The University of Florida has come up with a new tool for property owners to make significant strides in water conservation: the peanut, or at least, a distant cousin called rhizoma perennial peanut. The colorful groundcover does not bear edible goobers, but it does have lush foliage and light orange flowers. Looks aside, it can thrive on half the water that turfgrass uses.
Perennial peanut groundcover offers another advantage over turfgrass, too. Being a legume, it makes its own nitrogen and therefore requires very little fertilizer. Although excess nitrogen is typically thought of as a water quality issue in commercial agriculture, according to the U.S. EPA homeowners tend about 40 million acres of turfgrass, making it the fifth largest crop in the country.
Turfgrass for Me, Not for Thee
That’s right, household turfgrass is only behind corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay in terms of cropland acreage, and it uses about the same amount of fertilizer as row crops. Outdoor watering also accounts for 30% of household water use, much of that likely going to turfgrass. In other words, individual households cumulatively play a major role in in water quality issues related to lawn care. Nevertheless, according to studies cited by the EPA most people don’t perceive that their lawn contributes to water quality problems, and they are much more likely to blame their neighbor’s lawn.
The Perennial Peanut Solution for Water Conservation
There is plenty of guidance available on lawn care, with the aim of getting land owners to use only the minimum amount of fertilizer needed for healthy turfgrass. However, the EPA found that as few as 10% of land owners test their soil to see how much is needed, and most don’t check the content of fertilizer before they apply it. It’s a clear indication that public education has its limits, and the long term solution will be to shift the American aesthetic away from turfgrass. Low maintenance groundcovers like the perennial peanut can offer a more effective alternative because of their built-in incentives: reducing water bills and cutting down on the amount of time a homeowner needs to dedicate to lawn care.
Image: Peanuts by Euromagic on flickr.com.