How to Establish Groundcover

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Once established, groundcovers offer an effective means to suppress weeds, stabilize soil, and fill in the space around individual plants. There are species for every landscaping dilemma-hot sun, no sun, wet sites, dry sites, high traffic paths, steep banks, and even boulevards. If you don't like mowing, groundcovers are also a good alternative to grass.


What to Plant

No matter what your situation, chances are good that a groundcover exists to fit the bill. Do some research and keep an eye out for successful plantings in your neighborhood. If you're still unsure what to plant, ask your cooperative extension agency or someone at your local nursery or landscaping company to recommend groundcovers for your area.

Some groundcovers are more aggressive than others, so be wary of invasive species and those prone to get quickly out of hand if not contained. Once established, groundcovers do not need to be mowed, although taller plants may require more maintenance (shearing every year) to maintain a tidy appearance.

For more information on different types of groundcovers (with images), visit the University of Illinois Extension's Directory of Groundcovers.


When to Plant It

Gardeners in cold-winter areas should plant groundcovers in the spring, so the plants have an entire growing season to establish roots. Gardeners in zones with hot, dry summers and mild winters should plant groundcovers in the fall, so the plants can take advantage of winter rains.

Preparing the Site

Start by killing and/or removing all existing grass and weeds. An easy way to do this is to cover the area with several layers of newspapers or a tarp held down with bricks for several weeks.

Remove rocks and other debris and rake the surface to even it out. Disturbing the soil may bring dormant weed seeds to the surface. At this point it's a good idea to water the site and wait a week or two to see if any weed seedlings germinate.

Amending the Soil

Groundcovers are no different than other garden plants. Most won't thrive in poor soil. After preparing the site, have your soil tested to determine pH and find out if it's lacking in any major nutrients.


Even the best quality soils benefit from the addition of organic matter. You will help condition the soil and improve drainage by spreading three to four inches of organic matter or well-composted manure over the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.

Setting Out the Plants

Spacing of plants depends on the plant's habit, rate of growth, cost and how fast the area needs to be covered. Closer spacing requires more plants (at a greater cost), but they will fill in more quickly. In general, faster growing groundcovers can be spaced further apart than slow growing types.

Plantings on steep slopes should be set in the ground in staggered rows. Create a ridge in front and a low spot in the back of each one to prevent erosion and catch water.

Water the plants thoroughly after planting, and every few days for the next few weeks when the top inch of soil feels dry. Plant should receive 1 inch of water each week.


Cover the soil between the young plants with mulch (bark, straw, or pine needles) to help maintain soil moisture and suppress weeds.

Routine Maintenance

  • Water during dry periods.
  • Promptly remove any weeds that appear.
  • Refresh the mulch each year until the plants fill in and become established.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at

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