Ground Covers


The most widely planted groundcover in today’s landscape is turfgrass. Turfgrass covers the soil in almost every conceivable place. Most of the time it succeeds in providing a suitable cover. Yet, sometimes unsuitable growing conditions prevent its continued success. Other groundcovers may provide solutions to a landscaping challenge or just add a bit of much needed texture and color.

Groundcover plants, when properly taken care of, provide dense soil cover, retard weed growth, and prevent soil erosion. Groundcovers range in height from an inch to four feet. They can be woody or herbaceous; clumping or running; evergreen or deciduous. There is a broad array of colors and textures to choose from.

Groundcovers not only solve problems but also unify different components in the landscape. Non-spreading types of groundcovers can be used as hedging material, traffic barriers or just visual guides toward an entry. They soften hardscapes such as walks, steps, and driveways.

Groundcovers help to define space. A low groundcover can provide a transition between the lawn and taller plants used in beds. Attractive foliage, colorful flowers, and, at times attractive fruit can add color and texture to an otherwise "green" landscape.

Groundcovers create various moods. Small leaved, smooth textured groundcovers used in broad curved plantings can convey a feeling of spaciousness. Whereas large leaved coarse textured groundcovers create a feeling of closeness.


Site and Soil Preparation

As with any permanent landscape planting, time spent preparing the site pays off. Pay special attention to removing weeds, especially perennial weeds, from the bed prior to planting. Grass and weeds may be killed by using a systemic non-selective herbicide or by covering the area with a sheet of black plastic for 1-3 months.

If using herbicide follow all label directions for timing of application, mixing, and applying. If this is not done, the weeds will grow back, compete with the new plantings and result in poor and slower establishment of the groundcover. Once the weeds have been killed, they may be tilled into the soil. (Remove any seed heads before tilling.) Till the area to a depth of 6-8 inches adding organic matter to help improve soil tilth.

Apply one to two pounds of 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer per 100 square feet. After the site is prepared, and if practical, leave the area unplanted for about 2-3 weeks. During this time, any perennial weeds not eliminated will regrow and can easily be removed. This helps to reduce any major invasion of weeds after the area has been planted.


Plant most groundcovers in the spring or fall. Summer planting requires more attention to watering. Fall planted groundcovers may require mulching to prevent frost heaving of the plants. Spacing of plants depends on the plant’s habit, rate of growth, cost and how fast the area needs to be covered. In general, space faster growing groundcovers further apart than slow growing types. (See spacing chart for guidelines on number of plants required for certain square footage and spacing suggestions.) Plant groundcovers in a staggered or diamond pattern for best results. When planting on slopes, mulch the area after planting or plant through fiber netting to help hold the soil in place. Allow at least one to two growing seasons for the area to become completely established.


Groundcovers require a minimum amount of maintenance once established. Irrigate newly planted groundcovers so roots become well established. Keep the area free of weeds by shallow cultivation. After the first season, water as needed only during dry periods in summer or fall.

Weed Control

The most critical step to weed control occurs during bed preparation before the plants are planted. Eliminate all perennial weeds in the bed at the time of soil preparation. During establishment, achieve weed control by frequent shallow cultivation and hand pulling. Adding one to two inches of mulch reduces weed growth and keeps the soil moist. Some ground covers may need occasional pruning to maintain them within the space provided. Pruning older stems will allow young, more vigorous and attractive foliage to grow back into the area.


Tips to Consider When Adding Groundcovers to Your Landscape

  • Use groundcovers for problem areas and to unify divergent components of the landscape. They can be used as traffic barriers, visual guides and to define space.
  • Use low groundcovers for a transition between the lawn area and taller plants in the garden bed.
  • Try groundcovers where lawn grass either won’t grow or is too difficult to maintain such as in very small, confined landscapes.
  • Select groundcovers based upon their ability to add year-round beauty to the landscape. Herbaceous groundcovers die back to the ground in the winter, exposing bare soil. If this is not the look you want, choose evergreen groundcovers.
  • Select groundcovers, according to your site’s conditions: Sun or shade? Clay soil or sand? Moist or dry? Select groundcovers that will survive and thrive under your conditions; not require heroic measures to keep them alive!
  • Moss as a groundcover? Sure! While heavy, dense shade is often considered a curse, it is a blessing when it comes to moss. The color and texture of moss can add great interest. And, it’s virtually maintenance free.
  • Consider the height of the groundcover. Will you choose a six-inch ajuga or a four-foot fern?
  • Before planting, always prepare the soil as you would for any other permanent type of planting. Remember, groundcovers are capable of giving long lasting beauty and function, but their performance is only as good as the effort one puts into soil preparation.
  • Beware of groundcovers that state, “Easy, rapid coverage in either sun, shade, wet or dry.” They may be horticultural nightmares due to their aggressive nature. If you need fast coverage, closer planting of better behaved groundcovers may be the better answer.
  • Groundcovers are not the “bottom feeders” of the landscape. They add interest, and bring unity to the garden making them the unsung heroes among the more horticulturally prominent members of the garden.

Determining the Number of Plants Needed

This chart may be used to determine how many plants you will need based on the square footage of your area.

Square feet of planting area
Spacing in inches        
  6 inches 8 inches 9 inches 12 inches 18 inches


400 225 178 100 45


800 450 356 200 90


1,200 675 535 300 135


1,600 900 712 400 180


2,000 1,125 890 500 225


2,400 1,350 1,068 600 270


2,800 1,575 1,246 700 315


3,200 1,800 1,425 800 360


3,600 2,025 1,602 900 405


4,000 2,250 1,780 1,000 450