduces maintenance work in the long run. The surest method for success begins with removing the grass in its entirety by using a sod-cutter, which is a gas-powered machine that can be rented at most tool rental centers. The machine is extremely effective for removing lawn grass, along with its mat of creeping rhizomes, in carpetlike strips that are simple to roll up and dispose of, preventing the grass from becoming re-established. Afterward, a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost should be tilled into the remaining soil to prepare it for the planting of jasmine. Plant the jasmine plants 12 inches apart if they were purchased in 4-inch-diameter pots, or use 18-inch spacing between jasmine plants transplanted from 1-gallon containers.
Care and Management
Small-leaf Confederate jasmine does not require mowing, but an annual trimming helps it stay lush and compact. The task should be done in late winter before new growth commences by using the highest blade setting on the mower. Weekly irrigation is necessary during the first two years of the jasmine's establishment, but afterward the plants can survive on natural rainfall, except in arid climates. In periods of drought, give the jasmine plants' soil a deep soaking at least once each month. Fertilizing the jasmine also is helpful during its first two years of establishment. Use 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of ground for each application, applying the fertilizer three or four times during the growing season those first two years. Afterward, fertilize only once each year, when the jasmine's growth begins in spring, and use the same rate of fertilizer application.
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