Walkable Ground Cover - Knowledgebase Question

Oswego, NY
Avatar for etaylor1
Question by etaylor1
April 19, 2002
We live in zone 5 just south of the lee side of Lake Ontario. Our new house house is in the woods along a large creek but we have good sun most of the day in a 50' radius from the house. Would like to have gardens and ground cover around the house WITHOUT grass to mow. Can you suggest some sort of creeping ground cover that can stand up to being walked on? Would prefer not to have herbal scents tracked through the house but wonder is all else fails would Corsica mint or creeping sage work?

Answer from NGA
April 19, 2002
Photo by hementia
Although most groundcovers will tolerate some foot traffic, they are not as resiliant as grass -- hence the popularity of lawn grass for families with game playing children for example.

However, in determining your landscaping, you might want to think about how large your "walkable area" truly needs to be, and thus in some areas how short the ground cover actually needs to be. In planning and making your selections, you might also consider using pavers or gravel areas to facilitate outdoor seating and activities without requiring planting per se. Often times these areas satisfy our needs and reduce the amount of lawn space required.

In areas that do not really need to be walked over, you might be able to use mass planted low maintenance perennials such as daylilies (hemerocallis) or black eyed Susans (rudbeckia) or other herbaceous plants to fill in the area. You could also use the traditional groundcover plants of English ivy, vinca minor, creeping phlox and low growing junipers. Violets can also make a charming groundcover, and you may find some native plants ready to colonize in the now open areas.

Unfortunately, Corsican mint is not reliably hardy in your area and I am not familiar with a creeping sage. Creeping thyme is often recommended between stepstones or pavers, but it does require a well drained soil and it can be difficult to maintain a solid carpet of the plant; it does, as you mentioned, add some scent to it. If you try it, you might use a pebble mulch around it to try to encourage it to make a more regular carpet.

The mints in general are spreaders to the point of invasiveness, so I am not sure you would want to try them because there is a risk they would grow into the woods or other areas where it will be difficult to remove them. In my experience, this is something you would regret in the long run.

Low growing chamomile might be a groundcover to try, and oregano tends to seed about and can be an interesting herbal ground cover, however it is taller and does not provide that uniform appearance we think of as groundcover.

A very low growing ground cover plant to consider is Lysimachia nummularia aurea or golden creeping Jenny.  This plant is short, takes foot traffic and spreads nicely but it is a bit of a dificult color in the landscape, depending on your personal taste.

Mazus reptans is another one to consider, it is low growing, spreads without being invasive and takes occasional foot traffic and has lovely blooms in the spring.

Finally, ajuga or carpet bugle might be worthwhile. This is a traditional groundcover for sun, partial sun and partial shade and blooms nicely each spring. There are numerous varieties available ranging from miniature to about ten inches tall and with different foliage colors from green to purplish to muilticolored.

I hope this gives you some ideas.

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