Ground Covers – An Introduction


All landscapes tend to have some ground cover. Some of the common choices may include grass and mulch. However, grass is hard to maintain and may not be ideal for covering large areas of land. While much is good in preventing soil erosion, retaining moisture and preventing weed growth, they don’t offer much as far as aesthetics are concerned. These low lying plants will solve all these problems and transform the otherwise dull landscapes into carpets of color. There are a wide variety of ground covers to choose from. Each one of them can be used to solve specific gardening problems.

How to use ground covers

1. Filling gaps between stones

This is a very eye catching and popular way of using ground covers. They can occupy the gaps in stone walls, rock gardens and can also be planted between steppingstones. Eventually, the ground cover will fill the spaces completely, and the otherwise dull walkway and stone wall will have a colorful touch for a change.

Not all varieties will be suitable for this purpose. The chosen plants should be very firm since they will experience a lot of foot traffic. Suitable ones may include creeping thyme, which is can withstand heavy human traffic and sedum, which takes longer to grow but is very drought resistant.

2. Planting around trees

There is a tendency to grow shrubs at the base of the tree. Trees have very unique forms and features that should only be emphasized. Instead of planting shrubs, we should plant a ground cover that will accentuate this uniqueness. Ajuga, ivy and pachysandra are some ground covers which can grow well under trees due to their shade tolerance. 

3. Taming slopes

Grass can be very hard to maintain as a ground cover in sloppy terrains. However, you can forget the lawn mower and plant some ground covers that will require minimal maintenance. Suitable ground covers may include Japanese painted fern, Japanese forest grass, and pachysandra.

4. Stand-alone features

Ground covers can be used creatively to design eye-catching features that spur conversations. Some of the most famous gardens are packed with such inspired features that warrant routine visits. The Roman chamomile and creeping thyme are examples of ground covers you can experiment with. 

5. Fighting weeds

Ground covers are great alternatives to mulch. They can get the job done and still manage to add some color and visual interest Some of the best weed blockers include ajuga, lily of the valley and lamium.

ground covers - periwinkle

How to plant ground covers

The first step in planting is knowing when to plant them. Spring or early summer is a good time since they get a chance to root well and are protected from heaving out of the ground during the winter season. The following are steps you can follow while planting ground covers.

Assess the condition

Look at the soil and consider factors such as texture and acidity level. Determine whether you need to raise or lower the pH or change the texture. Assess the sites exposure to the sun and its vulnerability to the vagaries of the weather (winter)

Choosing the right ground covers

After evaluating the conditions of the site, one should then choose ground covers that will favor well in those conditions. For example, sedum and thyme do well in the sun while others like English ivy and vinca do well in the shade. When you buy ground covers, read the tag to know how much light each particular species will require.

Preparing the site

Get rid of all the weed and grass. A large area may require you to use a rototiller or glyphosate herbicide. Enrich the soil by adding organic matter. It could be manure, compost or just shredded leaves.


Spacing is critical. It will determine the number of ground covers you plant, and the time it will take for them to cover the entire area. Of course, the size of the ground covers and their growing habits will determine the spacing.

To give you a rough idea about the number of ground covers you need in an area, follow this guide: 100 plants will cover 20 square feet when spaced 6 inches apart, 85 sqft with 12 inches of spacing and 200 sqft while placed 18 inches apart. Avoid straight lines while planting. Staggered rows will look more natural and will ensure that the ground covers get adequate space.


Take care not to pull on the stems while removing the ground covers from their pot. If the roots are tangled together, untangle them before planting. Place the plant in the hole such that it occupies the same depth as it did while in the pot. Fill the hole with soil and hold the plant firmly into place. The next step is maintenance.

ground covers - ivy

 How to take care of ground covers

Ground covers require very little attention and maintenance is not likely to take much of your time. The same cannot be said of grass lawns, which can be a nightmare when it comes to maintenance.


The moisture needs of the particular plants, soil texture, and the climate will determine how much water is required. Most ground covers will only need to be watered at a young age and will survive with rainfall and occasional watering when they are mature.


The soil texture and the plant’s needs will help you decide how much fertilizer to use. Heavier soils tend to have more nutrients and will not need much fertilizer. Light soils may require more nutrients and thus more fertilizer. In the same way, woody plants don’t need much fertilizer as compared to perennial ground covers, which require more nutrients.


Weed control takes place during planting. Using pre-emergent herbicide is one effective way of dealing with the problem. I would not recommend spraying as it can damage the ground covers while mechanical removal could remove the ground covers together with the weed.

Ground covers are an excellent choice for landscapes and gardening. Other than being useful in preventing soil erosion and weed growth, they can liven up the landscapes and gardens. The fact that they are easy to maintain is the icing on the cake. Regardless of the type of garden that you may have, they are the perfect choice for ground cover.

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