Australian Astroturf…

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I have been accumulating a few miniature conifers to use in a shallow dish garden and recently made a quick pit stop at my local specialty garden center to pick up a small container of scotch moss to add to the plant mix. While ringing up my purchase the owner lamented about the fact that I had gotten the last one and how he had kept meaning to put a container aside to experiment with. I’ll admit I was not really focused on the exchange and when I got into my car I wondered what all the fuss was about–scotch moss is a dime a dozen in most nurseries!

It was not until I got home that I realized I had NOT purchased the needed scotch moss but a look-alike called Scleranthus biflorus. The plant tag announced its common name as Australian Astroturf and I was immediately captivated, although still without the scotch moss!

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The almost instantaneous miracle of the internet supplied lots of information on this Australian ground cover, native to the country’s natural alpine and coastal areas. Who knew that Australia–home to every living critter that can kill you instantly–even HAD natural alpine areas? This perky mat forming, almost spongey perennial is part of the dianthus (think carnation) family and is known as lava lime to the down under gardening community. Most sources also mention that it will bear tiny white flowers.

Cultural requirements include a location with full sun to bright shade, USDA zones 9-11. The United States websites indicated the plant to be very drought tolerant while the Australian gardening web cited the need for some moisture. I guess the driest of our climate zones doesn’t even come close to what the Aussies deal with! The key seems to be excellent drainage.

 

Pulling the specimen out of its quart container I found its roots to be a very fine but dense mass, perfect for division by slicing in half–giving me the opportunity to try it out in more than one location.

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I put one half in a little full sun spot which gets some irrigation runoff from under the weeping juniper but is basically out of the direct line of fire of any one sprinkler. This little plug is only about 2″ by 4″ but its chartreuse color makes a great contrast to the blue green conifer. At a mature size of about 3″ tall with a 3 foot spread it should fill the open area without getting buried under the overhanging limbs.

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I sliced the remaining half in two and put the pie shaped pieces back in the original pot, alternating them with fresh potting soil. My bright but shaded holding area will allow me to keep an eye on the pot’s progress–it will be interesting to see how quickly the mass fills in!

A ‘new-to-me’ plant to play with gives me as much pleasure as a new pair of shoes, a great new dress or a special piece of jewelry might give someone else–the goes without saying exceptions being made only for for woodworking tools and diamonds! And now…back into the car to get that scotch moss.

 

 

 

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