A ground cover is a low-growing plant with a spreading growth habit that provides solid cover over bare soil. A ground cover should be attractive, long-lasting and adapted to the planting location. Most ground covers are not suitable to use as a replacement for a lawn because they cannot survive foot traffic. However, they can be used as a lawn alternative in a shady or rarely used section of the landscape where grass cannot grow.
When to Plant
Ground cover plants are planted in the fall in most locations. In locations where the ground freezes in the winter, plant in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Most ground covers are perennial and establish their root systems during cooler weather before the stressful summer heat arrives.
Choosing Ground Covers
Choose a ground cover that grows in the conditions you are providing. For example, if the location is shady and under a tree with shallow roots, the ground cover should be capable of dry shady conditions. If the location holds water, choose ground covers that are adapted to boggy conditions. Keep in mind the eventual size of the ground cover and its invasive tendencies. Some ground covers spread over the ground so quickly they can overwhelm your landscape and even invade neighbouring lawns.
Preparing the Planting Site
Remove all weeds from the planting site. Because weeds are so difficult to control in ground cover plantings, use an herbicide containing glyphosate to kill existing weeds. Two weeks after the glyphosate application, till or loosen the soil in the planting area to a depth of 12 inches using a shovel or garden fork. Work enough well-rotted compost into the soil that the top 12 inches of soil is 25 per cent compost. Rake the area until it is smooth and spread a balanced fertiliser, with the ratio 13-13-13 or 8-8-8, at the recommended rate over the planting area. It will become incorporated into the soil when the ground cover is watered.
Planting Ground Covers
When planting ground cover plants, they are spaced according to the size of the plants, how fast they grow and the ultimate area of coverage. Some ground covers such as creeping juniper may reach 6 feet in all directions, while others, such as English ivy, can spread to 30 feet or more. Water container plants before planting and let them drain. Plant the plants in a checkerboard fashion starting from the back of the planting area and working toward the front. Plant ground cover plants at the same depth as they were planted in the container. When finished, water the entire planting area, including the plants, to settle the soil around the plants and wash the fertiliser into the soil. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch between the plants.
Ground Cover Care
Ground cover should receive the correct level of moisture, which varies according to the type of ground cover, during the growing season. Overwatering is a common cause of ground cover death because the leaves are located close to the soil, where moisture-loving fungal and disease pathogens are located.