In cold-winter areas, spring is usually more successful. Fall plantings are most likely to suffer from the “heaving” caused by the alternate freezing and thawing of the soil. Young plants may literally be pushed out of the ground. With their roots exposed they quickly die. If you must plant in the fall in a northern climate, do so as early as possible to allow the young plants to become established.
When freezing soils is not a problem, fall planting allows the plants to use winter rains and cool temperatures to become adjusted to their new site. When spring comes, the plants are already established and begun to cover the ground more quickly. In areas with especially dry summers, avoid planting after late spring unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time watering
Before any planting begins, it is essential that all established perennial weeds be eliminated. Weeds that are not killed will come back and compete for nutrients and may eventually even crowd out the new plants. Removal of weeds is much more difficult after new plants are in place. Use a systematic herbicide or hand roll to remove any existing vegetation before planting. Always follow product label directions.
Ground covers are plants that naturally grow very close together, creating heavy competition for space, nutrients and water. Starting with good soil helps the plants to overcome these adverse conditions. A layer of organic matter (compost or manure) at least 2 inches thick should be spread over the entire planting area and rototilled or worked into the soil to depth of 6 inches. One suggestion for hillside/slope planting is instead of rototilling the entire hillside, dig a planting whole for each plant several times wider than the root ball and fill it with amended soil. We also recommend a pre-plant or starter fertilizer be worked into the soil before planting.
Usually such plants as English Ivy, Japanese spurge and Vinca are planted on 1-foot centers. Cranberry Cottoneaster, Juniper and Wintercreeper on 3-foot centers. Trailing rose, Virginia creeper, and other large-scale ground covers are often spaced no closer than 5 feet apart.
Some woody plants, such as junipers, will eventually mound up if they have been planted too close together. If you must space the plants closer together to achieve quicker coverage, be prepared to move some at a later time.
In arranging the plants, some gardeners opt for staggered rows, others for straight. On slopes staggered rows are preferred. They help prevent erosion by not allowing water to run off in a straight line.
When planting on slopes, the soil must be held in place until the plants are established. Mulch alone is sufficient in some cases. When the slope is steep, use jute or similar netting to hold the mulch in place. Jute is usually available in rolls 4 to 6 feet wide. Unroll the netting from the top of the hill and hold it in place with heavy wire staples.
Young plants should be given special attention. A steady watering program is important so the root systems develop fully. After the plants are established adjust the water program to one of deeper and less frequent watering this causes the roots to penetrate farther into the soil.
Certain types of ground covers do better if mowed, trimmed or pruned about once a year. This rejuvenates new growth and helps to prevent thatch.