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Groundcover Plants That Stand Up To Foot Traffic

As the owner of Today’s Gardens, a garden design and landscaping company, I’m always on the lookout for tough, resilient groundcover plants that can withstand the occasional foot traffic in our clients’ gardens. After all, what’s the point of having a beautifully landscaped pathway if the plants can’t even handle a few wayward steps?

Rupturewort: The Tractor-Trailer of Groundcovers

When I first started exploring options for my own display gardens, mulching the 3-acre site was becoming an expensive and time-consuming chore. That’s when I decided to investigate some hardier groundcover alternatives that could eventually eliminate the need for mulch altogether. As I trialed numerous options, one plant quickly rose to the top of my list: the unassuming yet remarkably tough rupturewort.

I lovingly refer to rupturewort as my “tractor-trailer” plant because, even when wayward vehicles make deep impressions in my garden, the rupturewort’s creeping stems of tiny, bright green leaves just shrug it off without so much as a yellow leaf. The summer-blooming flowers may be inconspicuous, but the plant’s ability to self-sow means I always have a steady supply of new growth to fill in bare spots. And unlike many creeping thymes, rupturewort doesn’t melt out in our humid summer conditions. It just keeps on trucking, making it the ideal choice for high-traffic areas.

Creeping Wire Vine: The Contrasting Companion

Another groundcover that has become a staple in my gardens is the diminutive creeping wire vine. I love using this plant to provide a striking contrast between my stepping stones, with its wiry stems and tiny, glossy dark green leaves that turn bronze in the heat or cold.

The great thing about creeping wire vine is that it’s not just a pretty face – it’s also incredibly tough. Its underground runners and surface-creeping stems allow it to withstand heavy foot traffic and even serve as erosion control, despite being deciduous. And even though the dried winter foliage may need a quick trim in spring, the new growth springs back quickly, making this an effortless addition to any high-traffic area.

White Star Creeper: The Showstopper

If I had to pick a groundcover that could double as a stage performer, it would hands-down be the white star creeper. This plant is simply brimming with personality, from its multibranching habit that quickly covers an area to the starry white flowers that brighten up the garden for most of spring.

But don’t be fooled by its delicate appearance – white star creeper is no shrinking violet. It’s tough enough to eliminate weeds, cascade beautifully over stones, and bounce back even after repeated foot traffic. And the best part? The rabbits in my garden love to nibble on the foliage, which actually helps keep it at the perfect height for those white flowers to really shine.

Dwarf Mondo Grass: The Shady Sidekick

While many of my favorite groundcovers thrive in sunny conditions, I’ve found that dwarf mondo grass is the perfect companion for my shadier spots. My dwarf weeping maple, for instance, creates a dark, dry area during the growing season that can make other plants look downright dismal. But dwarf mondo grass doesn’t seem to mind the lack of light one bit.

In fact, this little grass is perfectly content to wait patiently for its moment in the winter sun, its short, dark green blades providing a lush, low-maintenance carpet year-round. And the best part? Its slow-growing nature makes it an ideal choice for filling in between pavers, since it won’t quickly cover up the stones. Just tuck in a few rooted runners, and you’re good to go!

Chocolate Chip Ajuga: The Underappreciated Overachiever

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “What’s that pretty purple plant?” while admiring my Chocolate Chip ajuga, I’d be a rich woman. This unassuming groundcover may not be the flashiest plant in my garden, but it more than makes up for it with its reliable performance and year-round good looks.

The small, dark purple-green leaves create a lush, tidy carpet that’s not as aggressive as the larger-leaved ajuga varieties, and the bluish-purple flower spikes in spring provide a welcome burst of color. Plus, it’s deer- and rabbit-resistant, making it a low-maintenance choice for even the most heavily trafficked areas. All it asks in return is a quick deadheading to keep it looking its best – a small price to pay for such a dependable and versatile groundcover.

White Creeping Buttercup: The Unifying Force

When it comes to groundcovers that can really tie a garden together, my go-to is the white creeping buttercup. This tough little plant absolutely loves to spread, rooting at every node to create a dense, low-growing mat of deep green foliage that’s punctuated by those lovely quarter-size white flowers for three to four months in the summer.

I particularly enjoy using white creeping buttercup in my white-themed gardens, as it helps unify the entire area in one sweeping carpet of green and white. But don’t let its aggressive nature scare you off – this groundcover is more than happy to play nicely with taller plants, keeping weeds at bay without overwhelming its neighbors. It’s the ultimate multitasker, thriving in sun or partial shade and proving its mettle time and time again against the occasional foot traffic.

Archers Gold Creeping Thyme: The Fragrant Overachiever

As much as I love the tough, resilient qualities of some of my other favorite groundcovers, I have to admit that I have a special fondness for the Archers Gold creeping thyme. There’s just something about that bright gold, evergreen foliage and wonderful lemon scent that makes me smile every time I step on it.

