Planting Groundcovers: Get A Carpet Of Color In Your Landscape With Low-Growing Plants

by David Salman

Creeping Shrubby Ice Plant

Planting groundcovers is a great way to save water and mow less. Groundcovers are some of our most versatile garden plants and are loosely defined as growing wider than tall and flowering at a height of 12 inches or less.

Groundcovers can be used as:

  • Lawn replacements
  • Carpeting companion plants to plant under and around taller growing perennials, annuals and flowering bulbs
  • Soil binders to hold and protect the soil from erosion (especially on slopes)
  • A living mulch to shade the ground, conserve water and crowd out weeds
  • Fillers between cracks of stepping stones and garden pavers like brick, slate and flagstone to beautify these hardscapes with flowers and foliage
  • A stabilizing element for rock retaining walls with their deep growing roots

Zauschneria Orange Carpet

Groundcover Characteristics

These plants are a diverse group and can be used in a wide variety of garden environments. They can be:

  • Evergreen or herbaceous (those that lose their leaves and stems in winter)
  • Vining or clumping (spreading slowly out from a central crown)
  • Aggressive or slow growing
  • Suitable for sunny or shady parts of the landscape.

When making a decision about the right groundcover for your landscape, review the characteristics and uses listed above. This will help you make the right choice.

Veronica oltensis in flagstone

Planting Groundcovers: How Many Plants Do I Need?

When planting larger areas with groundcovers, it's important to figure out how many plants are needed to cover the area.

  1. First, determine the square footage of the area to be planted. Irregular areas with curved edges can be a bit of challenge to calculate. But if you can break down the area to be measured into small squares or rectangles, you can get a good approximation of how much square footage you have.
  2. Second, look at the mature size of the groundcover you want to plant. If the plant is 4 inches tall by 15-18 inches wide, plan on planting the individual plants 15 inches apart so that the plants will knit themselves together into a solid carpet of stems and foliage.
  3. Third, look at your budget and how quickly you want the groundcover plants need to cover their new planting area. The faster the desired coverage, the closer you'll want to space them and the more plants you'll need to buy. If a groundcover matures to a width of 15" it's OK to plant it on 12-inch centers. It will fill in faster and the stems can overlap themselves without harming the plants.

Pterocephalus depressus (Creeping Pincushion Flower)

Plant Calculator: How many plants do you need?

Look at the chart below to give you an idea of how many groundcover plants are needed when spaced at various distances.

Spacing between plantsSq. ft. per plantNumber of plants for 100 sq. ft. of planting area
6" x 6"/td>0.25 sq. ft.400
9" x 9" 0.56 sq. ft. 179
12" x 12" 1 sq. ft. 100
15" x 15" 1.56 sq. ft. 64
18" x 18" 2.25 sq. ft. 44
24" x 24" 4 sq. ft. 24

To figure out how many plants will be needed for an area bigger or smaller than a 100 ft.² area, simply take the square footage of the area to be planted and divide by the square foot per plant.

For example: 150 sq. ft of bed area to be planted at a spacing of 15" x 15". Divide 150 by 1.56 sq. ft. per plant to find out you'll need 96 plants.


Planting groundcvoers such as Artemisia versicolor 'Seafoam' will add texture and interest to the garden.

Planting Groundcovers: David's Top Ten Evergreen Groundcover Picks

  1. Achillea ageratifolia (Greek Yarrow)
  2. Arenaria 'Wallowa Mountains' (Mossy Sandwort)
  3. Delosperma dyeri Red Mountain® Flame (Flame Cold Hardy Iceplant)
  4. Heterotheca jonesii (Creeping Goldenaster)
  5. Pterocephalus depressus (Creeping Pincushion Flower)
  6. Ruschia pulvinaris (Creeping Shrubby Iceplant)
  7. Tanacetum densum v. amani (Partridge Feather)
  8. Teucrium aroanum (Gray Creeping Germander)
  9. Thymus 'Reiter' (Reiter Creeping Thyme)
  10. Veronica liwanensis (Turkish Speedwell)

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