Best Ground Covers for Foot Traffic

Step up your gardening game with the best ground covers for foot traffic, handpicked for being able to withstand the everyday outdoor hustle and bustle while adding a touch of charm to your yard. 

Whether you want to add texture to your landscape or combine tall and low-growing plants, Ajuga, beach strawberry, creeping thyme, sedum, and silver carpet lamb’s ears are some excellent ground covers for foot traffic.

What is a ground cover?

Ground covers are plants that grow close to the ground, forming a dense carpet-like layer. They typically have a creeping or spreading growth habit and are used to cover large areas of soil as grass alternatives. They can be planted in tight spaces, around trees, on steep slopes, or anywhere you want a low-maintenance lawn cover. Ground covers offer several benefits to your landscape, such as:

  • Weed suppression: Ground covers can help suppress weed growth by providing shade and out-competing weeds for nutrients and space.
  • Erosion control: Ground covers’ dense root systems help stabilize soil, curbing erosion caused by wind and water.
  • Moisture retention: Ground covers can help retain soil moisture by reducing evaporation and runoff.
  • Aesthetic enhancement: Ground covers add visual interest to landscapes with their foliage, flowers, and texture. They can be used to create attractive borders, fill in gaps between plants, or cover bare ground.
  • Biodiversity: Ground covers double as habitat and food sources for wildlife like insects, small mammals, and birds. They also support pollinator activity, contributing to biodiversity.

10 ground covers you can walk on

Sturdy yet stylish, these ground covers are ideal for people who love to spend a lot of time in their yards.

1. Ajuga (Ajuga reptans)

a flower of bugleweed
Photo Credit: Joost J. Bakker | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Don’t let Ajuga’s size fool you. This tiny plant packs quite the punch, seamlessly blending with taller plants and providing your kids or furry friends with a perfect everyday playground.

Also dubbed bugleweed, Ajuga can transform your landscape, blanketing the yard with colorful foliage. Come spring, it dazzles with spikes of blue, purple, or white flowers and bronze, chocolate, or bright green leaves.

The fun part? Ajuga is just as happy in a container with proper drainage. Place the container in a location with full or partial sun and watch it flourish. 

Since Ajuga is an aggressive spreader, you can contain it with borders or sidewalks. Once controlled, it will make an excellent lawn substitute your kids will enjoy playing on.

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer (May to June)
  • Size: 4 to 8 inches tall, very wide
  • Pairs well with: Perennials, shrubs, other ground covers
  • Soil preference: Moist, well-draining, slightly acidic soil
  • Sun preference: Partial to full shade, though it can tolerate full sun in cooler climates
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate
  • Best planted: In containers or rock gardens, under trees or shrubs, and along borders and paths
  • Hardiness zones: 3 to 9

2. Beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)

Photo Credit: Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

A charming and versatile ground cover that is native to the Pacific coast of the United States, beach strawberry can handle the everyday hustle and bustle of a family spending time outdoors.

Its foliage is lush, soft, and slightly hairy, with a velvety texture that is pleasant to the touch. Typically trifoliate (consisting of three leaflets), its leaves grow attached to a central stem and come in oval or round shapes. They have fern-like serrated edges you’ll easily recognize and a rich green color that provides an attractive backdrop for the plant’s delicate flowers.

Speaking of flowers, beach strawberry’s come in white, creamy white, and pale pink hues and grow on slender stalks, adding a touch of elegance to the ground cover.

Beach strawberry foliage has a mild, pleasant fragrance reminiscent of fresh strawberries. The fruity aroma is released when the leaves are crushed or bruised. In summer, the flowers give way to small, red berries that can be used in jams, desserts, or salads.

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Bloom time: Spring or early summer (April to June)
  • Size: 4 to 6 inches tall; the width varies depending on the available space, but it spreads vigorously and can reach several feet wide
  • Pairs well with: Other low-growing ground covers, including creeping thyme, creeping Jenny, and Corsican mint, native grasses, and wildflowers
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, fertile, somewhat acidic soil that is sandy or loamy
  • Sun preference: Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate, but prefers regular watering during dry spells
  • Best planted: Between stepping stones, in rock gardens, along borders, or on slopes and backs for erosion control
  • Hardiness zones: 4 to 9

3. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Photo Credit: Henrik_L | Canva Pro | License

Another ground cover commonly used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscapes is Creeping Jenny. Why? Aside from its cheery appearance, Creeping Jenny can withstand foot traffic, making it a great option if you have a busy yard.

