Ground covers may include shrubs, vines or even grass. Typically less than 18 inches tall, most ground covers grow quickly as to cover a desired area. Because they spread across the ground but don’t grow tall, no cutting is required. Ground covers are usually chosen for texture, density and how well they spread. Other benefits include choking out weeds and holding in embankments.
Planting Ground Covers
The best time to plant ground covers is in the fall or early spring. This allows the plants time to develop an extensive root system before the hot summer weather arrives.
Steps for Planting
1) Prepare the soil – Remove all grass, weeds, stones and debris from the planting bed. Mix a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer such as Espoma 10-10-10, into the soil. Enhance poor soils by adding Fafard Complete Planting Mix. Rake and water. Plant late in the day or when cloudy. Avoid the heat of the mid-day sun.
2) Mark the bed with small stakes or sticks. Ground covers can be planted in either straight or staggered rows. Staggered rows help reduce erosion on slopes by retarding run-off.
3) Dig a hole with a trowel or spade about 1-1/2 times larger than the root. If the soil is dry, add water.
4) Lightly water your plant in its container. Tip the pot on its side and gently ease the plant out of it.
5) Gently loosen and spread out the root system of potted plants. Set the plant in the hole with the crown (the area where the stem and root join) at or just above soil level.
6) Carefully fill in the planting hole using the soil removed from the hole (the backfill). Firm the soil around the roots but do not pack it too hard. Water well to settle the soil. Add additional soil as necessary to keep it level with the surrounding ground. Keep foliage dry during watering.
7) Mulch the soil around the plant to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Keep mulch a few inches away from the crown. Eventually the ground cover should serve the same purpose as the mulch and you will not have to reapply mulch.
Caring for Ground Cover
Check new plants’ water needs for the first week or so. Slowly taper off watering as the weather permits and the plant becomes established. Water as early in the day as possible so that foliage will dry before nightfall. Deep, infrequent watering is better than more frequent light watering.
Control weeds to enable the newly planted ground cover to form a dense mat. Nonaggressive annuals can be used to fill in spaces in a new planting, helping shade out weeds but not inhibiting the spreading growth of the ground cover. Be sure to provide enough moisture for both plant types so that competition doesn’t become a problem. Use Preen to prevent weeds. If weeds do appear, remove them as soon as possible to prevent them from competing with your plants for water and soil nutrients.
Look for overcrowding that cuts down on air circulation and promotes disease. The best time to prune is right after new growth has begun in the spring. Avoid hedge cut or “one size fits all” pruning. This can cause excessive branching/crowding and plants will be more susceptible to leaf loss from self-shading as well as disease and insect attack.
Apply an all-purpose fertilizer such as Plant-O-Ganic or Plant-Tone according to package instructions once a year in early spring. Apply the fertilizer when the foliage is dry, then water thoroughly to wash the fertilizer off the foliage and into the soil.
Disease and Pest Control
Slugs and snails: These two can be a problem where there is excessive moisture. Pull back mulch to allow the area around the plant to dry. Apply Natural Guard Crawling Insect Control or Bug Geta Snail and Slug according to instructions.
Leaf Blight and Stem Canker of Pachysandra: This is caused by the fungus Volutella Pachysandricola. Apply Bonide Copper Dust Fungicide from bud break in the spring until plant growth slows in mid to late summer.
Canker and Die-Back of Vinca: The fungi causing this disease cause the shoot tips to become dark brown, wilt and die back to the surface of the soil. Apply a fungicide according to label instructions.