Easy to maintain and wonderfully attractive
Ground covers are a gardener's delight. Once established they practically take care of themselves. Bulbs will pop through, they grow where grass won't, and no more mowing steep slopes. You can choose varieties to grow in conditions ranging from deep shade to bright sun, from poor, sandy soil to perfectly prepared garden soil.
We suggest that you do a little research and select the ground cover that's right for the sun, soil, and climate in your region. Ground covers are usually quite resistant to diseases and pests, so they're not a big concern. Try different shapes and textures as you plant garden beds of greenery around your home. See the plant hardiness zone map.
Prepare the soil bed as you would for planting grass seed. It's a good idea to have your soil tested for fertility and pH. You can buy a soil testing kit at your local nursery or have them do a test for you. Adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium are important for vigorous root growth, so you'll want to add these nutrients if the soil test shows they're needed. Also most ground covers grow best when the soil is neutral (pH of 7) or slightly acid. If the soil test shows less than 6, spread enough lime to sufficiently "sweeten" the soil. Finally, spread a balanced fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium just before cultivation. See soil smarts for more information.
Planting ground covers
You can plant ground cover in either the spring or fall. Shallow rooted ground covers or those planted on windy, exposed slopes do better when planted in spring, particularly if your winters are cold and harsh. Deep rooted plants can handle fall planting easily. Ground cover can be planted as far as a foot apart, but covers faster when set 6 inches apart or so. If you plant on a hillside, make a small depression around each plant to hold water.
Be sure to mulch between plants, especially after initial planting. A layer of mulch is as comforting to a plant as a warm blanket on a cold night is to us. Mulching is laying down loose material on the soil surface. Mulching keeps weeds down; keeps the soil warm promoting quicker plant germination and growth; keeps the soil from drying out; and, if an organic mulch is used, it will over time improve the soil. To be most effective mulch should be laid on in the late spring about 3 inches thick and left alone. Mulching allows you to decrease watering frequency by about a third, and eliminates hoeing between the rows. Organic mulches include straw, peat moss, sawdust, dry manure, and bark chips. Inorganic mulches include aluminum foil, newspaper, and polyethylene film.
Root division is the quickest way to propagate many varieties of ground cover. Spring or fall are both good times to do this, but it can be done anytime of the year if you're careful. Cuttings are another way, pachysandra and ivy cuttings are started by inserting them in pots of soil, sand, or peat moss.
Water ground covers in dry weather. On steep hills, build ridges to keep water from running down hill too fast. To water properly, you must have patience. To be effective the water must reach all the roots. So a good soaking is best. It's better to water thoroughly less often than to do short waterings more frequently. Once the area is soaked thoroughly, wait a few minutes for the water to penetrate and then water again. Ground covers open to the sun and wind require this type of watering at least once a week.
Cultivate a good, balanced fertilizer into the soil for most ground covers. For some plantings, fertilizer does more harm than good. The alpine ground covers grow naturally in poor soil and a rich diet doesn't suit them. To be safe, check planting instruction for your choice of ground covers before preparing the soil. See plant nutrients for more information.
Occasional pruning is a must with most ground covers. Some are so vigorous, they can choke other plants if not trimmed. When purchased, plants may be rangy in appearance, so prune them back for thicker growth and more buds. Plants with long, trailing stems (myrtle and ivy) can be cut back halfway with good results. And woody ground covers benefit from pruning with sharp shears several times a year.
Select a ground cover
Click on a ground cover from the list below to see a photo and find lots of growing and plant care tips.
Benefits of ground covers
Just think of all the wonderful benefits of growing ground covers... your bulbs will pop up through them, they provide wonderful green texture for bare patches, they grow where grass won't grow and no more mowing steep slopes. Plus ground covers are attractive and easy to maintain.