Creeping Jenny features rounded, coin-shaped leaves that vary in color from bright green to yellow-green and have a glossy texture. They grow in pairs along flexible, trailing stems, creating a dense foliage mat that looks like it’s hugging the ground. In summer, watch out for small, bright yellow flowers that serve to enhance the plant’s already bright look.

This particular creeper’s dense growth habit and ability to spread rapidly (almost too rapidly) can transform gardens, pond areas, and borders into green havens. 

Fun fact: As outlined by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Horticulture Extension, Creeping Jenny has the honor of being the winner of the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Merit.

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer (May to June)
  • Size: 2 to 4 inches tall, 12 to 14 inches wide
  • Pairs well with: Creeping thyme, sedum, hostas, daylilies, ferns, ornamental grasses
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, moist, fertile soil that doesn’t become waterlogged
  • Sun preference: Full sun, but it can tolerate some shade
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate, but can struggle during extended dry spells. Without regular watering, it turns brown and wilts. Once watered, it bounces back.
  • Best planted: In rock gardens, containers, or hanging baskets, along borders, near ponds or streams
  • Hardiness zones: 4 to 9

4. Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata)
Photo Credit: Mcvoorhis | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’ve ever seen Creeping Phlox’s stunning spring blooms, you know why this low-growing perennial can make just about any garden or landscape more beautiful.

Aside from sporting needle-like foliage that hugs the ground, it produces dense evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage, depending on the climate. Its color ranges from green to blue-green, and in spring, its small, five-petaled blooms can be a sight to behold with their pink, purple, blue, or white hues.

Creeping Phlox is an excellent ground cover for foot traffic due to its dense, mossy texture. Whether you want to add an earthy, natural look to your yard or decorate retaining walls with creeping vines, this particular plant can be your go-to. Plus, it thrives in various soil types and requires little maintenance, which is a plus for busy professionals.

One downside is that it takes a while to establish, needing about two full years to reach maturity. 

  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Bloom time: Spring (March to May), but this can vary depending on climate and location
  • Size: 4 to 6 inches tall and 2 feet wide
  • Pairs well with: Perennial flowers, other ground covers, ornamental grasses, sedums, evergreen shrubs
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, moist (not soggy) soil
  • Sun preference: Full sun, but can tolerate light shade in hotter climates
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Best planted: On slopes as erosion control, in rock gardens or containers, as a pollinator magnet in wildlife gardens, along borders, over bulb beds
  • Hardiness zones: 3 to 9

5. Creeping thyme

Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Photo Credit: Own Herby talk thyme | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Another attractive, sturdy ground cover that can add a touch of beauty and culinary value to your landscape is creeping thyme. It has finely textured and aromatic foliage that includes small, needle-like, fuzzy leaves arranged opposite each other along the stems. Depending on the variety, these leaves come in hues of gray and green.

Creeping thyme produces tiny, tubular flowers that may be pink, lavender, white, or purple. They sport a papery texture and produce dense clusters at the top of the stems. Besides looking adorable, they attract bees and butterflies to the garden.

If you love to cook, creeping thyme is good to have around. The leaves emit a distinct, savory flavor and are often used as a culinary herb to flavor meats, soups, stews, and sauces. 

In your landscape, use it to fill gaps between pavers and stepping stones. Besides spreading quickly to fill in any gaps, it will draw you in with its signature herbal fragrance.

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer (May to June), but not in its first season
  • Size: 2 to 4 inches tall, 6 to 18 inches wide
  • Pairs well with: Other ground covers such as creeping sedum, Creeping Jenny, ornamental grasses, and taller perennials
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, poor, moderate to dry soil. It’s susceptible to root rot in wet, soggy soil.
  • Sun preference: Full sun, but can tolerate light shade
  • Drought tolerance: High
  • Best planted: In raised beds or herb gardens, along garden paths, on slopes, and in Mediterranean-type landscapes where it can sprawl over rocks.
  • Hardiness zones: 2 to 9

6. Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)

Photo Credit: Hameltion | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Also known as dwarf lilyturf, dwarf mondo grass is a grass-like plant that produces dense, evergreen foliage. It is adaptable to various growing conditions. Despite its name, this plant is not an actual grass but rather a member of the Liliaceae family, a large and diverse group of flowering plants valued for their showy blooms and elegant structure. 

