Are you looking for nice ground cover plants that can tolerate foot traffic? Do you want your yard to stand out with a splash of life and color?
There are lots of walkable groundcovers perfect for your lawn, rock garden, walkways, or garden beds if you want some natural beauty in your outdoor space. Some even have fragrance, deer and rabbit resistance, and weed controlling and erosion controlling qualities.
Give these walkable ground covers a try for a beautiful, low-maintenance, and hardy surface for your landscape.
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Groundcovers That Can Withstand Foot Traffic
These short, mat-forming plants can withstand foot traffic pretty well and, you’ll love that some varieties have a pleasant scent!
Sedum groundcovers are heat and drought tolerant, making them suitable for sunny, open areas. These hardy plants need little maintenance and can withstand heavy foot traffic. You may place individual plants between pavers. Or you can roll out sedum “tiles” like sod to cover wider spaces.
Sedum has a variety of species, but the best groundcovers are the short ones. Varieties such as “Tricolor,” “Dragon’s Blood,” “Blue Spruce,” “Fuldaglut,” and “Kamtschaticum” are great ones to pick.
In the late summer, most sedum groundcovers grow lovely flowers that attract butterflies and bees. Its succulent leaves, which come in various colors such as green, bluish-gray, and reddish bronze, are adorned with five-petaled white, yellow, or pink flowers. In the winter, this evergreen species’ leaves change into beautiful red and russet colors.
Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis)
This Australian native is a hardy plant that withstands high foot traffic, drought, and harsh weather.
The beauty of the blue star creeper will enliven gloomy parts of your landscape. In the spring and early summer, this charming plant, which is also called “swamp isotome”, blooms in clusters of light blue star-shaped flowers.
You can turn this blanket of flowers into a lawn substitute in areas where turfgrass cannot thrive due to the shade. You can also use the plants as a cover for spring bulbs, between patio stones, or as a boundary plant.
But, note that blue star creeper quickly spreads by underground runners once developed and can be invasive in cool, humid conditions.
Another thing that’s nice about Blue Star Creeper is it’s a deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant ground cover. It’s also low-maintenance and hardy since it does not require lots of water, unlike your typical lawn. It only grows to a height of three inches, so you can forget about using your lawnmower because it doesn’t need mowing.
Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum sp.)
Hens-and-chicks are a must-have for every groundcover lineup. The plant’s characteristics are distinct and pleasing to the eye.
These lovely succulents, also known as rosettes, named for the baby “chicks” (smaller rosettes) that accompany each mother plant or “hen” (larger rosettes), come in an interesting selection of colors, shapes, and sizes that you can combine to produce a growing mosaic.
Use Hens and chicks to add color and dimension to ordinary plants. You can choose to place Hens-and-chicks in the spaces between pavers on walkways or patios, in-wall gardens, or rock gardens. Since its tiny, young plantlets gradually trail over the edges, this plant would also look fantastic in containers and through gardens.
This plant thrives in well-drained, rocky soil—, if they are exposed to too much moisture, the outermost leaves can die. Plant them in dry arid locations and watch them thrive.
If you find the plants too densely packed in a spot, move the chicks to a different part of your yard. Hens-and-chicks can withstand harsh treatment, but they wouldn’t like a lot of foot traffic.
Portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora)
Portulaca blooms are available in a multitude of colors. The plant, also known as Moss Rose, has fleshy, thin succulent leaves and grows up to eight inches tall and a foot wide, creating a mat. The needlelike portulaca leaves, like scotch moss, spring back into place after you walk on them.
The blooms of portulaca are a wonderful thing to see in zones 9 to 11. The flowers come in singles, semi-doubles, and doubles and red, yellow, orange, white, and other pastel shades.
While some trimming is needed if you want to use portulaca as a groundcover, you’ll find that it’s worth the effort once it blooms.
Moss Rose or Portulaca looks great in front of borders, in a rock or crevice garden, in pots and hanging planters, or cascading down a wall. It can self-seed in a non-invasive manner. Portulaca is drought and heat tolerant, and you should plant it in an area with full sun and well-drained rocky or sandy soil.
Red spike ice plant (Cephalophyllum ‘Red Spike’)
Red Spike Ice Plant is a succulent plant with vibrant red flowers that bloom in the early spring. Considering the small size and delicate features of this groundcover’s succulent foliage, the elegance of its flowers are rather striking. Buds emerge in abundance in late winter to early spring, blooming in a dazzling carmine red or hot pink starburst-shaped flower two inches in diameter around noon.
