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Out of 16 resilient ground covers, I grew and ranked them separately for the highest foot-traffic tolerance and their love for shade. Combining these results brings you the top 5 walkable ground covers that prefer shade, plus 11 more great options for various conditions.
When planning and filling our gardens, I wondered what the best “living mulch” would be for shady footpaths. After several experiments and testing, we’ve grown a diverse range of these shade-loving ground covers and have observed their tolerance to being walked (and parked) on.
Creeping thyme, Lilyturf, periwinkle, Allegheny pachysandra, and brass buttons are the best walkable ground covers that love shade. Their dense growth habit minimizes stem and leaf damage by distributing weight and avoiding direct contact.
They each have unique traits in their structure or foliage that prevent crushing under pressure or allow easy recovery.
The performance of each plant may vary if the plant isn’t ideal for your climate or given position. So not only do you want to choose “the most shade-loving and walkable” ground cover, but the one with preferences that match its new home.
For example; don’t plant a moisture-loving ground cover in dry shade.
Before exploring the details of each ground cover I’ve further sorted them into categories for your convenience.
- Low maintenance walkable ground covers for shade
- Drought-tolerant walkable ground covers for shade
- Evergreen walkable ground covers for shade
- Semi-evergreen walkable ground covers for shade
- The details & photos: Most walkable and shade-loving ground covers (in order)
Disclaimer: Food Forest Living or its authors are not responsible for what you choose to consume. Do your own research before consuming anything “edible” or “medicinal.” Before planting any of these options check with your local invasive plant council or regional extension office for guidance on plants that may be invasive in your area.
Low maintenance walkable ground cover plants for shade
The level of maintenance each plant will require is relative to the conditions or positions provided by you and your climate.
We wanted low-maintenance living pathways, so we took note of which ones needed the least amount of care to maintain a good appearance.
In general, creeping thyme, lilyturf, and periwinkle are the lowest maintenance ground covers for shade. All three of these don’t require manual watering once established and are free of pests or diseases.
Some of the other plants not only require some watering, but occasional division or pruning.
These next best choices include:
- Dwarf Mondo Grass,
- Golden Creeping Jenny,
- Allegheny Pachysandra,
- Blue Star Creeper,
- Corsican Mint,
- Roman Chamomile, and
- Sweet Woodruff.
Finally, Irish Moss and Golden Japanese Sweet Flag are considered the highest maintenance as they require consistent moisture and specific soil conditions.
If the area you have in mind is consistently moist or wet without effort, then these are great options for you, and may actually be relatively low maintenance.
Drought-tolerant walkable ground covers for shade
If you have a dry climate or a shady spot that gets less water, you’ll need appropriate ground covers to minimize manual maintenance.
Blue star creeper, creeping thyme, periwinkle, dwarf mondo grass, lilyturf, and mazus reptans are the most drought-tolerant and shade-loving options.
Fun fact: Not all drought-tolerant plants have deep root systems, it surprised me too.
Evergreen walkable ground covers for shade
Many foot-traffic ground covers are fully evergreen in the appropriate climate and with wind or frost protection in harsh areas.
But they could be considered ‘semi-evergreens’ as they only hang on to their leaves or shed their leaves for a short time to the extent of the climate.
For example, creeping thyme stays fully evergreen in warm climates, but loses its leaves in colder zones, this means creeping thyme is a semi-evergreen.
- Creeping Thyme is evergreen in zones 7-9 and semi-evergreen in zones 4-6
- Dwarf Mondo Grass is evergreen in zones 7-11 and semi-evergreen in zones 4-6
- Lilyturf is evergreen in zones 6-10 and semi-evergreen in zones 4-5
- Periwinkle is evergreen in zones 4-9 but semi-evergreen in zones 2-3
- Sweet Woodruff is evergreen in zones 4-8 and deciduous in zone 3
- Brass Buttons are evergreen in zones 7-10 and semi-evergreen below zone 6
- Golden Creeping Jenny is evergreen in zones 4-8 and semi-evergreen in zone 3
- Golden Japanese Sweet Flag is evergreen in zones 6-9 and deciduous in colder areas
- Roman Chamomile is semi-evergreen in zones 2-9
- Irish Moss is evergreen in zones 4-8
- Mazus reptans is evergreen in zones 5-9
- Allegheny Pachysandram is evergreen in zones 5-9
Lilyturf (Zones 6-10)
Lilyturf can be started from seed and trasplanted where desired. SeedVilleUSA offers seeds for most of the ground covers in this post!
Check if lilyturf is invasive in your area before deciding to grow is as your walkable ground cover.
Periwinkle (Zones 4-9)
Seeds are offered here.
Check if periwinkle is invasive in your area before deciding to grow is as your walkable ground cover.
Creeping Thyme (Zones 4-9)
MySeedTopia offers ‘magic carpet’ thyme and ‘mother of’ thyme as ground cover options.
Allegheny Pachysandra (Zones 5-9)
Native to southern North America.
Brass Buttons (Zones 6-9)
Bugleweed (Zones 3-10)
Check if bugleweed is invasive in your area before deciding to grow is as your walkable ground cover.
Golden Creeping Jenny (Zones 3-9)
(Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’)
VintagePedalPushers offers 4-inch pots of golden creeping jenny.
Dwarf Mondo Grass (Zones 6-11)
(Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’)
Issaraplants has 5 star reviews and offers bare root clumps.
Blue Star Creeper (Zones 5-9)
ID Seeds offers seeds for blue star creeper.
Irish Moss (Zones 3-9)
MySeedTopia offers seeds for Irish Moss ground cover.
Foamflower (Zones 3-9)
SeedVilleUSA offers foam flower seeds.
Golden Japanese Sweet Flag (Zones 5-9)
(Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’)
Corsican Mint (Zones 6-9)
SeedVilleUSA offers this cute mint!
Mazus reptans (Zones 5-9)
Roman Chamomile (Zones 4-9)
Roman chamomile stays low growing and seeds are offered by Fabulous Gardening.
Sweet Woodruff (Zones 4-8)
VitnagePetalPushers offers sweet woodruff seeds.
I recommend growing several suitable-sounding ground covers because diversity is pretty and powerful.
But if you must choose only one. . .
After observing our plants, asking other gardeners, and researching everything, the answer is clear and without personal bias.
Lilyturf, periwinkle, and creeping thyme ‘win‘ in every ‘ideal ground cover‘ category:
- low maintenance,
- drought tolerant, and
If you’ve decided to pick one of these, but wonder which will be best, before you go for what you love for looks, see which one is best for your local environment.
Creeping thyme is generally the friendliest walkable ground cover of all: it isn’t invasive to other plants, it’s the most pollinator-friendly, it smells divine, and we can cook with it!
Lilyturf and periwinkle are invasive in many places. So check, first!
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