There are a variety of woody plants that can be grown as groundcovers. Some woody plants spread by stolons or "suckers" and fill an area, covering the ground in a solid mass. Other plants start with one main stem, but will root where their branches touch the ground, filling in an area.
Still other woody plants have one main stem, but have a spreading growth habit that covers a large area giving a groundcover effect. Creeping juniper evergreens are often used as groundcovers. One plant may grow only 6 inches tall, but spread 6 feet wide.
Selecting and Planting Woody Groundcovers
Because of the wide variety of woody plants used as groundcovers, care and maintenance will vary greatly. As a general rule, deciduous groundcovers should be treated like deciduous shrubs, while evergreen groundcovers should be maintained as evergreen shrubs.
Select a groundcover based on site conditions, especially space available. Don't try to squeeze a 6-foot wide creeping juniper into a 2-foot wide triangle. It will take a great deal of pruning to keep it in its space, and will constantly be creeping out of its bounds. However, this habit makes creeping junipers very valuable for cascading over retaining walls or rock gardens. Some woody groundcovers can be very invasive, and are best reserved for areas that have solid boundaries--such as sidewalks or driveways surrounding the area. Groundcover plants may take a while to fill in the area, and weed control may be a problem in the meantime. Once the groundcover has covered the soils surface, however, weed pressures should be minimal.
For more information on evaluating the existing site, see Site Survey
For more on proper plant selection based on site and plant characteristics, see Plant Elements of Design plant selection database.