How to Mass Plant Groundcovers

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.

Most Popular Ground Covers

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 ground cover 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. 

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
(Well Drained)
Special Features
Blue Pacific Juniper
Juniperus conferta
6-9 1′ Full Sun/ Partial Shade 5 per yd2 Any well-draining Evergreen with pine-like leaves Deer Resistant
Drought Tolerant
Ajuga reptans
4-8 4-8″ Partial Shade/
Full Shade
18 per yd2 Any moist Semi-evergreen creeper   Flower spikes rise above foliage
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi*
2-6 3-8″ Full Sun/
Partial Shade
4 per yd2 Fertile, moist, acidic Evergreen shrub with small, leathery leaves
European Ginger
Asarum europaeum
4-8 3-6″ Partial Shade/
Full Shade
15 per yd2 Fertile, moist, neutral to acidic Evergreen shiny leaves
Spreading Yew
Cephalotaxus harringtoniana
6-9 18-24″ Partial Shade 3 per yd2 Fertile, moist Evergreen shrub makes a tall ground cover
Blue Rug Juniper
Juniperus horizontalis ‘wiltonii’
3-9 0-1′ Full Sun/ Partial Shade 6 per yd2 Any well-draining Evergreen feathery foliage Deer Resistant Drought Tolerant
Bearberry Cotoneaster
Cotoneaster dammeri
6-8 6-10″ Full Sun 2 per yd2 Fertile Evergreen shrub with crossing branches
Euonymus fortunei
5-9 6-20″ Partial Shade 2 per yd2 Any Evergreen creeper   Several cultivars available. Winter interest
English Ivy
Hedera helix
4-9 3-6″ Full Sun/
Full Shade
5 per yd2 Any Evergreen vine   Very adaptable   Reliable   Fast growing
Day Lilies
Hemerocallis hybrids
4-9 12-18″ Full Sun/
Partial Shade
9 per yd2 Fertile, neutral to acidic Some varieties die back in winter.   Tall ground cover. Yellow flowers or white flowers
Hosta spp.
3-8 10-30″ Partial Shade/
Full Shade
6 per yd2 Fertile, moist Many species and varieties   Dies back in winter   Tall ground covers
Creeping Juniper
Juniperus horizontalis*(Andorra Juniper)
3-9 10-12″ Full Sun 2 per yd2 Any Evergreen conifer with crossing branches   Tolerates dry sites
Tall Lilyturf
Liriope muscari
6-10 10-15″ Full Sun/
Partial Shade
12 per yd2 Fertile, moist, acidic Evergreen grasslike foliage
Creeping Lilyturf
Liriope spicata
6-10 8-10″ Partial Sun/
Full Shade
6 per yd2 Fertile, moist, acidic Semi-evergreen grasslike foliage
Muhly Grass
Muhlenbergia capillaris
5-10 24-36″ Full Sun/
Partial Shade
3 per yd2 Any Tall ground cover for poor soils. Ornamental grass
Dwarf Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon japonicus
7-10 2-6″ Partial Shade/
Full Shade
9 per yd2 Fertile, moist, acidic Evergreen grasslike foliage
Japanese Spurge
Pachysandra terminalis
4-8 6-8″ Partial Shade/
Full Shade
2 per yd2 Any Evergreen creeper   Most popular ground cover in US
Creeping Phlox
Phlox stolonifera*
4-8 4-6″ Partial Shade 12 per yd2 Fertile, moist Dies back in winter
Frog Fruit
Phyla nodiflora
8-9 2-4″ Full Sun/
Partial Shade
9 per yd2 Fertile, moist Evergreen spreader   Tolerates trampling   Can be mowed
Three Toothed Cinquefoil
Potentilla tridentata*
2-8 6-9″ Full Sun/
Partial Shade
9 per yd2 Any, dry Evergreen creeper   Tolerates dry sites
Strawberry Geranium
Saxifraga stolonifera
6-9 6-10″ Partial Shade/
Full Shade
6 per yd2 Fertile, moist Evergreen   Fast growing   Pretty flowers above foliage
Golden Carpet
Sedum acre
4-9 2-3″ Full Sun 9 per yd2 Fertile, dry, neutral to alkaline Evergreen   Tiny succulent leaves   Tolerates dry sites
Wild Thyme
Thymus serpyllum
4-9 8-10″ Full Sun 9 per yd2 Any, neutral to alkaline Semi-deciduous   Returns in spring   Aromatic foliage
Asiatic Jasmine
Trachelospermum asiaticum
8-9 4-6″ Partial Sun/
Full Shade
6 per yd2 Any, moist Rampant vine that forms dense tangled mat
Creeping Myrtle
Vinca minor
4-9 4-8″ Full Sun/
Partial Shade
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 ground covers 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.