Drought-Tolerant Ground Cover You Can Walk On

Published
Drought-Tolerant Ground Cover You Can Walk On

landscaping with thyme

Short Answer: Drought-tolerant ground covers that withstand foot traffic are excellent for creating low-maintenance, resilient, and attractive outdoor spaces. Plants like Sedum, also known as stonecrop, are popular due to their hardy nature and ability to thrive in poor soil conditions with minimal water. Another great choice is Thyme, which tolerates dry conditions and releases a pleasant aroma when walked upon, adding a sensory experience to your garden. Creeping Jenny and Blue Star Creeper are also favored for their lush appearance and durability underfoot, even in arid environments. These ground covers offer a sustainable and beautiful solution for high-traffic areas in the garden, requiring little care while providing a green, cushioned carpet all year round.


Solid brick or concrete walkways can be expensive and unexciting. A more natural and aesthetically pleasing option is to create a path with ground cover planted between stepping stones. Low-growing plants that form mats are a great choice as they can withstand light foot traffic. Additionally, some varieties of these plants release a delightful fragrance when brushed against, providing an extra sensory experience.

Thyme

Thyme is a fragrant and hardy plant that can be used as a groundcover in sunny areas of your landscape. It emits a refreshing aroma that you can enjoy every time you pass by. Some of the best non-culinary varieties of thyme are red creeping thyme, ‘Elfin’ mother-of-thyme, and wooly thyme. All three types grow into thick mats of beautiful foliage. Additionally, thyme is resistant to deer and rabbits.

  • Size: To 5 inches tall and wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil; drought-tolerant once established
  • Zones: 4-9

Blue Star Creeper

Brighten the shady corners of your landscape with the charms of blue star creeper (Laurentia fluviatilis). This little ground hugger develops masses of pale blue, star-shaped flowers in spring and early summer. Use it as a lawn alternative in locations that are too shady to support turf grass. Once established, underground runners spread blue star creeper quickly and can become aggressive in cool, moist areas. It’s tough enough to tolerate light foot traffic as long as it receives regular water.

  • Size: 4 inches tall and 18 inches wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained, consistently moist soil
  • Zones: 5-9

Sedum

Heat and drought-resistant sedum groundcovers are perfect for sunny and exposed areas that receive plenty of sunlight. These plants are incredibly hardy and require minimal attention. Additionally, they can withstand foot traffic with ease. You can plant individual sedum plants between pavers, or you can opt for sedum “tiles” that you can roll out like sod to cover larger areas. Sedum groundcovers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the shorter and creeping varieties are best suited for groundcovers. ‘Dragon’s Blood’, ‘Tricolor’, ‘Blue Spruce’, ‘Kamtschaticum’, and ‘Fuldaglut’ are some of the popular varieties. Sedum groundcovers also produce beautiful flowers in late summer that attract bees and butterflies.

  • Size: 6 inches tall and 3 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil; drought-tolerant
  • Zones: 3-10

Ajuga

Good things come in small packages! Ajuga, for example, grows just a few inches tall, yet it adds tons of color to your landscape. Also known as bugleweed, this easy-care groundcover you can walk on is prized for its ability to slowly and steadily carpet your yard with colorful foliage. In spring, ajuga sends up spikes of blue, purple, or white flowers atop a base of bronze, chocolate, bright green, or bicolor foliage. Ajuga also thrives in containers.

  • Size: To 9 inches tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full to part shade and well-drained soil; drought-tolerant
  • Zones: 4-10

Creeping Jenny

As its name suggests, creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is a low-growing plant with long stems that spread outward. Its coinlike golden leaves are why it’s commonly called moneywort. Dragging Jenny works well growing between stepping stones, which will tolerate some foot traffic. It also will happily cascade over stone walls or the sides of mixed planters and window boxes, which will help keep this vigorous spreader contained. In the late spring, creeping Jenny also produces dainty butter-yellow flowers.

