10 High Traffic Ground Cover Plants You Can Walk On

Ground covers have many benefits: they shield the soil to prevent weeds and hold water, they can be low maintenance, they can be pollinator-friendly, and they can thrive in conditions where grass just won’t grow. But whether you’re replacing your lawn, filling in spaces between flagstones, or covering an occasionally used path, the right ground covers also need to handle foot traffic. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 10 ground covers you can walk on.

10 High Traffic Ground Cover Plants You Can Walk On

1. Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)

strawberry

When thinking of ground covers and lawn substitutes, your first thought was probably not strawberries. But beach strawberry, a plant native to the Pacific Northwest, can handle moderate foot traffic. The leaves spring back after getting stepped on. It also produces white flowers and edible strawberries. Although less aggressive than other strawberries, beach strawberry still spreads through runners, so plant it where it can’t spread easily.

Foot Traffic: Moderate (springs back when stepped on)

USDA Zone: 4 – 9

Light: Part Shade to Full Sun

Water: Moderate to low; some drought-tolerance

Soil: Prefers sandy or well-draining soil

Maintenance: Low

2. Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Birdsfoot Trefoil

While a lot of recommended ground covers for foot traffic prefer well-drained, even sandy soils, what if you’ve got a marsh of often wet soil? Birdsfoot Trefoil loves poorly drained, fertile soil while still being resilient to heavy foot traffic and even dog urine. It grows low at 3 to 5 inches and blossoms in mid-to-late summer for golden color when other flowers are lagging.

Foot Traffic: Moderate to Heavy

USDA Zone: 3 – 9

Light: Part Sun to Full Sun

Water: Low to Normal

Soil: Peaty, Clay, Sandy, Gravel, Normal

Maintenance: Low

3. Creeping Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus and T. serpyllum)

Creeping Thyme

Creeping thyme is one of the more popular suggestions for high traffic ground cover and includes a few different varieties for different needs. The Elfin variety (T. serpyllum var. Elfin) stays below 2 inches, while wooly thyme (T. pseudolanuginosus) quickly forms a hardy, silver-tinged carpet. As you walk across creeping thyme, the leaves release a lovely herbal scent. Thyme will also produce pink to lavender flowers.

Foot Traffic: Light to Moderate (Wooly thyme is the toughest)

USDA Zone: 4 – 8

Light: Full Sun

Water: Low to Moderate; some drought-tolerance

Soil: Chalk, Loam, Sand

Maintenance: Low

4. Green Carpet Rupturewort (Herniaria glabra)

Green Carpet Rupturewort

With its tight and tiny leaves, and almost invisible white flowers, Green Carpet Rupturewort is not the flashiest of cover plants, but it’s a workhorse. It is drought-tolerant, grows well, tolerates most soils, and even stands up to heavy foot traffic. If you need a ground cover to stand up to kids, pets, and heavy wheels running over it, Green Carpet Rupturewort is a solid choice. In winter, the leaves turn red, adding interest long after warm-season grasses have turned brown.

Foot Traffic: Heavy

USDA Zone: 5 – 9

Light: Part Sun, Full Sun

Water: Low

Soil: All

Maintenance: Low

5. Microclover (Trifolium repens var. Pipolina)

Microclover

While for the past fifty years, clover has been seen as a weed that must be eradicated, home-owners are rediscovering clover and microclover’s advantages. Clover fixes atmospheric nitrogen in its roots, naturally fertilizing the soil, while also attracting beneficial insects and growing densely enough to crowd out weeds. Microclover on its own can stand up to light to medium traffic. For heavy traffic, mix with grass. Clover will improve the grass’ health with less work from you.

If bees and bee stings are a concern, mow microclover regularly and it won’t flower. Mowing also encourages smaller leaves for a finer texture.

Foot Traffic: Light to moderate (heavy if mixed with grass)

USDA Zone: 3 – 13

Light: Part Shade to Full Sun

Water: Low, but needs water during hot periods

Soil: Tolerates most soils, best in acidic clay and loam soils

Maintenance: Low to medium. Mow to keep short and encourage growth.

6. Moss Campion (Silene acaulis)

Moss Campion

Do you imagine walking over a fairy-like carpet? Then Moss Campion is here for you. While looking similar to Irish Moss, its delicate leaves can handle moderate foot traffic and drought. Moss Campion also produces delicate hot pink flowers that fade to light pink in the summer.

Foot Traffic: Light to moderate

USDA Zone: 4 – 9

Light: Part Sun, Full Sun

Water: Low

Soil: Sandy, Gravel, Loam

Maintenance: Low

7. Sedge (Carex spp.)

Sedge

If you still want the look of grass (or your spouse isn’t ready to give up a turf lawn yet), sedge may be for you. It looks similar to turf grass, but requires a lot less ongoing maintenance while also thriving in challenging conditions like waterlogged or dry soil – and many varieties are shade tolerant too! You can even grow grassland sedge (C. divulsa) successfully around tree roots.

