You’ve identified an area in your yard that would be enhanced by a groundcover. Where do you go from here?

Pachysandra terminalis

Pachysandra terminalis is an attractive groundcover for part to full shade.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Planning

Plant success is most often achieved when site and climate are given due consideration during plant selection. These are a few key questions to answer before heading to the nursery:

  1. What is the general soil type of your planned planting spot? Sandy? Clay? Rich and well-drained? Always wet?
  2. How much sunlight does the area receive?
  3. What size is the area to be covered?
  4. What are the aesthetic needs of the area? Evergreen? Flowering? Seasonal interest?

There are several traditional groundcover favorites that work well in certain environmental conditions. What you select is certainly not limited to these plants, but they may be commonly observed in other landscapes. Partially shaded areas suit English ivy, Pachysandra and Vinca minor. There are several prostrate junipers, a drought-tolerant evergreen conifer, that thrive in full sun. Choices for full shade include English ivy, Ajuga reptans and lily-of-the-valley.

Visit a local public garden to observe the use of groundcovers and diversity of plant material suitable for your area. Some garden centers also feature small display gardens for your convenience, and others group plants according to use, so it’s easy to choose among “common groundcovers.”

Planting

General site preparation is the first step after plant selection. It’s a good idea to have a soil test done so you can properly amend your soil with the appropriate nutrients, if needed. A compost or fertilizer can be tilled into the soil (up to 6 inches deep) before you get started. Once the ground is “worked up,” it’s easiest to go ahead and spread your mulch of choice over the entire area, rather than tiptoeing around the plants after they’re in place. Just be sure to push the mulch aside prior to digging your planting holes.

Plant spacing depends on the current and mature plant size, growth rate and time allowed for complete coverage of the area. Obviously placing plants further apart reduces the number of plants needed (and, therefore, initial costs). However, it’ll likely take longer for largely spaced plants to cover the soil. If the planting is intended to control erosion, it may be necessary to start with more plants, closely spaced to preserve the slope.

Water immediately after planting and as needed for plant establishment during the first year. In this case, “as needed,” can be described as when the soil is dry or the plants begin to wilt. Each watering should be a thorough soaking, wetting the soil at least 1 inch deep. With proper plant selection and good root development, watering after the first year should be minimal.

In short, groundcovers are a minimum-input gardening choice: Along with minimal watering requirements are minimal fertilizer needs and minimal pruning. Luckily, these plants give maximum output by covering often-challenging landscape areas with a lush, natural blanket of beauty.