While red spike ice plant grows in small, dense clumps and only spreads a few feet, its fibrous roots and good resistance to drought make it an excellent soil stabilizer for slopes and banks. Its dense, grey-green leaves turn reddish in colder temperatures, and its eccentric, upright growth habit brings architectural appeal to succulent planters, borders, and rock gardens.
To keep this beautiful evergreen growing comfortably in your backyard, give it proper drainage.
Creeping Golden Buttons is a sun-loving, drought-resistant ground cover that withstands foot traffic. This plant has lovely, finely textured, rich emerald green leaves and bright, golden yellow button-like flowers that bloom in the middle of summer. For your small areas, it would work well as a lawn substitute.
It would re-bloom if you deadhead it, and if you want to keep it healthy, you should water it moderately. We suggest using compost-rich garden loam for planting and placing it in sunny or partially shady areas.
This excellent ground cover survives in Zones 5 to 10, and, amazingly, it’s deer and rabbit resistant.
Silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae)
Silver carpet is another top pick for low-water lawn replacements since it is one of the shortest walkable ground cover plants, growing just two to four inches tall.
Silver carpet has tiny, rounded leaves that make a beautiful ground cover. It’s better suited to smaller, darker areas that aren’t too shady. Once established, this silver-leafed plant flourishes in quick-draining soils. It is drought-tolerant, making it an excellent option for sunny areas with well-draining soil.
This plant thrives in Zones 9 to 11.
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
In medieval times, Lysimachia plants have been used to treat wounds. Lysimachia has also been used to help treat gallstones in Chinese medicine.
Because of its golden leaves shaped like small coins, Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is also called moneywort. During late spring, it blooms bright, yellow flowers that come in singles or pairs. The leaves turn a darker green in shady spots and turn a more intense yellow in brighter, sunnier areas.
These plants naturally grow in boggy, moist areas in the wild, and as a result, you can use them as an aquatic plant or line the ponds or streams’ banks. If you’re planting in water, use aquatic pots and compost, and split dense clumps every three to four years.
Since Creeping Jenny spreads rapidly, space these plants 18 inches apart in damp soil in full sun to partial shade, and if you’ve used it as a ground cover, keep Creeping Jenny in control with regular trimming. Propagation by seeds or by division is simple if you wish to cultivate more plants.
The plant thrives in Zones 3 to 8.
Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Thyme is a fragrant and hardy ground cover that is ideal for sunny areas in your garden, where you can enjoy its fresh fragrance any time you stroll by. The non-culinary kinds, such as mother-of-thyme, red creeping thyme, and wooly thyme, are among the best. All three produce thick, attractive foliage mats.
Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), also known as ‘Mother of Thyme,’ is a spreading thyme variety that is easy to cultivate. It works well as a lawn replacement or as part of a living patio with pavers or stepping stones.
Creeping thyme certainly thrives in the sun. Soil drainage and full sun is important for the survival of any thyme plant. It prefers loose, rocky, sandy soil and loam if it drains well, but not wet clay.
Thymus longicaulis, on the other hand, is another species. It’s also known as Mediterranean Creeping Thyme, and since it’s native to temperate Mediterranean parts of the world, it likes full sun.
The Mediterranean Creeping Thyme has long, shiny green leaves that makes a lovely ground cover. When established, it becomes pretty tough and forms a thick mat of weed-controlling leaves. In summer, you’ll see it with wonderful pink flowers held closely over the foliage.
Thyme is also resistant to deer and rabbits.
Rupturewort (Herniaria glabra)
Rupturewort is a hardy, low-maintenance ground cover that forms a carpet of small green leaves that turn a bronzy red color in the fall and winter. It is native to Western Asia and Europe.
It’s low-growing, spreads pretty rapidly, needs little attention, and can help keep weeds at bay. Green Carpet, as it’s sometimes called, is not picky when it comes to soil quality.
Planting Rupturewort can be an outstanding choice if you have infertile soil that makes cultivating a flourishing lawn difficult. Despite being soft, the plant holds up well to foot traffic and has a distinct fragrance that’s almost vanilla-like.
Herniaria is a perfect option as a lawn substitute for growing between flagstones or as a ground cover since it is almost indestructible.
This plant lives in Zones 5 to 9, and it’s deer resistant. You’ll also appreciate that it’s drought-tolerant, thanks to its one long taproot.
Ajuga (Ajuga reptans)
Bugleweed, Bugleherb, Ajuga, or Carpet Bugle, or Blue Bugle is a quickly growing, dense ground cover that’s part of the mint family. It is a nice choice for a thick ground cover even in cool, shady places where grass won’t thrive, but it’s also an ideal plant for damp areas, though it will accept soils on the drier side. Ensure that you place it where there’s good air circulation.