But Archers Gold is more than just a pretty face – it’s also incredibly drought-tolerant and deer-resistant, making it a workhorse in my gardens. I love using it to line herb garden pathways, as a mulch substitute around my rose beds, or even as a low-maintenance lawn alternative. And unlike many other thymes, it manages to keep its good looks even in the heat and humidity of a Virginia summer, without that unsightly browning that can ruin the effect.

Miniature Golden Sweet Flag: The Winter Brightener

As much as I enjoy the vibrant colors and cheerful blooms of my other groundcover picks, there’s something to be said for the simple, understated beauty of miniature golden sweet flag. When I look out my kitchen window on a cold winter day, its dwarf fans of bright golden, grassy leaves are like a welcome burst of sunshine, contrasting beautifully with the dark foliage of my hellebores.

But don’t let its delicate appearance fool you – this moisture-loving groundcover is tough enough to handle clay or sandy soils, and it will even naturalize in bogs or at the water’s edge. It’s deer-resistant, too, and an occasional accidental step off the path won’t do it any harm. I love using it to create a golden carpet between stepping stones, along wooden ties, or anywhere I need a reliable, low-maintenance groundcover that can handle a bit of foot traffic.

Mini Kenilworth Ivy: The Stubborn Overachiever

Sometimes, even the most seasoned gardener can be surprised by a plant’s performance – and that’s exactly what happened with my mini Kenilworth ivy. I had planted it in an aboveground fairy garden box, fully expecting it to be a shy, shade-loving groundcover. Boy, was I wrong!

This little gem apparently didn’t read the tag that said it prefers partial shade, because it thrived in the intense full sun, creeping into the other plants and bursting into bloom with those lovely lavender flowers long before its neighbors. And even though it’s usually only a quarter- to a half-inch tall, it didn’t let that stop it from aggressively colonizing every crack and crevice in the wooden box.

Now, I use mini Kenilworth ivy as a low-growing, evergreen carpet around my heucheras and hostas, where its tiny, scalloped leaves add a delightful contrast. Just be sure not to confuse it with its super-aggressive cousin, Cymbalaria muralis – this little bulldog may be a tough customer, but it’s still no match for that invasive thug.

Coral Carpet Sedum: The Chameleon

When it comes to groundcovers that can truly handle tough conditions, it’s hard to beat the Coral Carpet sedum. This little plant is like a chameleon, with its jellybean-like foliage changing from a salmon-coral color to bright green to reddish-bronze, depending on the soil conditions and season.

But beyond its good looks, Coral Carpet sedum is also incredibly tough and resilient. The creeping stems root at every node, quickly forming a dense mat of foliage that’s deer- and rabbit-resistant. I love fitting this plant into small crevices or between stepping stones, because each little piece that falls onto the soil will root if it gets enough water. And if it ever starts to spread where I don’t want it? No problem – it’s easy to pull out.

Navigating the Patio Minefield

When it comes to creating a beautiful, functional patio or pathway, one of the keys is leaving just the right amount of space for planting. I always suggest leaving a minimum of 2 inches between stepping stones or pavers, using a well-draining, gritty soil mix to give the groundcovers the best chance of success.

And it’s important to set those stones or pavers about 1 to 2 inches above the soil level, so the plants don’t quickly creep over and cover them up. After all, the whole point of a paved path is to be able to walk on it, so plants that can truly tolerate heavy foot traffic aren’t always necessary. Just be sure to water the new plantings carefully to avoid runoff, and you’ll have a lush, walkable oasis in no time.

The Power of Patience (and Ice Cubes)

Of course, establishing new groundcover plants, especially those grown in small pots, can be a bit of a challenge. That’s why I like to use a trick I learned – water the new plants several times a week with ice cubes or frozen containers of water. This slow-release method prevents runoff and ensures the plants get the moisture they need to get their roots established in the soil.

And don’t be too quick to mulch, either. While it’s important to use mulch when initially planting to suppress weeds and maintain even moisture, once the groundcovers start to spread, it’s generally unnecessary. In fact, the suggested spacing on many of these plants can often be extended if you’re willing to exercise a little patience – the plants will quickly provide rooted pieces that you can transplant to fill in bare areas.

So, whether you’re looking to create a lush, walkable oasis or just add some low-maintenance greenery to your garden, I hope you’ll consider some of these tough, resilient groundcover plants. With a little care and a lot of patience, you can have a garden that not only looks beautiful, but can stand up to whatever life throws at it – even the occasional wayward footstep.

Today’s Garden is Garden and Landscape Company, provides all you need about Garden and Landscape Design to get better garden decorations.

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