Groundcovers: How To Maintain

Groundcovers are fairly low-maintenance plants; in fact, one of the biggest reasons to use groundcovers is as a replacement for sod, which requires a huge amount of time, money, water and energy to keep happy. Here are a few basic guidelines for maintaining your groundcovers.


Pruning groundcovers is really more aesthetic than requisite for the health of the plant. Clumping plants like liriope and mondo grass tend to get a brown-tipped winter look; these can be mowed back just before new growth begins to sprout in the spring. Trailing groundcovers such as English ivy and Asiatic jasmine can be pruned by hand or with a trimmer to keep them within bounds as needed.

Just remember that any pruning in the late summer and fall will likely stimulate tender, new growth that will be susceptible to frost damage and, therefore, should be avoided.


Fertilize your groundcovers in the spring as new growth begins to flush out. Use a general, multipurpose fertilizer at the rate recommended by the manufacturer for groundcovers. You may continue to fertilize as needed throughout the growing season; however, any fertilization past mid-August will stimulate new growth that will be susceptible to frost damage.

Groundcovers vary in their ability to withstand fertilization; over- fertilizing a groundcover can result in leaf burn. For specific recommendations, please contact your local county extension agent.


Uniformly apply a two- to four-inch layer of mulch, pine straw, or bark to the soil surface. This will aid in moisture retention, weed control, and temperature regulation (keeping the soil cool in summer and insulating the soil in winter). For more detailed information on mulching, click here.


Improper watering practices are the leading cause of plant loss in the landscape. It’s important to know what each plant needs and the signs that it will give to let you know whether those needs are being met.

Here are some general guidelines for proper watering:

  • Water your groundcovers thoroughly after planting.
  • Deep, less frequent watering is better than frequent, shallow watering. This promotes deep root growth and can reduce water loss by evaporation.
  • Sandy soils drain water much faster than clay soils. In an area with a heavy clay soil, the water percolates slowly into the ground, so water at a slower rate to help reduce run off.
  • Water the area directly below the plant rather than the leaves. The leaves can take in water, but the main uptake of water and nutrients is through the roots.
  • The best time to water is during the morning hours. Afternoon watering tends to increase the chances of water loss through evaporation. Watering at night increases the likelihood of fungal infections.
  • Mulch around your plantings. This helps to reduce evaporation and to suppress weeds.
  • Control your weeds – they will be competing with your plants for the same water.