Foot Traffic: Moderate

USDA Zone: 2 – 9 (varies depending on variety)

Light: Shade to Full Sun (varies depending on variety)

Water: Low to Moderate (varies depending on variety)

Soil: Sandy to Clay (varies depending on variety)

Maintenance: Low to medium; mow to keep below 4 inches (usually grows to 6 to 8 inches)

8. Silver Carpet (Dymondia margaretae)

With its silver-green, variegated leaves, Silver Carpet provides a unique look as a lawn substitute or filler between stepping stones. This groundcover originated on the coastal plains of South Africa, so it thrives in poor, rocky soil with salt spray and with very little water. It will benefit from irrigation for the first few years to grow quickly and thickly as it gets established. Once established, it can survive long droughts.

Foot Traffic: Medium

USDA Zone: 9 – 11

Light: Part Sun, Full Sun

Water: Medium during establishment, low and drought-tolerant when established

Soil: Sandy, Gravel, Loam, or any well-draining soil

Maintenance: Low once established

9. Stonecrop/Sedum (Sedum spp.)

Stonecrop Sedum

There are tons of succulents in the sedum family that can tolerate light to medium traffic, with a variety of looks and cold hardiness. The sedum genus prefers well-draining soils and low to normal rainfall. One thing to note is that the leaves will break off underfoot, but when they land on soil, they’ll grow roots to replenish and repair gaps. Sedum works well in places that you may need to tread upon occasionally but not frequently.

Foot Traffic: Light to Moderate (varies depending on variety)

USDA Zone: 3 – 11 (varies depending on variety)

Light: Part Sun to Full Sun

Water: Low to Normal; drought-tolerant

Soil: Prefers well-draining, but can tolerate clay with low water

Maintenance: Low

10. White Nancy (Lamium maculatum var. White Nancy)

White Nancy

Got a full shade spot that you need to brighten up while still being able to walk on it? Like Birdsfoot Trefoil, White Nancy thrives in full shade. It grows to 4 to 6 inches and produces beautiful white flowers above its silver-green heart-shaped leaves. It’s not fussy about water or soil, although it prefers moist and well-drained soil.

Foot Traffic: Moderate

USDA Zone: 3 – 9

Light: Part Shade, Full Shade

Water: Average

Soil: Sandy, Clay, Loam, Chalk

Maintenance: Low

What Ground Covers Are Not Suitable for Walking?

Ground covers that aren’t suitable for walking on include:

  • Moss Sandwort (Arenaria Wallowa Mountains)
  • Rockrose (Helianthemum spp.)
  • Cold Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma spp.)
  • Mother of Thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Coccineum‘)
  • Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii)
  • Creeping Stonecrop/Sedum (Sedum spp.) (Walking on sedum breaks off leaves, but broken leaves will grow roots.)
  • Moss (division Bryophyta)

2 thoughts on “10 High Traffic Ground Cover Plants You Can Walk On”

  1. I have a privacy fenced in backyard next to wooded area. North facing. Grass seed does not work. Dogs running the yard occasionally. Needs to tolerate foot traffic. What are best options for groundcover in Central Indiana?

    Reply
    • For a backyard like yours in Central Indiana, you’ll need a ground cover that is hardy, can tolerate shade (since it’s north-facing and next to a wooded area), and can withstand occasional foot traffic from dogs.

      Here are some options I recommend:

      Clover – Clover is a low-maintenance ground cover that can tolerate foot traffic. It’s also good for areas where grass struggles to grow. White clover is a common choice and can handle moderate foot traffic.

      Creeping Thyme – This is a durable, low-growing plant that can withstand foot traffic and is good for covering large areas. It also has the added benefit of being aromatic.

      Periwinkle (Vinca Minor) – Periwinkle is a shade-tolerant ground cover that spreads quickly and has attractive flowers. It’s good for covering large areas but might need some control to prevent it from spreading too much.

      Pachysandra – This is a popular choice for shaded areas. It forms a dense mat that can handle some foot traffic and is low maintenance.

      Ajuga (Bugleweed) – Ajuga is a robust ground cover that spreads quickly and has attractive foliage. It’s good for shady areas and can tolerate foot traffic.

      Fescue Grass Varieties – If you’re still interested in a grassy look, certain types of fescue grasses, like fine fescue, are more shade-tolerant and could work in your situation.

      Moss – If your yard is very shady, moss can be a beautiful, low-maintenance ground cover. It doesn’t tolerate foot traffic as well as some other options, but it can be a good choice in the right conditions.

      Sedum (Stonecrop) – There are many varieties of sedum that can serve as ground covers. Some are more tolerant of foot traffic than others, but they generally require sunny conditions.

      Reply

Leave a Comment