You’ll recognize dwarf mondo grass by its narrow leaves that grow in tufts or rosettes, dark green to black-ish green foliage, and relatively glossy texture. Whether you want to add color or texture to the landscape, dwarf mondo grass can provide year-round interest when other plants may be dormant.

When it comes to foot traffic, dwarf mondo grass is pretty resilient. Just be careful — it will show if there’s too much heavy trampling.

Dwarf mondo grass is very low maintenance. Once established, it’s pretty much self-sufficient. It is deer and rabbit resistant. Its small flowers are a pollinator magnet for bees, butterflies, and other insects that support the ecosystem.

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Bloom time: If it produces flowers, they’ll be white or purple and bloom in mid to late summer. Once they fade, the blooms give way to dark blue/purple berries in the fall.
  • Size: 3 to 6 inches tall, about 8 inches wide
  • Pairs well with: Heucheras, hostas, ferns, sedums, Ajuga
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, rich, medium-moisture soil
  • Sun preference: Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate
  • Best planted: In beds and borders, for edging, as a ground cover, in gravel gardens, under trees
  • Hardiness zones: 6 to 10

7. Mazus (Mazus reptans)

Photo Credit: SB_Johnny | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Native to Asia, mazus is a popular ground cover due to its dense, mat-forming growth habit and delicate, tubular purple, blue, or white flowers that bring a fresh pop of color. Mazus features small, oval-shaped leaves that grow along trailing stems and form dense, bright green, glossy clusters.

Known for its vigorous growth habit, mazus has no problem with taking heavy foot traffic. Whether used as a small-scale ground cover or complete lawn replacement, mazus can thrive in various growing conditions. It is low maintenance, deer-resistant, and attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies due to its nectar-rich blooms.

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer (May to June)
  • Size: 2 inches tall, 6 to 12 inches wide
  • Pairs well with: Blue star creeper, alpine geranium, brass buttons, Ajuga
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, medium-moisture, fertile soil
  • Sun preference: Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate; prolonged drought can lead to wilting
  • Best planted: As edging or underplanting shrubs, in woodland gardens, between pavers
  • Hardiness zones: 5 to 8

8. Sand dune sedge (Carex pansa)

Photo Credit: John Rusk from Berkeley, CA | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Sand dune sedge is a versatile ground cover often used as a substitute for traditional turf grass. This is due to its vigorous spreading habit, ability to withstand foot traffic, and resemblance to grass. If you want the look of a conventional lawn and a smooth surface for walking, mow it two to three times a year at around 4 inches tall.

Its foliage is fine-textured and soft to the touch, the narrow, strap-shaped leaves forming dense green or gray-green clumps in the yard. If planted between pavers, the clumps can quickly overtake the stone and make mowing difficult.

Sand dune sedge produces small brown flowers that grow on slender stems that rise over the foliage. They form clusters that eventually give way to seed heads, nevertheless adding to the overall visual interest of the plant. The blooms attract butterflies, moths, and birds alike, providing habitat and food sources and supporting biodiversity.

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer
  • Size: 8 to 12 inches tall, several feet wide
  • Pairs well with: Drought-tolerant plants such as beach grasses, ice plants, seaside daisies, other low-growing ground covers, ornamental grasses
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, sandy or loamy soil
  • Sun preference: Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerance: High, but regular water can help maintain its appearance during dry spells
  • Best planted: In coastal gardens, on rocky landscapes for soil erosion control, and in drought-prone areas as a low-maintenance ground cover
  • Hardiness zones: 7 to 10

9. Sedum (Stonecrop)

Stonecrop (Sedum spp.)
Photo Credit: I naturen | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Sedum (or creeping, low-growing sedum) is a resilient ground cover that not only tolerates foot traffic but thrives in it. This makes it an excellent choice for families with kids and pets who are often out and about. 

