How to grow ground covers

Using vines, creepers, and low shrubs instead of grass. Many low-growing plants carpet the ground with dense greenery, eliminating most of the tedious chores of lawn care. Use them in sun or shade, on slopes or rough ground, under shallow-rooted trees and shrubs, and in hard-to-mow places.

A local nurseryman or Cooperative Extension agent will help you choose the best ground cover for your needs. Some questions to ask: Does it thrive in your area? Will it do well in the specific conditions where you plan to use it? How tall does it grow? How fast? How wide does each plant spread? What will it look like in 5 years? Before you settle on a plant, look at it on other properties nearby.

Some questions to answer: Do you want flowers? Berries? Something you can walk on? Colored leaves? Fragrant ones? Evergreen foliage? (Snow may cover it anyway.) How much care are you willing to give it?

Spring is generally the best time to plant. Work plenty of compost, peat moss, or well-rotted manure into the area to be covered, along with an allpurpose fertilizer. Then dig a separate hole for each plant. Plant woody ground covers, such as creeping juniper and wintercreeper, on 3-foot centers; such herbaceous plants as periwinkle, pachysandra, and English ivy on 1-foot centers. Plant the slower spreading lily of the valley on 4- to 6inch centers (see Planting).

Apply a 2- to 4-inch mulch between young plants to conserve moisture and smother weeds until the ground cover can shade them out. Keep the soil moist for most kinds, drier for sedums. Weed as needed.

Once established, a good ground cover requires little care. Some – such as pachysandra, euonymus, and the bright-flowered moss pink -may be mowed yearly to keep them dense and leafy. Use the highest mower setting, and remove clippings.

Some good flowering ground covers are the winter-hardy bearberry and thrift; the sun-loving dwarf germander, chamomile, and various sedums; and the shade-loving periwinkle and lily of the valley. Creeping juniper, with its dense mat of blue to silvery needles, bears light-blue berries in autumn; those of the glossy-leaved bearberry and cotoneaster are bright red. All three need plenty of sun.