December 2003
Plant of the Month
Dichondra argentea
(Dichondra Silver Falls, Emerald Falls)
ground cover
zone: 3, 4, 5
by John Erwin, Neil Anderson

Falling for Dichondra


 







A new series of seed-propagated foliage plants from PanAmerican Seed Company (http://www.panamseed.com/) add the final 'finishing touch' to hanging baskets, mixed containers or color pots, and ground covers in the landscape.  Dichondra argentea ' Silver Falls' (introduced in 2002) and 'Emerald Falls' (new for 2003) are sensational additions.  Historically used as turfgrass alternatives in warmer climates, due to their ground-hugging growth habit, dichondra are new to the ornamental bedding plant market.  In Minnesota, they are treated as annuals for sunny or partial shade areas.


 


Dichondra is a fantastic, new warm-weather ground cover with lots of small silver foliage that is terrific in a basket or combination planter.  We believe that this is the new bacopa!  What makes this plant nicer than bacopa is the dramatic contrast the foliage provides when planted with nearly anything!  The garden height of this plant is 2-3 in. (5-7 cm) with a typical spread of 3-4 ft. (90-120 cm) per plant!


 


We have trialed 'Silver Falls' for two years in the annual bedding plant trials at the University of Minnesota in Morris (USDA Heat Zone 4), Grand Rapids (Heat Zone 3), and St. Paul (Heat Zone 5).  'Silver Falls' performed well at all sites in baskets, containers, or as ground covers in every condition except deep shade (for more information, consult the trial website at http://www.florifacts.umn.edu).  We noted in our trials that, when placed into containers with a high rim, dichondra shoots must be directed over the edge of the container.  Otherwise, if left on their own, they encircled the inside of the pots or baskets.


 


Cultivars:


There are two cultivars at this time, ‘Silver Falls’ and ‘Emerald Falls’.  The difference between the two is that 'Silver Falls' is more of a trailing plant and is better suited for ground covers and large baskets. 'Silver Falls' has fan-shaped, fuzzy leaves (2 cm long x 3 cm wide) on silver stems.  Never before have we had such a vigorous growing, small-leafed and silver foliage plant as 'Silver Falls' that adapts so well to container culture.  Try it with other bedding plants with silver highlights, such as 'Tidal Wave Silver' petunia, or in contrast with 'Angel Mist' angelonia.  In the landscape, it provides a no-maintenance solid silver mat that chokes out weeds and complements silvery herbaceous perennials, e.g. Eryngium (Sea Holly).


 


In contrast, 'Emerald Falls' grows about 3 ft. (90 cm) long; and is therefore fuller and not as trailing as 'Silver Falls' and makes a great plant where a length greater than 3' is not desired. 'Emerald Falls' has dark green leaves with silver underneath and is best when planted in hanging baskets or mixed containers that can be viewed from below.  Once established, both cultivars are highly heat and drought-tolerant., growing prolifically if they are watered and fertilized regularly. 


 


Greenhouse Culture:


Dichondra is seed propagated (6,070 S./oz.).  If you are sowing your own seed, cover lightly with coarse vermiculite and germinate at 72-76°F (22-24°C).  Maintain 95% humidity until cotyledons emerge.  In general, plants will germinate quickly, 4 days.  Grow seedlings at no more than 2,500 footcandles during and immediately after germination.  Light levels can be increased to 5,000 footcandles after that time.


 


Grow dichrondra plants with 65-76° and 62-65°F night temperatures.  Fertilize with 200 ppm N weekly.  Control elongation in the plug tray by spraying 2,500 ppm B-9.  If internode elongation is excessive during finishing, retard growth using B-9 at 5,000 ppm or Cycocel 1,000 ppm about a week after transplanting.  Applying growth retardants also makes the foliage more silver!


 


Plan on 5 weeks from sowing to transplant from a plug tray (400 plug tray), 7-8 weeks from sowing for a liner (72-tray), 11-12 weeks to finish a 4 in. pot from sowing, and 13-14 weeks for a 10 inch hanging basket from sowing.  Grow with a pH of 5.5 to 6.3.  Of course, scheduling times can be greatly reduced if you grow at warmer temperatures.  Although we have not tested this factor, we suspect that dichondra will grow significantly faster if grown under long-days with high pressure sodium lighting.  Higher light levels (up to 5,000 footcandles) also result in more silver foliage.


 


Outdoor Culture:


Plant dichonrda in the full sun to partial shade after risk of frost.  Remember that this plant is a warm-season ground cover and should be placed in full sun in a warm area when possible!  The most common outdoor cultural problem with dichondra is Alternaria fungus. This disease is also know as "leaf spot" and starts as a light brown area on the perimeter of the leaf.  It soon grows to a larger spot and eventually consumes the whole leaf.  Leaf spot spreads very quickly and can involve large areas in a matter of a few days.  If leaf spot is suspected, check for over-watering.  Fortunately, this disease is relatively easy to control, i.e. spray with a fungicide such as Fore or Daconil 2787.  The most common pest in dichondra is the fleabeetle.  It will cause dead spots that over time grow in size and number.  Cut worms will have similar symptoms.  Spray using a pesticide such as Spectracide or as recommended by your nurseryman.  Always follow label directions carefully.  Spraying after irrigation will allow chemicals to act for the longest possible period before they are washed away with the next watering.  Repeat spraying every ten days, at least twice, until problem subsides.  In order to help prevent problems, it is a good idea to spray with the "cure-all" mixture of fungicide and pesticide on a monthly basis.  Check labels or consult your nurseryman for product compatibility.
By Neil Anderson and John Erwin
Department of Horticultural Science
University of Minnesota


 


 


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