  • Size: To 6 inches tall and 18 inches wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and consistently moist, well-drained soil
  • Zones: 3-9

Portulaca

Portulaca, also known as moss rose, is a type of groundcover that grows well in the Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden® pathways during the summer. This tough and sun-loving plant often self-sows, which means it can pop up in unexpected places. The crepe paper-like blooms of Portulaca come in a range of colors, including yellow, white, salmon, red, orange, and bicolor. This groundcover also has bright green needle-like foliage that springs back into place even when stepped on. Although Portulaca is perennial in frost-free regions, it is usually grown annually elsewhere as it is not frost-tolerant. It is also drought-resistant, making it a great choice for dry climates.

  • Size: To 9 inches tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil; drought tolerant
  • Zones: 10-11

Scotch Moss

At first glance, you might not think Scotch moss (Sagina subulata) is tough enough to take foot traffic. Yet this golden moss bounces right back if someone steps on it. Use Scotch Moss in garden paths and rock gardens or as a lawn substitute in small backyards. Scotch moss is also frosted with a pretty layer of white flowers in the spring. The key to keeping this walkable groundcover plant well hydrated, particularly during the summer heat, is to keep it well hydrated.

  • Size: To 1 inch tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil
  • Zones: 4-8
  • Buy It: Scotch Moss (from $10, Etsy)

Dwarf Mondo Grass

Dwarf mondo grass, scientifically known as Ophiopogon japonicus, is a stunning plant that forms small clusters of bright green foliage. It looks particularly beautiful when planted in large numbers along a path or patio. The best part about this plant is that it requires minimal maintenance to keep it looking great. A quick shearing back in spring will help promote new growth after winter. Moreover, this plant grows slowly, so there’s no need to worry about it getting out of control.

  • Size: To 3 inches tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil
  • Zones: 7-10
  • Buy It: Dwarf Mondo Grass ($13, The Home Depot)

Creeping Phlox

After a long, dark winter, the early spring flowers of creeping phlox are a welcome treat. These tough overachievers are almost smothered in blue, purple, rose, white, or bicolor flowers for several weeks. The plants spread quickly, and their dark green needlelike foliage keeps them looking good even when not in bloom. Creeping phlox works especially well on small slopes that drain quickly after rains.

  • Size: To 6 inches tall and 2 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil
  • Zones: 3-8

Snow-in-Summer

This perennial truly lives up to its common name: Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) produces large drifts of tiny white blooms in late May and June atop a mound of spreading silver-gray foliage. It may self-sow but doesn’t generally become invasive. To keep plants looking good, shear them back after flowering. Snow-in-summer prefers cooler climates and may suffer during hot, humid summers.

  • Size: To 1 foot tall and wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil
  • Zones: 3-10
  • Buy It: Snow in Summer Seeds

Soapwort

Many favorite perennials were once grown for more practical purposes than looking good in a garden. For example, soapwort leaves (Saponaria officinalis) were once used to make a cleansing lather. However, soapwort is prized today for its compact, rough-and-tumble nature and pink, red, or white flowers. Use this groundcover you can walk along your garden path or tuck it into rock gardens or walls. Soapwort is drought- and deer-tolerant.

  • Size: To 2 feet tall and 18 inches wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained, slightly alkaline soil; drought-tolerant
  • Zones: 3-9

Baby Tears

Baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) is commonly known as a houseplant or terrarium plant, but it can also make a beautiful bright green ground cover in warm and humid regions. It is also suitable for vertical gardens and containers. When given the right conditions, baby tears can spread quickly, forming a dense, moss-like cushion. However, it’s important to keep foot traffic on it to a minimum to avoid damaging the delicate foliage.

  • Size: To 6 inches tall and 6 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full shade and moist, well-drained soil
  • Zones: 9-11

Mazus

Occasionally called cup flowers, mazes form a dense mass of bright green foliage highlighted with lavender orchid-like flowers in late spring. It grows just 3 inches tall but packs a significant impact when it spreads across the ground. It’s a perfect ground cover you can walk on for pathways or the edge of a flower border. This compact beauty proliferates and tolerates light foot traffic.

  • Size: To 3 inches tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist to wet soil
  • Zones: 5-8

Hens-and-Chicks

No groundcover list would be complete without hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.). Named for the baby “chicks” that surround each mother plant or “hen,” this delightful succulent plant comes in various forms and colors that you can mix and match to create a living mosaic. Hens-and-chicks can be tucked between pavers, rock or wall gardens, or containers. If the plants grow too close together, transplant the chicks to other locations in your landscape. Even though hens and chicks can take a lot of abuse, they don’t like too much foot traffic.

