Tired of weeding and fertilizing your lawn? Try replacing it with the “Alfalfa of the South,” also known as perennial peanut. Perennial peanut is not just suitable for hay production. It can also be utilized for grazing livestock and as turf in lawn settings.
Since its introduction from Brazil in 1936, perennial peanut has shown resistance to insects, diseases and nematodes. It has not been an issue spreading into unwanted natural areas, as it doesn’t reproduce by seeds that can be carried by wind and wildlife. Instead, it spreads by underground growth structures called rhizomes (hint the name, rhizoma perennial peanut). The aggressive growth of its rhizomes helps this forage form a dense mat that aids in weed prevention by choking out competition. It is drought tolerant, which means that it requires less water to keep it alive and green (an important lawn characteristic). As if it didn’t have enough redeemable qualities, its prostrate growth habit allows for infrequent mowing which minimizes fossil fuel use. However, if you’re anything like my husband, who enjoys mowing the lawn, then don’t worry because frequent mowing of perennial peanut stimulates low growth and better yet, more flowers. It grows best in warm, subtropical climates below 32° north latitude; therefore, it is a unique sight to the Southeast.
Not only is this forage pretty, but it’s persistent also, with fields still in production after more than 30 years. This tropical species is suited to well-drained soils of sandy or sandy loam textures. The University of Florida has developed several improved varieties of perennial peanut that are suited for various purposes. For example, ‘Ecoturf’ is better suited for lawns, whereas ‘UF Tito’ and ‘UF Peace’ are better suited for hay production due to their more erect growth habits. The University continues to research and improve upon varieties, with high consideration on landscaping purposes.
This beauty of a forage is not to be confused with edible peanuts (like in peanut butter), instead, rhizoma perennial peanut is a forage legume that produces many small yellow flowers, in lieu of the peanuts we love to eat (although the flowers are edible too). Legumes develop beneficial relationships with bacteria in the soil to fix their own nitrogen, which is an essential nutrient for plant growth. This ability to create its own source of nitrogen helps reduce the need to apply synthetic fertilizers.
So, if you’re sick of boring old, nitrogen and water-craving St. Augustine grass, give this sustainable (and stunning) forage a try in your lawn. For more information on Perennial Peanut, contact Courtney at the UF/IFAS Extension office in Suwannee County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. She can be reached by calling 386-362-2771.
Courtney Darling is the Livestock, Forages, and Natural Resources Extension Agent at the UF/IFAS Suwannee County Extension office.