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Establishing a groundcover

by dig the dirt editor

Stick to these simple steps and your groundcover will flourish!

Even a groundcover with a reputation for being tough can’t compete or thrive in weedy soil.

  • Use a sharp hoe to cut shallow-rooted annual weeds, or till the soil and rake out plant remains. Carefully dig out any deep-rooted perennial weeds, such as Bermuda grass and dandelions, removing the roots as well as the tops. Small areas of turf can be sliced off in sections with a sharp, flat spade; you’ll need to rent a sod cutter to get rid of larger lawns.


  • Roughly dig over the site, hauling away rocks and other debris. When you’re finished, rake the surface to even it out. On very weedy sites it is a good idea to irrigate at this point and wait a couple of weeks for weed seeds to germinate; the tiny seedlings will be easy to eliminate then, saving you extensive weeding later.

To decide on hich groundcover works best for your area, be on the lookout for successful plantings in your neighborhood. Be wary of invasive species that travel quickly beyond their allotted area. If you choose a taller-growing one, keep in mind that it may require shearing every year or so to maintain a leafy, nonwoody appearance.



A groundcover won’t thrive in poor soil.

  • If you've had trouble in the past, your soil may have a nutrient deficiency, or the pH may be imbalanced, preventing plants from using available nutrients effectively. You can buy a kit to test the soil yourself or have a professional soil analysis made. Add whatever amendments the test determines to be missing before you plant.
  • If, as is more commonly the case, your garden soil has no serious problems, you should still take time to improve it. Improve both drainage and soil tilth by spreading three to four inches of organic matter or well-composted manure over the surface. Also broadcast a balanced fertilizer (one with more or less equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) at the rate recommended on the label.
  • Till or dig in all these amendments, then rake the surface smooth and water. Use the rake again after watering to level any low spots that appear.


Groundcover plants are commonly sold in small pots, six-packs, gallon containers, or as rooted cuttings in flats.

  • Before setting out those grown in flats, separate the plants by cutting between them with a sharp knife.
  • Set the plants in holes that are just deep enough for the root ball and slightly wider than their original confines.
  • For larger plants, dig a hole that tapers outward at the bottom to accept the loosened roots, leaving a platform of undisturbed soil in the middle on which to set the root ball.
  • To prevent rot, the crown of each plant should remain slightly above the soil’s surface.

When setting groundcover plants into a steep slope where erosion may occur, arrange the plants in staggered rows. Make a small terrace for each plant, creating a basin or low spot behind each one to catch water.





  • Water the plants thoroughly after planting. Then water every few days for the next few weeks, and again whenever the top inch of soil feels dry.

It is important to cover the soil between the young plants to help maintain soil moisture and to prevent weed seeds from germinating. Use an organic mulch such as ground bark, straw, or pine needles. Promptly pull any weeds that do appear, and renew the mulch periodically until the groundcover canopy fills in and forms its own living mulch


establishing groundcover


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