Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
August, 2007
Regional Report

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Many ground covers can tolerate light foot traffic.

Ground Covers That Can Take Your Feet

In some gardens there can be a lot of foot traffic from Rover, Tabby, various wild animals, and neighborhood kids that like to visit. A garden should be enjoyed by all, so plan on having plants that can withstand being walked on. That's right, plants that can tolerate foot traffic from pets and humans.

One of my favorite ground covers that can put up with being stepped on is woolly thyme. I recommend it highly for planting between red flagstone and other walkway pavers. In addition to withstanding the foot traffic, it emits a fragrance when bruised. This thyme is not fussy about soil type, as long as the area is well-drained, and it spreads rapidly, yet is not invasive.

Woolly thyme has leathery, aromatic, grayish green foliage that forms a dense surface. As this ground cover matures, it produces rose-pink to magenta flowers that rise above the foliage in mid- to late spring. These blooms are loved by the honeybees early in the season. It's great to have these pollinators around for the fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

I recently did a broadcast of my radio show from a local garden center and was intrigued with a group of plants being sold under the name of Stepables. The plants on display were ground covers that could withstand some foot traffic without being harmed. Though the plants themselves were not new to me, the marketing was very appropriate for those landscape areas where traffic is common.

With a little care and moderate traffic, many ground covers are easy to grow in a compact form and close to the ground. Not only are they great for planting between pavers and used as pathways, many can be grown in place of grass. This will reduce the chore of mowing and trimming narrow areas and the hellstrips between the street and sidewalk.

I've found that to have the best success with ground covers, you have to make the time to prepare the soil before planting. Good drainage is essential for these plants to become well established and drought tolerant. Whether you are planting in sandy soil, clay soil, or crushed granite, add compost at the rate of one-third by volume and work it into the ground to a depth of 4 inches or more. Then you are ready to plant the baby ground cover plants.

Easy-To-Find Choices
There is a suitable plant for most any site. Some of the most common ground covers include: ajuga (Ajuga spp.), alpine mouse-ear (Cerastium alpinum), Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), Arctic cinquefoil (Potentilla nana), Sedum lydium, Veronica repens, pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), Artemisia virisis 'Tiny Green', 'Sunny Side Up' fleabane (Erigeron scopulinus), sweet woodruff, and of course, the thymes. You don't have to be afraid to step on them occasionally; their aromas may tickle your nose.

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