Its succulent, fleshy foliage comes in a variety of shapes and colors, ranging from deep green to vibrant reds and purples. The leaves are thick and can store water, giving them that plump appearance.

Sedum’s flowers are small, star-shaped, and delicate, forming clusters at the tip of the stems. They range in color from white, pink, and red to yellow and orange, providing plenty of options for those wanting to bring a pop of color to their landscape.

When it comes to maintenance, sedum is a breeze. This plant is well-suited to various growing conditions, including heat, drought, poor soils, and even neglect. Its low upkeep make it a staple in landscaping projects of all kinds.

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Bloom time: Late spring to summer (May to July)
  • Size: 2 to 3 inches tall, approximately 3 feet wide
  • Pairs well with: Other low-growing ground covers, taller perennials, and ornamental grasses
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, medium-moisture, poor soil
  • Sun preference: Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerance: High once established, very well adapted to dry conditions
  • Best planted: In herb gardens or containers, along walkways, on slopes
  • Hardiness zones: 3 to 9

10. Silver carpet lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina)

Photo Credit: David J. Stang | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Silver carpet lamb’s ear is a tough, delightful ground cover perfect for areas with moderate foot traffic. It derives its name from the soft, fuzzy texture of its leaves and is often used in children’s gardens due to this tactile appeal.

The leaves tend to be oval and large, forming rosettes along the stems. Their silvery-gray appearance can compliment just about any landscape.

Silver carpet produces small tubular flowers that are pale pink or purple in color. The flowers are soft and fuzzy to the touch and grow on tall spikes that are typically visited by bees and butterflies. 

  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer (May to June)
  • Size: 6 to 8 inches tall, between 18 and 24 inches wide
  • Pairs well with: Perennials such as allium, iris, Russian sage, roses, artemisia, other low-growing ground covers
  • Soil preference: Well-draining, sandy, loamy, or rocky soil
  • Sun preference: Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerance: High
  • Best planted: As a lawn alternative, along pathways, in herb gardens, rock gardens, and mixed borders, on slopes or raised beds. It’s noninvasive, so it will grow where you want it to.
  • Hardiness zones: 4 to 9

FAQ about the best ground covers for foot traffic

How do I design a garden with ground covers for foot traffic?

This requires careful consideration of several factors. Keep these aspects in mind when growing ground covers in your yard:

  • Assess foot traffic areas. This includes areas with the heaviest foot traffic, such as pathways, play areas, or outdoor seating areas.
  • Choose a suitable ground cover for your area, considering sun exposure, soil type, and climate.
  • Create a pathway for your ground cover of choice using gravel or pavers. This is great for containing the plants and preventing them from spreading to unwanted areas.
  • Mix and match different types of ground covers to up the ante when it comes to visual interest and texture. For added dimension, opt for taller plants and low-growing, creeping varieties.
  • Consider maintenance when choosing your ground cover. To make your life easier, opt for plants that require only occasional watering and pruning.
  • When designing your garden, don’t forget about focal points such as water features or lounging areas. Ground covers make excellent companion plants to soften edges.

Are these ground covers also good for crowding out weeds?

Yes, some of the ground covers on our list are excellent at suppressing weeds. Some good options include:

  • Creeping Jenny
  • Creeping phlox
  • Ajuga

Additionally, you can consider periwinkle and creeping thyme.

What are some good ground covers for shade?

If you’re looking for shade-loving ground covers, take a look at some of the best fast-growing ground covers for shade. These include:

  • Bugleweed
  • Japanese pachysandra
  • Sweet woodruff
  • Vancouveria

Design your dream garden with the help of a pro

Choosing the right ground cover for foot traffic can transform your outdoor space, easily blending visual appeal and functionality. Whether you like vibrant options such as creeping Jenny or fragrant beauties like beach strawberry, there’s a ground cover for everyone.

Still, you may not have a green thumb or time to handle it all yourself. So, why not get in touch with a local gardening professional ready to help? They’ll discuss options with you, plant the ground covers, and provide maintenance you won’t have to worry about.

Main Photo Credit: Creeping Phlox, David J. Stang | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Andie Ioó

In my free time, I enjoy traveling with my husband, sports, trying out new recipes, reading, and watching reruns of '90s TV shows. As a way to relax and decompress, I enjoy landscaping around my little yard and DIY home projects.