  • Size: 1 foot tall and 18 inches wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil; drought tolerant
  • Zones: 3-8

Corsican Mint

One of the smallest members of the mint family, Corsican mint (Mentha requienii), grows to only 1 inch tall, forming thick mats of aromatic foliage. In warm climates, it appreciates some afternoon shade during the hottest part of the summer but does well in full-sun locations. Use Corsican mint between stepping stones to enjoy its fragrance every time you brush past the foliage. In late summer, Corsican mint produces lilac flowers that are so tiny they are easy to overlook.

  • Size: To 3 inches tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil
  • Zones: 6-9

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in the USA

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
Northeast (e.g., New York, Massachusetts)Rose, Purple Lilac, Mountain LaurelSugar Maple, American Elm, White Pine
Southeast (e.g., Florida, Georgia)Orange Blossom, Cherokee Rose, Southern MagnoliaLive Oak, Spanish Moss, Saw Palmetto
Midwest (e.g., Ohio, Illinois)Carnation, Violet, Purple ConeflowerBur Oak, Prairie Grasses, Wild Bergamot
Southwest (e.g., Texas, Arizona)Bluebonnet, Saguaro Cactus Flower, Indian PaintbrushJoshua Tree, Agave, Mesquite
West (e.g., California, Washington)California Poppy, Coast Rhododendron, BitterrootGiant Sequoia, Redwood, Manzanita
Rocky Mountain (e.g., Colorado, Montana)Rocky Mountain Columbine, Bitterroot, Indian PaintbrushBlue Spruce, Aspen, Sagebrush
Great Plains (e.g., Kansas, Nebraska)Sunflower, Goldenrod, Purple ConeflowerCottonwood, Bluestem Grasses, Buffalo Grass
Pacific Northwest (e.g., Oregon, Alaska)Oregon Grape, Forget-me-not, Pacific RhododendronDouglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Ferns

This table includes the most popular flowers and plants in the USA by region, which considers a range of botanical species, including native and widely cultivated varieties.

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in Australia

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
New South WalesWaratah, Bottlebrush, Flannel FlowerEucalyptus, Acacia, Banksia
VictoriaCommon Heath, Waxflower, Pink HeathMountain Ash, Silver Wattle, Victorian Blue Gum
QueenslandCooktown Orchid, Golden Penda, Umbrella Tree FlowerMoreton Bay Fig, Macadamia Nut, Queensland Bottle Tree
South AustraliaSturt's Desert Pea, Kangaroo Paw, Eucalyptus BlossomAdelaide Blue Gum, South Australian Blue Gum, Saltbush
Western AustraliaRed and Green Kangaroo Paw, Mangles Kangaroo Paw, Swan River DaisyJarrah, Marri, Karri
TasmaniaTasmanian Blue Gum, Leatherwood Flower, Tasmanian WaratahHuon Pine, Tasmanian Oak, Myrtle Beech
Northern TerritorySturt's Desert Rose, Frangipani, Desert RoseBoab, Gidgee, Spinifex
Australian Capital TerritoryRoyal Bluebell, Australian Daisy, CorreaSnow Gum, River Red Gum, Black Mountain

This table offers a basic overview of popular flowers and plants in each Australian region, focusing on a combination of state flowers, native species, and other characteristic plants. It's important to note that specific species' popularity and prevalence can vary. This table is a simplified representation. Consulting local botanical gardens or regional horticultural societies in Australia would be ideal for more detailed and accurate information.

Charlotte Gammon

By Charlotte Gammon

Meet Charlotte Gammon, our expert and author. She's our true treasure, as she has got 20+ years of experience in gardening, winery and house design. In early 2000s, she worked for today.com magazine and was in charge of the gaardening section. Later on, Charlotte opened her own designer agency and worked as a designer and decorator. We are happy to have Charlotte with us, as she is our good friend. We value her experience and we're sure you will love the articles she created for our blog.