Groundcovers You Can Step On
Groundcovers are some of our most versatile and easy-to-grow perennials. Like a well-designed house with floors covered by nice rugs and carpeting, the garden is more beautiful when we use groundcovers to cover bare ground. And as the movement encouraging lawn-less landscapes gains momentum, groundcovers take center stage as lawn grasses are removed. Knowing and understanding their tolerance to foot traffic is a key element in deciding what are the right groundcovers for your needs.
To Step or Not Step
Groundcovers are usually defined as plants that spread much wider than they are tall. And they are typically plants that have stems that root, creating a spreading carpet of stems and leaves as they grow. How a given groundcover holds up under foot, is a key consideration when choosing which ones to plant. But even the toughest grass will be worn down by constant foot (paw) traffic. So I always recommend putting down stepping stones, flagstone or slate pieces to provide a hard surface where there are paths in your yard and interplanting with groundcovers that have better durability underfoot.
Levels of Traffic Tolerance
As you might suspect some groundcovers wear better under foot than others. Complete list below.
- Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
- Silver Edged Horehound (Marrubium rotundifolium)
- False Deadnettle (Lamium, Lamiastrum)
- Silver Nailwort (Paronychia)
- Giant flowered Soapwort (Saponaria lempergii 'Max Frei')*
- Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides, S. ocymoides 'Snow Tips')*
- Creeping Thyme (Thymus) - 'Pink Chintz', Wooly, 'Reiter'* , T. praecox ssp. arcticus 'Coccineus'
- Wooly Speedwell (Veronica pectinata)
- Turkish Speedwell (Veronica liwanensis)
- Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)
- Miniature Mat Daisy (Bellium minutum) - needs damp soil
- Moss Sandwort (Arenaria Wallowa Mts.)
- Rockrose (Helianthemum cultivars)
- Cold Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma)*
- Mother of Thyme (Thymus serphyllum 'Coccineum')
- Creeping Stonecrop (Sedum)
- Orange Carpet® Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii)*
*fastest growing varieties ("galloping groundcovers")
Remember: Not every area of your yard needs groundcovers that tolerate being walked on. Before redoing any area, study where the paths are and use the most traffic tolerant groundcovers to surround the stepping stones. Elsewhere, being able to tolerate footsteps is much less important.
Groundcovers are some of our best low care perennials.
Deadheading: Keep them looking their best by "deadheading" them when they finish blooming. This can be done by hand with hedge trimmers or with a lawnmower adjusted to a higher setting. It just needs to be done once per season.
Fertilizing: Groundcovers growing in healthy living soil will be the most resilient, so apply a mix of Yum Yum Mix, compost (or earthworm castings) and granular molasses broadcast over the foliage and watered in. Do this in mid- to late fall (or mid-spring if your forget in the fall).
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