Bugleweed grows short but provides a dazzling display of color in your garden. This low-maintenance walkable groundcover plant is admired for its ability to cover your yard with vibrant foliage over time.
Ajuga produces blue, white, or purple flower spikes in the spring over a foundation of chocolate, bronze, or vibrant green foliage. Ajuga grows well in pots, too.
‘Emerald Carpet’ Manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’)
The ‘Emerald Carpet’ manzanita is a hybrid: a cross between A. uva-ursi and A. nummularia. This manzanita works well as a low-water lawn substitute. In coastal areas, it likes sunlight, while in inland sites, it thrives in part-shade.
‘Emerald Carpet’ manzanita forms an enticing evergreen carpet of red stems and green leaves, growing four to six inches tall and up to three feet wide. Emerald Carpet produces small white flowers in the spring.
While it has a high level of resiliency and the potential to tolerate frequent traffic, its twiggy branches make an awkward walking surface. It’s a great choice for places where you need access but don’t need a completely even surface or just want a stretch of green.
Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)
Many popular perennials were formerly grown for purposes other than aesthetics. Soapwort leaves, for instance, were once used for cleaning lather since when they come in contact with water, they make a natural foamy lather.
Saponaria, its scientific name, comes from the Latin word sapo, which means “soap,” and, as its common name, refers to its cleaning properties.
Did you know that soapwort contains saponins? Despite their toxicity, these compounds are poorly metabolized in the body. So, they manage to pass by without causing any harm. Thoroughly cooking the plant breaks them down as well.
Soapwort is now admired for its small, rough-hewn appearance and lovely red, pink, or white flowers.
It would look lovely when you use it to line a garden path or tuck into walls or rock gardens. Soapwort is a drought-resistant and deer-tolerant plant.
Mazus (Mazus reptans)
Mazus, also known as cup flower, produces a thick mass of bright green foliage that’s accompanied by orchid-like, purplish-blue flowers with white and yellow markings in late spring.
The name of the genus derives from the Greek word mazos, which means “teat.”
Mazus can grow only up to three inches tall, but when you see it all over the ground, you’ll appreciate the huge difference it makes. It’s ideal for walkways or along a flower border. This small, beautiful plant can take light foot traffic and grows rapidly.
Dwarf Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
Dwarf mondo grass, in landscape mass plantings, would look especially stunning.
This dwarf variety makes a rich ground cover of dense, deep green, grass-like clusters about half the size of other types. Because of its thin (less than one inch wide) leaves, this plant works great as an edging plant, along a pathway, or packed into rocks for a nice contrast.
You can also use Dwarf Mondo Grass with water, slopes, block cylinders, model railroading, and indoor plant pots to display the stunning cobalt blue fruits obscured by the foliage.
Plus, it doesn’t need much maintenance to maintain its good looks; a simple shearing in the spring would give you fresh growth after winter. Shade and damp, well-drained soils are ideal for this plant.
It’s also nice that this plant grows slowly since there’s no need to be concerned about its growth going out of hand.
Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)
From a botanical standpoint, the strawberry is not a berry. The fleshy component of the fruit is produced not from the plant’s ovaries but from the receptacle that carries the ovaries. Therefore, it is an aggregate accessory fruit. The whitish specks that are often mistaken for seeds are the true fruits, known as achenes, each containing a tiny seed.
Fragaria chiloensis, or the “Beach Strawberry,” is one of the two parent species (the other one is Fragaria virginiana) that has been hybridized to produce the garden strawberry. The Pacific Ocean coasts of North and South America and Hawaii are its natural habitat.
Also called Chilean Strawberry, Sand Strawberry, or Coastal Strawberry, the Beach Strawberry is a short, spreading, evergreen perennial with somewhat lobed, shiny, dark green leaves turn quite reddish in the winter.
It bears a rich variety of tiny (an inch across), five-petaled white flowers from mid-spring to early summer. The lovely flowers are further accentuated by the five short, pointy green sepals with a yellow center. In mid to late summer, you’ll be pleased to see a bunch of small, tasty red fruits.
This plant is simple to grow and spreads to establish a dense ground cover. It can be used as a lawn replacement since it can withstand moderate foot traffic and stabilize dunes and slopes. It is perfect for erosion control.
Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii)
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) is one of the smallest of the mint family, growing to just an inch tall and forming dense mats of aromatic, minty-smelling leaves.
This plant is a mint native to Corsica, mainland Italy, and Sardinia. It’s also naturalized in the British Isles and Portugal.
