How to Plant Ground Covers

A healthy ground cover should establish a strong root system.
A healthy ground cover should establish a strong root system.

Planting ground covers is a fulfilling way to utilize all of your garden space.

Ground-cover plantings should be evenly thick. It helps to set plants in place at regular spacing in the first place. Begin by preparing the ground as for any garden bed. Then use a wire or string grid with regularly spaced openings at three-inch intervals (or other size if appropriate) to help you distribute the plants. For easier, trouble-free planting, consider the following tips:

  • Use landscape fabric instead of plastic to reduce weeds in large plantings. Landscape fabric has pores that allow free air and water movement a big advantage over impenetrable plastic. Lay it down before planting and then cut holes in the fabric. Plant your ground cover in the holes. When covered with mulch, landscape fabric prevents light from reaching the soil, which will stop the sprouting of most weed seeds.
  • Hold barren soil in place with burlap when planting ground cover on a slope. This will prevent erosion while the ground cover is getting established. You should pin the burlap securely into the soil so that it won't slip off when rain makes the soil heavy and wet. Cut modest openings in the burlap and plant one ground cover in each.

Once the ground cover establishes a strong root system and is able to secure nearby soil from erosion, you can gradually enlarge the openings and allow it to spread until it fills out the slope.

  • Set ground cover plugs in place using a wire grid stretched over the bed for fast, easy planting. The regularly spaced openings will help you to coordinate spacing without a measuring tape.
  • Help ground covers spread by layering stems as they grow. Layering encourages stems to root while still connected to the parent plant.
A Gift of Ground Cover

Ground covers spread fast. People with established gardens often have ground cover to spare, because it needs thinning or trimming.

See if a neighboring gardener or even a groundskeeper at the park will fill a big plastic trash bag with starts of wild ginger, epimedium, or pachysandra for you. It will save you some serious money, compared to buying flats at the garden center or hiring a landscaper to do the job.

Ground covers such as pachysandraare easily rooted simply by covering barren portions of the stem with soil and keeping them moist.

For harder-to-root ground covers such as wintercreeper, you can remove a small piece of bark from the bottom of the stem and treat the opening with rooting hormone before covering the stem with soil.

  • Spread netting or old sheets over ground covers during autumn leaf drop. It can be difficult to rake leaves out of thick ground covers, and allowing the leaves to sit and mat on the ground-cover bed creates unhealthy conditions. But planning ahead to catch leaves as they fall allows you to gather up all the leaves in one easy move and keeps the ground cover uncluttered.
  • Rejuvenate winter-burned ground-cover plantings by mowing. If a cold winter causes broad-leaf evergreens to grow brown and unsightly, don't give up hope. There is a good chance that the roots are still alive and will send up fresh green growth come springtime. Mowing off the old leaves gives the new leaves plenty of space and keeps the bed tidy.

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