Propagating Groundcovers

Growing groundcovers adds color and texture to your garden, at foot level. Propagating groundcovers is an easy way to increase their coverage. While I have some groundcovers interspersed among my flowers and will plant some as green manure in my vergetable beds, my favorite location for the versatile plants is in and among the paths and stone walkways in my landscape and as accent borders. Being a frugal gardener, I take advantage of their easy-going, easy-growing nature to add them to new areas at no additional cost.


Groundcover and beauty

A groundcover is a plant that grows close to the ground en masse. They can be grown as an erosion control, as a mulch to help shade soil for other plants, or purely for their aesthetic value. I parlay those benefits into a perfect carpet to walk upon in garden pathways and at the edge of small slopes. Some of my garden paths are better suited for pine needles, or bark, or gravel, but for grand appearance few of those options match the appeal of groundcovers. They provide a wonderful visual and physical transition between different yard and garden spots.

Some of my favorite groundcovers are periwinkle, thyme, sedum, and veronica. I know that sounds quite broad, particularly when veronica offers almost 500 species alone, but it’s intended to suggest that there are groundcovers for all landscapes and regions in all sizes, shapes, and colors. I use periwinkle, or vinca minor, to smother weeds at the base of my irises; I love the little violet flowers and almost evergreen foliage. Thymus lanuginosus, or woolly thyme, and sedum anglicum surround the flagstones leading into my backyard; they help keep the slight slope from eroding, require little water, and look spectacular, especially when their little flowers bloom. Veronica pectinata, or blue woolly speedwell, is a new addition along the sloped edges of my stone patio.

Thyme and sedum around the stones

All of these groundcovers are very easy to grow and propagate. In most cases a simple cutting is all that’s needed to start a plant growing in a new location. I prefer to get a jumpstart on the process by transplanting larger pieces of plants.

As most of these groundcovers grow, they’ll add little roots along their expanding branches. Where a small stem, branch, or leaf touches the soil a root may develop. This helps the plant gain a larger foothold for increased growth and nutrient absorption.

By lifting up on the edge of an established plant and pulling back the branches and leaves you’ll get to the spot where young roots have started anchoring new growth to the soil. With very little effort you can dig up a section of the plant and transplant it to a new location. The mother plant will continue to grow and send out new branches to cover the bare spot. The transplanted piece will begin growing soon because it already has roots in place. This saves time from taking a clipping and waiting for roots to develop.

I begin by determining what plant should be added to which new spot. In my stone walkway I intersperse thyme and sedum, but along the edge of my patio I’m focusing on Veronica pectinata, a plant first given me by my good friend Della. She has it covering a large, steep slope in her landscape where it presents a beautiful sea of green. The section I’m planting is smaller and not as steep, but I want the same seemless coverage the plant provides.

The mother plants of veronica

A mother plant is selected, one that is healthy and large enough to handle losing some of its growth. I lift up on the edges until I find a spot that is full of healthy, young growth and abundant roots.

Roots under the plant

With a trowel I’ll dig under the plant to access some of the older roots too and lift out a section of the plant, with soil included. With my other hand I’ll gently separate the main plant from the removed piece. The branches and leaves of groundcovers often intertwine and you have to be careful not to crudely rip apart tender foliage.

Removing the plant section

The whole section is now ready for transplant to a new hole. Setting the piece into the ground and covering the roots with soil gets it ready for new growth. I’ll also add extra soil on top of some of the branches near their tips. The increased soil contact should stimulate root growth in those areas, improving the plant’s development. I’ll also add soil back to the base of the mother plant to cover any exposed roots. A thorough watering of both plants completes the procedure.

By selectively removing pieces of strong plants and moving them to new spots, an even larger area can be covered. Both old plants and new plants will grow and spread and will eventually meet. The process can be continued indefinitely. I’m patiently waiting for my patio border to fill in and expect the entire area to be covered within two years.

The coverage area is multiplied

Groundcovers are so easy to propagate that you may not need to buy any and still fill your landscape. Many of my gardener friends have cuttings and whole plants ready to give away in the spring when they clean their beds for the new season. It only takes one plant to lay the foundation for a much larger population of groundcover and you can probably find someone to give you that gift.

I tend to do much of my propagating in late summer. The heat and stress of the summer peak is over and the mother plants are as strong as they’ll be. I can also see the bare spots that still need to be filled. Setting new transplants in place gives all of them opportunity to grow roots before winter sets in. Depending on their hardiness, I know I’ll lose some over the cold months but when spring comes I’ll have an increased number of plants beginning to grow. By the end of next summer, some of the transplants will be big enough to offer themselves for more propagation.

As with all plants, groundcovers do best when planted in the proper location. Once the right plant is in the right spot it will grow strong. Take advantage of that and let it spread with a little of your propagating knowledge.


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