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Gardening Tips - Ground Covers 101

Updated on October 21, 2015

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Ground covers are often underrated by people who are not so familiar with the art of landscaping. In the eye of landscape designers, however, they are the most versatile plants that do much more than just covering the ground. Ground covers can add texture and colors to your garden, highlight other plants, prevent erosion on steep slopes, conceal unsightly spots, cover areas of barren soil, and unify all elements in your garden by bringing a continuity of coverage to all areas. Some types of ground covers can even creep on stone walls or drape from window boxes, creating a very intriguing view in your garden. Besides, by substituting ground covers for lawns, you can save yourself from the burden of mowing, as most ground covers are very low-maintenance. If you are interested in growing a ground cover in your garden, here are some important things you need to know.

When to plant ground covers

In warm areas, ground covers can be planted basically any time. Spring and fall, however, are the ideal, as the climate is young-plant-friendly, and rainfall is profuse.

In colder areas, spring is the best time to plant ground covers because fall plantings are likely to have a hard time surviving alternate freezing and thawing of the soil. If you have no choice but to plant in fall, try to do it as early as possible in order to allow young plants to become established before the freezing climate arrives.

Choosing Ground Covers

Different ground covers have different cultural requirements and growth habits. Before you plant any ground cover in your garden, it will be wise to study their climatic requirements and proper uses first to see whether or not they will be suitable for your lawn. Below are lists of some ground covers for specific uses and locations in landscaping.


Drought Tolerant Ground Covers

  • Kinnikinnik
  • Capeweed
  • Rock Rose
  • Broom
  • Juniper
  • Lavender Cotton
  • Stonecrop

Easy-to-Grow Ground Covers

  • Bugleweed
  • Kinnikinnick
  • Wintercreeper
  • Ivy
  • Juniper
  • Japanese Spurge
  • Dwarf Rosemary

Scotch Moss
Scotch Moss

Ground Covers that grow well in partial shade

  • Goutweed
  • Bugleweed
  • Bellflower
  • English Yew
  • Holly Fern
  • Aaron's Beard
  • Scotch Moss

Ground Covers that grow well in full sun

  • Wooly Yarrow
  • Kinnikinnik
  • Angel's Hair
  • California Lilac
  • Juniper
  • Sun Rose
  • Trailing African Daisy

Carmel Creeper
Carmel Creeper

Slope Stabilizers

  • Kinnikinnik
  • Dwarf Coyote Brush
  • Rock Rose
  • Lantana
  • Trailing African Daisy
  • Carmel Creeper
  • Dwarf Rosemary

Ground Covers that tolerate deep shade

  • Five-finger Fern
  • Wood Fern
  • English Ivy
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Sweet Violet
  • Japanese Spurge
  • Wood Sorrel

Aaron's Beard
Aaron's Beard

Ground covers for smaller areas (nooks and crannies)

  • Madwort
  • Rock Cress
  • Bellflower
  • Blue Star Creeper
  • Wood Sorrel
  • Scotch Moss
  • Coralsbells

Ground covers for large areas (Lawn alternatives)

  • Capeweed
  • Maiden Pink
  • Aaron's Beard
  • Stonecrop
  • Korean grass
  • Dwarf Coyote Brush
  • Blue Fescue

Preparing the soil for ground covers

Ground covers grow in extremely close proximity, therefore they need plenty of water and nutrients. In other words, a good soil and proper drainage are the most important factors for ground cover plantings.

Avoid using clay and sandy soils. Clay soils retain a lot of water and obstruct oxygen from getting to the roots. As a result, the roots suffocate and die. Sandy soils, on the other hand, drain very well but get dried out quite rapidly. We need to water the plants more often when sandy soils are used, in order to give the plants enough water. Frequent watering, however, will wash away a lot of nutrients through the soil.

A quick way to adapt clay and sandy soils for ground cover planting is adding organic matter such as peat, moss, compost or manure. The organic matter will help loosen up clay soils, and will make sandy soils become more moist and dense.

Pruning and Trimming

Most ground covers need to be mowed only once a year to rejuvenate new growth. There is no specific time when you should mow your ground cover, but usually, it should be done when the ground cover begins to thatch and lose its fresh look. The best time to clip off the old growth and start over, according to most professional gardeners, would be in spring, just prior to the beginning of the ground cover's growth cycle and when the weather begins to warm.

As there are several sizes and locations of ground covers, there are also various methods of pruning. Some small ground covers can be pruned by hand trimming with pruning shears instead of mowing, in order to maintain compactness and dense growth. As for ground covers grown on a steep slope or narrow area, the electric string trimmer can be very useful and practical. If you grow carpeting plants or ground covers in a large area, however, mowing can save you a lot of time.


Submit a Comment

  • Om Paramapoonya profile imageAUTHOR

    Om Paramapoonya 

    6 years ago

    No, I believe only the ones on the easy-to-grow list can grow well in ALL US temperature zones. Some ground covers on the other lists might be able to adapt to various climate zones as well, but would be more challenging to take care of.

  • Kris Heeter profile image

    Kris Heeter 

    6 years ago from Indiana

    Do most of these ground covers work in all US temperature zones?

  • powerofknowledge1 profile image


    7 years ago

    Very informative

  • Om Paramapoonya profile imageAUTHOR

    Om Paramapoonya 

    7 years ago

    Cool! Glad you found this helpful. :)

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Thank you! Discovered lovely old stepping stones buried 3 inches deep and under ivy! I thought scotch moss will be perfect in them and you answered my question!

  • Om Paramapoonya profile imageAUTHOR

    Om Paramapoonya 

    7 years ago

    Thank YOU for visiting my hub, Esmeowl. :)

  • Esmeowl12 profile image

    Cindy A Johnson 

    7 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    I appreciate all the ideas for ground covers. Thanks for an informative hub.


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