7 pointers for planting versatile groundcovers

June 23, 2015

Known as the workhorses of the plant world, groundcovers look great, require less work than lawn to maintain and can grow where turf grasses simply won't thrive. And believe it or not, fall is an ideal time to get groundcover patches started.

7 pointers for planting versatile groundcovers

[Image Credit: iStock.com/divgradcurl]

Choose according to your needs

Once you've come up with a list of groundcovers suited to your site, narrow it down by deciding what you want from your planting.

Easy care
If you need a lawn-like effect without regular mowing, a low-growing ornamental grass can do the trick.

  • For a carpet of green all year long, consider growing an evergreen plant such as pachysandra.

Weed-fighting colour
Flowering groundcovers do double duty; they suppress weeds and can also dress up your landscape with seasonal colour.

Pathways and slopes
Ground-hugging plants are best between stepping stones and along paths.

  • Taller plants – to about one metre high – are fine for planting on slopes or under trees.

Now that you've decided upon which type of groundcover you want, what comes next?

1. Frame it up

A ribbon of groundcover plants (30 to 60 centimetres wide) around a small lawn area creates a finished look and reduces the time you'll spend on edging.

  • Evergreen groundcovers work best, but you can also use deciduous plants, which die back during the winter.
  • If you go with deciduous plants, cover the area with attractive mulch (such as shredded bark) while the groundcover is dormant.

2. Weed before planting

The single most important step in getting groundcovers off to a good start is getting rid of all the weeds before you plant.

  • Hand-dig weeds with taproots, such as dock and dandelions, to make sure you remove them completely.
  • Remove the remaining grass and weeds with a sod cutter or (in small areas) with a spade or shovel.
  • After you dig or till the soil, water the site and let it sit for a week or two, then weed again before planting.

3. Fall into planting

Autumn is the ideal time to get new groundcover patches started.

  • Come spring, they'll be settled in and be ready to sprout quickly, so they'll get a jump-start on crowding out weeds.

Planting in fall means they'll need less watering come spring since their roots will be well established before hot, dry summer weather arrives.

4. Create planting pockets

Need to get groundcovers growing under trees and shrubs? A tree's abundant network of roots can make it tough to dig or till the whole site.

  • Dig individual planting holes as best you can and add a shovelful of compost to each.
  • After planting, mulch with leaf mould or more compost to add nutrients to the soil.
  • Keep the groundcover well watered for the first year or two.

5. Be slope savvy

Groundcovers are super solutions for slopes, eliminating the need for regular mowing in awkward spaces.

  • To prevent erosion while the plants are becoming established lay a permeable, biodegradable mat (such as jute netting) over the prepared soil.
  • Cut planting holes in the netting, then set in the plants and cover the mat with mulch.

6. Stepping up

Another option that works well for a steep slope is laying boards, logs or stones across it to create low walls.

  • Add some topsoil to fill in behind each wall and you'll create level "steps" that are easy to plant with groundcovers. The other benefit? The soil is also much less prone to erosion.

7. The strongest link

To make mowing easier and minimize tedious trimming, use beds of groundcovers to "link" individual shrubs and trees, thus forming larger beds.

  • Flowering groundcovers are fabulous for adding colour around non-blooming trees and shrubs; evergreen groundcovers make an elegant backdrop for bright-flowered bushes.

Both versatile and easy-care, groundcovers can provide foliage where grass refuses to grow and help to reduce the amount of maintenance needed in your yard and garden.

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