Providing continuous foliage interest or bloom color year after year, perennial groundcovers are industrious plants that spread out and fill in gaps in landscaping or hard-to-plant areas. Sea pink, candytuft and coral bells are all good choices for full sun. In part to full shade, sweet violet, hosta and tufted pansy are excellent selections. Fall planting provides the best chance for plants to become established before winter and an early spring start. Since the plants will spread out, be sure to prepare a large enough bed to accommodate the mature size of your groundcover plants. With a little up front care and maintenance, groundcovers can provide just the landscaping solution you are looking for.
Prepare the soil in the location of choice in the fall by tilling it to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Mix in 2 inches of organic matter, such as compost, to provide nutrients and improve soil drainage. In addition, include a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the soil mixture at a rate equal to the bed size as recommended by the fertilizer manufacturer. This will provide more food for perennial plants that will rely on the sustenance of well-prepared soil year after year.
Plant the groudcover starts in a staggered manner, placing plants at the distance suggested for mature growth of your particular plant. For example, mature coral bells can spread to a width of 1 foot. Allowing up to 18 inches between coral bells in rows and 18 inches between rows will ensure an even, healthy coverage of plants. Experts at Clemson University Cooperative Extension advise not to expect complete ground coverage before the third growing season, when the plants are fully mature.
Cover the ground between the plants with an organic mulch, such as pine needles or hardwood bark, to retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.
Water the new starts to keep soil moist, and be aware of the specific water requirements for your groundcover choice. Evenly moist soil should prevent most perennial groundcovers from wilting.
Fertilize four to five times during the first growing season with a balanced perennial fertilizer. Apply the first round in early spring, then once or twice during the summer, and once in early fall. Fertilizing too late in fall may encourage undesirable growth when the plant is preparing to become dormant.
Prune or cut back groundcover plants in early spring to make room for new growth. As with late fertilization, late fall pruning can encourage new growth that interferes with plant dormancy. Know the requirements of your specific groundcover for best pruning results.