Late into summer, Corsican mint grows very small lilac flowers that are easy to miss.
It enjoys partial shade during the hottest part of the summer in warm environments but still flourishes in full sun. Plant Corsican mint between stones in your pathway so you can smell it every time you walk through the foliage. It grows well in the spaces between paving stones and works excellently as a lawn with thyme and chamomile.
This mint species grows well in drier soils than the other mints. It thrives in heavy clay soils as well.
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
The springtime flowers of creeping phlox (also called moss phlox, mountain phlox, and moss pink) are a refreshing sight after a long, gloomy winter. Subulata, its specific epithet (means “awl-shaped” in Latin), describes its leaves perfectly. In comparison, its genus name comes from the Greek word phlox, which means “flame,” which appropriately describes the intense flower colors of certain varieties.
These hardy plants are surrounded by blue, pink, purple, white, red, or bicolor flowers for many weeks. The plants propagate quickly, and their deep green needle-like foliage makes them look beautiful even if they aren’t in bloom. Creeping phlox would serve its purpose best on small slopes that drain easily during storms, but you can also position it over a rock wall to create a beautiful ornamental piece.
Numerous cultivars of this plant are commercially available. Butterfly and other insect pollinators find it appealing.
Baby Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii)
Baby tears is commonly thought of as a terrarium plant or houseplant. However, it makes a nice bright green ground cover in a warm climate that fits well in containers, vertical gardens, or shady paths.
When baby tears are kept healthy, they grow quickly, creating a mossy cushion. Maintain a low level of foot traffic on it. It’s a great alternative to grass if you’re looking for something different.
It can be grown in lush, organic, regularly damp, well-drained soils yet in partial shade to full shade and is winter hardy to USDA Zones 9-11.
If you were to keep it indoors, place it in a bright sunlit spot, such as near a window. You can also put it on your patio or even in shadier areas.
Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
The common name accurately describes it: In late May and June, snow-in-summer creates huge drifts of small white blooms over a mound of spreading silvery grey-green foliage. Although it can self-sow, it rarely becomes invasive.
You can shear plants after flowering to keep them looking healthy. Snow-in-summer thrives in cooler temperatures, and it has a hard time dealing with hot, humid weather, particularly if the plant is still damp.
Since snow-in-summer’s natural habitat is a dry, rocky setting, drainage is important when growing this plant. The roots of the plant can rot if the soil remains wet for an extended period.
Make sure your snow-in-summer gets as much sun as possible if you want to see it with the brightest silver foliage. Anything less, it will rot, the leaves will turn greyish-green, and the plant will become leggy.
Thyme Leaf Speedwell (Veronica oltensis)
Thyme Leaf Speedwell (Veronica oltensis) is a lovely, hardy ground cover with thin stems of small evergreen leaves surrounded by pretty blue flowers in the start and the middle of spring.
This plant looks like creeping thyme because of its little dark green leaves on trailing stems, but it doesn’t have any fragrance, unlike creeping thyme. The branches are covered in pinnate, somewhat hairy leaves that extend upward as they trail. These evergreen plants with lacy foliage are pretty, even more so when they are flowering in late spring or early summer. The flower colors can be sky blue, dark purplish-blue, or bright azure.
This perennial plant with beautiful flowers and foliage works well as a crack filler between paving stones or flagstone. It’s also a great idea to use them as a filler spreading over rocks and between some bigger plants to build a green carpet under small ferns, for instance.
Thyme Leaf Speedwell is drought resistant and tolerant, so that it would grow best in an area with full sun and well-drained soil. For flowering, keep the water supply to a minimum and ensure adequate sun exposure.
Another amazing quality of this plant is its deer and rabbit resistance.
Scotch Moss (Sagina subulata)
It might not look like it, but Scotch moss is strong enough to resist foot traffic. When you step on this golden moss, it bounces.
You can use Scotch moss as a lawn replacement in small backyards, and it would be wonderful for your rock gardens and garden paths. This perennial herbaceous plant’s beautiful, dense moss-like foliage in yellow-green forms a pleasant mat. It certainly looks great around stepping stones and walkways.
In the spring, Scotch moss produces a lovely coat of small, translucent white flowers.
Keep This In Mind When Planting Walkable Ground Covers
While most groundcovers are designed to be stepped on, others are more resilient than others—and even regular grass can begin to thin out with lots of foot traffic. A simple fix with any thinning planted area that gets really heavy foot traffic is to place a stepping stone to absorb some of the abuse. A well placed series of stepping stones can both beautify a bed and cure a heavy traffic problem.