The typical American yard is a bed of manicured lawn grass, requiring frequent mowing, edging, weeding and fertilizing, as well as chemical control for pests, diseases and weeds. It doesn’t have to be that way. In many situations, masses of low growing perennials covering the ground can be just as useful as traditional “golf course” grass. Well-established groundcovers of flowering or foliage plants never needs mowing or spraying. It is more interesting, more attractive, and easier to maintain than a traditional lawn. Use this as a guide on how to mass plant groundcovers in your landscape.
Herbaceous perennials or shrubs that are short, vigorous and quick to spread laterally make fine nonflowering or flowering groundcover plants when they are spaced close together and allowed to form an unbroken mass of foliage. Groundcovers can be useful for stabilizing steep banks where lawn-mowing is impractical.
Many low maintenance ground covers thrive in shade gardens and can be used under ornamental shrubs and trees where grass would never survive. Use groundcovers where foot traffic is minimal such as the edges of beds and pathways, between flowering shrubs or along the outer perimeter of your landscape. A low growing groundcover makes an excellent canvas for flowering bulbs and does not need to be mowed as would lawn grass. Choosing native plants will ensure you are growing plants from your region that are less susceptible to pests and diseases. Although, most groundcovers are worry free. For example, a Massachusetts ground cover plant could best be found on this site.
Select the right ground covers for the site
The accompanying table lists several popular groundcover plants and some characteristics of each. Try a few different ground covers to see which do best in your particular application. Try creating a patchwork of groundcovers with different textures, colors and heights.
*native to N. America
|Hardiness Zone||Height||Shade Tolerance||Spacing (plants per yd2)|| Soil Type|
| Wooly Yarrow|
|10-14″||Full Sun||9 per yd2||Any neutral to alkaline||Evergreen grayish fernlike leaves Large pretty flowers Can be mowed|
|18 per yd2||Any moist||Semi-evergreen creeper Flower spikes rise above foliage|
|4 per yd2||Fertile, moist, acidic||Evergreen shrub with small, leathery leaves|
| European Ginger|
|15 per yd2||Fertile, moist, neutral to acidic||Evergreen shiny leaves|
| Spreading Yew|
|6-9||18-24″||Partial Shade||3 per yd2||Fertile, moist||Evergreen shrub makes a tall ground cover|
| Crown Vetch|
|4-9||6-8″||Full Sun||2 per yd2||Fertile||Dies back in winter Best for erosion control, steep banks|
| Bearberry Cotoneaster|
|6-8||6-10″||Full Sun||2 per yd2||Fertile||Evergreen shrub with crossing branches|
|5-9||6-20″||Partial Shade||2 per yd2||Any||Evergreen creeper Several cultivars available. Winter interest|
| English Ivy|
|5 per yd2||Any||Evergreen vine Very adaptable Reliable Fast growing|
| Day Lilies|
|9 per yd2||Fertile, neutral to acidic||Some varieties die back in winter. Tall ground cover. Yellow flowers or white flowers|
|6 per yd2||Fertile, moist||Many species and varieties Dies back in winter Tall ground covers|
| Creeping Juniper|
|3-9||10-12″||Full Sun||2 per yd2||Any||Evergreen conifer with crossing branches Tolerates dry sites|
| Tall Lilyturf|
|12 per yd2||Fertile, moist, acidic||Evergreen grasslike foliage|
| Creeping Lilyturf|
|6 per yd2||Fertile, moist, acidic||Semi-evergreen grasslike foliage|
| Muhly Grass|
|3 per yd2||Any||Tall ground cover for poor soils. Ornamental grass|
| Dwarf Mondo Grass|
|9 per yd2||Fertile, moist, acidic||Evergreen grasslike foliage|
| Japanese Spurge|
|2 per yd2||Any||Evergreen creeper Most popular ground cover in US|
| Creeping Phlox|
|4-8||4-6″||Partial Shade||12 per yd2||Fertile, moist||Dies back in winter|
| Frog Fruit|
|9 per yd2||Fertile, moist||Evergreen spreader Tolerates trampling Can be mowed|
| Three Toothed Cinquefoil|
|9 per yd2||Any, dry||Evergreen creeper Tolerates dry sites|
| Strawberry Geranium|
|6 per yd2||Fertile, moist||Evergreen Fast growing Pretty flowers above foliage|
| Golden Carpet|
|4-9||2-3″||Full Sun||9 per yd2||Fertile, dry, neutral to alkaline||Evergreen Tiny succulent leaves Tolerates dry sites|
| Wild Thyme|
|4-9||8-10″||Full Sun||9 per yd2||Any, neutral to alkaline||Semi-deciduous Returns in spring Aromatic foliage|
| Asiatic Jasmine|
|6 per yd2||Any, moist||Rampant vine that forms dense tangled mat|
| Creeping Myrtle|
|9 per yd2||Any||Evergreen sub-shrub Pretty flowers|
Number of plants needed:
You may plant any of these as a single plant or focal point and it will grow and spread in the shape of the location you plant it in. You will need to measure your plant site in square feet and space the plants accordingly.
