15 Walkable Groundcovers Perfect for Creating Pretty Garden Paths

landscaping with thyme
Photo: Peter Krumhardt

A solid brick or concrete walkway can be a bit blah, not to mention pricey to build. Instead, you can create a pretty path with groundcovers tucked between stepping stones for a more natural look. These mat-forming, low-growing plants are tough enough to tolerate light foot traffic and best of all, some varieties will also release a delightful fragrance every time you brush by.

01 of 15

Thyme

Red Creeping Thyme
Matthew Benson

Fragrant and resilient, thyme makes a superb groundcover for sunny spots in your landscape where you can enjoy its fresh scent every time you walk by. Some of the best varieties are the non culinary types, such as red creeping thyme, 'Elfin' mother-of-thyme, and wooly thyme. All three grow as dense mats of pretty foliage. Another bonus: Thyme is deer- and rabbit-resistant.

Size: To 5 inches tall and wide

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil; drought-tolerant once established

Zones: 4-9

02 of 15

Blue Star Creeper

Blue Star Creeper stepping stones
Mike Jensen

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

Size: To 4 inches tall and 18 inches wide

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained, consistently moist soil

Zones: 5-9

03 of 15

Sedum

close up of creeping sedum
Peter Krumhardt

Heat- and drought-resistant, sedum groundcovers are ideal for sunny, exposed locations. These tough-as-nails plants require very little attention and are strong enough to handle foot traffic. Tuck individual plants between pavers or look for sedum "tiles" that you roll out like sod to cover larger areas. Sedum comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes but shorter, creeping varieties make the best groundcovers. Look for varieties such as 'Dragon's Blood', 'Tricolor', 'Blue Spruce', 'Kamtschaticum', or 'Fuldaglut.' Most sedum groundcovers also produce pretty flowers in the late summer that will attract bees and butterflies.

Size: To 6 inches tall and 3 feet wide

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil; drought-tolerant

Zones: 3-10

04 of 15

Ajuga

Ajuga
Justin Hancock

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 walkable groundcover plant is prized for its ability to slowly and steadily carpet your yard with its 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

05 of 15

Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny
Erica George Dines

Like its name suggests, creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) thrives is a low-growing plant with long stems that spread outward. Its coinlike golden leaves are why it's commonly called moneywort. Creeping Jenny works well growing between stepping stones, where it 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

06 of 15

Portulaca

Portulaca
Denny Schrock

Portulaca, also called moss rose, thrives in the Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden® pathways during the summer. It's a tough, sun-loving plant that frequently self sows, popping up in unexpected places. The crepe paperlike blooms come in a wide variety of colors, including yellow, white, salmon, red, orange, and bicolors. Portulaca also has bright green needlelike foliage that pops back into place if you happen to step on it. This drought-tolerant is perennial in frost-free regions, but usually grown as an annual elsewhere.

Size: To 9 inches tall and 1 foot wide

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil; drought tolerant

Zones: 10-11

07 of 15

Scotch Moss

Scotch Moss
Bob Stefko 

At first glance, you might not think that 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, rock gardens, or as a lawn substitute in small backyards. Scotch moss is also frosted with a pretty layer of tiny white flowers in the spring. The key with this walkable groundcover plant is to keep it well hydrated, particularly during summer heat.

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)

08 of 15

Dwarf Mondo Grass

Dwarf Mondograss
Ed Gohlich

Forming small clumps of bright green foliage, dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) is simply spectacular when planted in masses along a path or patio. Plus, you don't have to fuss over it to keep it looking good; a quick shearing back in spring will encourage fresh new growth after the winter. And this plant grows slowly so there's no 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 ($14, The Home Depot)

09 of 15

Creeping Phlox

Creeping Phlox
Denny Schrock

After a long, dark winter, the early spring flowers of creeping phlox are a welcome treat. For several weeks, these tough overachievers are almost smothered in blue, purple, rose, white, or bicolor flowers. The plants spread quickly and even when not in bloom, their dark green needlelike foliage keeps them looking good. 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

10 of 15

Snow-in-Summer

Snow in Summer
Denny Schrock

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 ($3, Etsy)

11 of 15

Soapwort

Soapwort
Laurie Dickson

Many favorite perennials were once grown for more utilitarian purposes than looking good in a garden. The leaves of soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) for example, were once used to make a cleansing lather. Today, however, soapwort is prized for its compact, rough-and-tumble nature and pretty pink, red, or white flowers. Use it 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

Buy It: Soapwort ($3, Etsy)

12 of 15

Baby Tears

Baby Tears
Jamie Hadley

Most people think of baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) as a houseplant or terrarium plant, but in warm, humid regions, it makes a lovely bright green shade groundcover that works well in vertical gardens, containers, or shady pathways. When happy, baby tears spreads rapidly, forming a mosslike cushion. Keep the foot traffic on it light.

Size: To 6 inches tall and 6 feet wide

Growing Conditions: Full shade and moist, well-drained soil

Zones: 9-11

Buy It: Baby Tears ($30, Etsy)

13 of 15

Mazus

Mazus
Susan Gilmore

Occasionally called cup flower, mazus forms a dense mass of bright green foliage highlighted with lavender, orchidlike flowers in late spring. It grows just 3 inches tall but packs a big impact when it spreads across the ground. It's perfect for walkways or the edge of a flower border. This compact beauty grows quickly 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

14 of 15

Hens-and-Chicks

Hens-and-Chicks
Matthew Benson

No groundcover list would be complete without hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum sp.). Named for the baby "chicks" that surround each mother plant or "hen," this delightful succulent plant comes in a wide variety of forms and colors that you can mix and match to create a living mosaic. Hens-and-chicks can be tucked between pavers, in rock or wall gardens, or in containers. If the plants grow too close together, simply 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: To 1 foot tall and 18 inches wide

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil; drought tolerant

Zones: 3-8

15 of 15

Corsican Mint

pathway
Ed Gohlich

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 otherwise does well in full sun locations. Use Corsican mint between stepping stones so you can 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

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