Ground cover refers to spreading plants that grow less than 2 feet tall. The term encompasses a wide range of plants from perennial shrubs to trailing vines, according to the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service. These plants beautify the landscape and protect areas where grass is a challenge to mow and grow. For instance, a ground cover like juniper prevents hillside erosion. A ground cover such as partridgeberry fills in gaps between paving stones. The best time to plant a ground cover is early fall when temperatures are low and there is ample rainfall.
Clear the planting site of existing vegetation. Use a sod cutter to remove grass and a weeding fork to remove weeds. Dispose or compost the plant debris.
Prepare the planting bed. Turn over 8 to 10 inches of soil with a rototiller. Work in 1 lb. of a complete fertilizer, like 5-10-15, per 100 square feet of planting space. Add 2 inches of organic matter, such as compost or peat moss. Level the soil with the flat edge of a garden hoe.
Dig holes in a staggered pattern with a trowel or spade. Make the holes as deep as the root ball is tall and two to three times as wide. Space the plants based on how large they are expected to grow at maturity. For example, juniper requires 3 feet of space between plantings, while ivy only requires 1 foot of space.
Plant the ground cover. Turn the containers upside down, then tap the bottom to remove the individual plants. Loosen the roots by kneading the bottom of the root ball. Set the plants in the holes at the depth they grew in the containers. Place soil around the root ball, then tamp down to firm.
Water newly planted ground cover with a soaker hose. Adjust the water schedule according to rainfall and drought after the plant is established. Note that some plants like the Carolina yellow jessamine need consistently moist soil, while other plants, such as the fig marigold, only require supplemental watering.
Spread 2 to 4 inches of mulch around the base of each ground cover plant. Mulch, such as ground pine bark or wood chips, hinders weed growth and promotes moisture retention.
Apply 2 lbs. of complete fertilizer per 1,000 square feet in spring. Broadcast the fertilizer, then water the foliage to avoid fertilizer burn (if using granular fertilizer).
Prune ground covers in spring before new growth occurs. Cut and remove broken, dead or diseased branches. Use a mower or weed trimmer to keep the shape of woody-stemmed plants.