Selecting and Planting Ground Cover Plants

purple wintercreeper
Image by annethelibrarian via Flickr

Ground cover plants are often forgotten in garden or landscape design until a problem occurs such as erosion. For erosion issues consider evergreen ground cover plants such as vincaivy or wintercreeper. To add color, select flowering ground covers such as creeping phloxdrift roses, or ground cover sedum.

Typical spacing for ground cover plants is 12 to 18 inches apart. Bare root plants can be planted 6 to 8 inches apart for a quicker fill in. See box below to estimate how many plants you will need.

When planting on sloped areas, use an independent sprinkler, the type that attaches to a hose. The sprinkler will need to run until water soaks down several inches. The time for this will vary so it is best to check the soil each time it is run. How often to water will depend on local factors, but in many cases can be done every 3 to 5 days after planting for the first 6 to 8 weeks for the plants to fully establish a newer root system and begin growing.

Checking the soil allows you to monitor and make the proper adjustments. If the soil is extremely dry after 3 days, you may need to water every 2 days instead. Rainfall isn’t dependable and often just runs down the surface of the ground without being absorbed into the soil.

Mulching around ground covers can be difficult, especially on sloped areas. For sloped areas, I recommend putting down a thin layer of straw. The straw will protect the young new plants from the sun’s heat, heavy rainfall, which can wash bare root plants out of their holes and down the hill, as well as keep the soil cool and moist. Straw decomposes and helps to build up the soil. Once the plants have fully established and are beginning to grow, any remaining straw can be removed and mixed into other areas of the garden or landscape.

Uses for Ground Covers:

  • Erosion control
  • Defining spaces
  • Traffic barrier
  • Transition areas
  • Small spaces
  • Where grass won’t grow

Considerations when selecting a Ground Cover:

  • Height – tall or low
  • Sun or shade
  • Clay or sandy soil
  • Moist or dry area
  • Flowering or insignificant flowering
  • Seasonal or evergreen

Use our navigation filter on the left hand side of the ground cover page to narrow down ground cover selections based on the above criteria for your needs.


Determining the Number of Plants Needed:

Square feet of planting area Spacing (in inches)
6 in. 8 in. 9 in. 12 in. 18 in
100 400 225 178 100 45
200 800 450 356 200 90
300 1,200 675 535 300 135
400 1,600 900 712 400 180
500 2,000 1,125 890 500 225
600 2,400 1,350 1,068 600 270
700 2,800 1,575 1,246 700 315
800 3,200 1,800 1,425 800 360
900 3,600 2,025 1,602 900 405
1,000 4,000 2,250 1,780 1,000 450

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