Ground cover plants offer numerous landscaping benefits. For example, they enrich the underlying soil, are low-maintenance -- especially compared to standard grass lawns -- and help prevent soil erosion. Plant your own ground covering at home with the proper preparation before planting and post-planting care, no matter what kind of ground cover plant you choose to use.
The Best Time for Planting
Ground cover plants can be planted any time of the year. But the optimal time for planting is either in the spring after the last frost date in your region or in the fall if you garden in an area that experiences mild, frost-free winters.
Ground Cover Options
There are hundreds of ground cover plants to choose from, and the most important deciding factor to consider is how much sunlight your planting site receives each day. Check with your local county extension office for suggestions on specific ground cover plants that perform well in your local area's climate and soil. As a starting point, the following plants are common choices that do well in certain sunlight conditions:
- Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), which thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8
- Moss phlox (Phlox subulata, USDA zones 3 through 9)
- Thyme (Thymus praecox, USDA zones 5 through 8)
- Bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum, USDA zones 4 through 8)
- Dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata, USDA zones 3 through 9)
- Mazus (Mazus reptans, USDA zones 5 through 8)
Full Shade Options
- Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum, USDA zones 3 through 8)
- Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus, USDA zones 7 through 10)
- Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis, USDA zones 5 through 9)
Give the ground cover plants a foundation for success by preparing the site before planting.
Remove all weeds and other existing vegetation at the planting site.
Break up the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches with a garden spade.
Rake the area to remove any debris, such as rocks or sticks.
Mix in 2 inches of organic matter, such as compost or peat moss. This enhances soil moisture retention, improves aeration and boosts soil nutrient levels.
Fertilize the planting site. Scatter 1 pound of 12-12-12 fertilizer for every 50 square feet of soil surface. With the garden spade, mix the fertilizer thoroughly into the top 8 to 10 inches of soil.
Spacing Estimates and Planting Method
Ground cover is typically started from seedlings or juvenile plants that come in trays of individual soil-filled compartments. When planting these juvenile plants, most types of ground cover plants are spaced apart by approximately 1 to 2 feet. Planting individual ground cover plants closer together can speed up how quickly the planting site is covered as the plants spread, however. The following are estimates of how much space you can cover with 100 individual ground cover plants depending on how far apart you space each plant:
- When planted 24 inches apart, 100 plants will cover 400 square feet.
- 12 inches apart, 100 square feet covered
- 8 inches apart, 44 square feet covered
- 6 inches apart, 25 square feet covered
Once you have enough ground cover plants to cover your specific planting site, set the plants in the ground:
Dig a hole in the prepared planting site that's the size of the ground cover plant's pot or the soil compartment in the seedling tray.
Remove the individual ground cover plant from its pot or seedling tray compartment.
Place the ground cover plant's root ball into the hole you dug. Fill in the sides of the hole with soil and tap down lightly to help the soil settle.
Repeat for each additional ground cover plant, creating an evenly spaced grid of plants across your planting site.
Once they're established, ground cover needs little, if any, maintenance. Water the new planting site regularly, using enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 12 inches. Repeat whenever the top couple of inches of soil has dried out. After a couple of weeks, the plants should be established, and watering can be reduced to once a week or less.
Fertilize the ground cover once a year in the spring. Use 1 pound of 12-12-12 fertilizer for every 50 square feet of ground cover. Water the ground cover after fertilizing the plants to dissolve the fertilizer and help carry it down to the plants' roots.