When is the best time to start your groundcover?
Early spring is the best time so the plants will have the summer growing season to become well-established root systems. To get your groundcover off to a good start, you need to prepare the site. The ground should be as free of weeds, especially perennial weeds, as humanly possible. You can use hand weeding or herbicides before planting, or install a weed resistant landscape fabric after the soil has been prepared.
Perennial groundcovers are our preferred method of mass planting. Newly planted perennials will only take 1 growing season to establish their roots. Planting annuals as foundation plantings may become tedious to replace year after year. A good choice is to use annuals for the seasonal pop of color. You can get creative with your garden design. You can even make a rock garden!
Small shrubs are a good specimen plant if they have colorful foliage.
For groundcovers planted on a slope
Ensure that loose soil will not get washed away. You can use landscape timbers, rocks, or concrete walls on steep slopes. Lesser slopes can be reinforced with terraces cut perpendicular to the slope with a rake or spade. The best fast growing ground cover for slopes is Asiatic Jasmine.
For sites that are relatively level:
Or for leveled terraces on a slope, dig the soil at least six inches deep and work in 2-3 inches of organic material such as rotted manure, compost, leaf mold or peat. Install the weed resistant landscape fabric if desired.
Set out your plants on an overcast day, especially if the area is in full sun. Water the starter plants before removing them from their containers. If there is more than one starter plant per container, carefully separate the individual plants under running water and spread out any tangled roots before planting. Space the starter plants as suggested in the table, cutting slits in the fabric as necessary. Set them the same depth as they were in the containers. The closer you space them, the sooner they will cover the large area.
Spread organic mulch such as wood chips, pine needles or shredded leaves in the gaps between the starter plants. The mulch will help keep weeds in check, help retain moisture in the soil, and help to reduce drastic variations in soil temperature. It also looks better than the landscape fabric. As the mulch decomposes, it adds nutrients to the soil. Water thoroughly and water frequently during the first growing season. After that, you should water your groundcover as needed, depending on the rainfall. It can take 2-3 years for a groundcover to reach its full potential. Check on your growing conditionals frequently when mass planting shrubs.
Once established, your groundcover will outcompete and choke out weeds, but you will need to pull (not dig) weeds until the groundcover has covered the ground. You will probably need to pull weeds for a year or two. Don’t try to remove autumn’s fallen leaves from the groundcover planting either. Allow these to decompose and add fertility to the soil. They also provide protection from extreme cold during the winter as mulch. You can broadcast a pelleted fertilizer as directed in early spring. Do this when the foliage is dry.
Most flowering ground cover plants are drought tolerant once established. But it does take a full growing season for them to establish a strong root system. Water thoroughly every other day or few days the first few weeks of planting if it does not rain.
You can purchase these from a garden center… or better yet, you can have us ship them directly to your front door so you never have to leave. Contact us with any ground cover related questions. We are happy to help.