Tough Plants for Paths

Tips for successfully growing plants between stepping stones

You can grow many plants in a path or patio, especially if you provide good soil and water. We consider all the factors that lead to a good choice.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Tough plants for paths

Along with grass, there are quite a number of perennial plants that can be grown between stones in a path. These plants can all tolerate some foot traffic: Creeping Thyme/Mother-of-Thyme, Woolly Thyme, Carpet Bugleweed/Ajuga Reptans, Creeping Jenny/Creeping Charlie/Moneywort, Dead Nettle/Creeping Lamium, Blue Star Creeper, Brass Buttons, Mazus Reptans and Sedum.

To help you select the best ground cover, consider:

  • The amount of sunlight reaching your path (full sun, partial shade, full shade), because different plants thrive under different conditions.
  • The amount of traffic the plants will need to endure. Light traffic means the plants will be stepped on once or twice a week. Moderate traffic is once a day. And heavy traffic is similar to walking on your lawn several times a day.
  • The type of soil (poor or rich) and moisture conditions (wet or dry).
  • Appearance—plant height, texture and color. If the path is heavily traveled, keep the plant height extremely low to prevent tripping.

Then take your list to a local nursery specialist to walk you through the options best suited for your area. Also note how the plants grow and spread—to determine plant spacing and the number of plants you need to buy. Be sure to avoid plants that are considered invasive species in your area, like Creeping Jenny (Moneywort),which is listed as an invasive species in Tennessee, Wisconsin and the Northeast. You can find this list by visiting plants.usda.gov (click on “Invasive & Noxious”), or ask your local nursery specialist.

Improve the growing conditions when you carve out the soil for your new stone path. It’s difficult to grow anything in a trampled area. The soil gets so compacted that roots cannot deliver water and nutrients to the plant. Add good drainage as well as a layer of topsoil at least 1 in. deep around the stones so your ground cover can thrive.

Finally, help your new ground cover prosper with a weekly soaking (the plants need to stay moist) and a weekly hand weeding. And if you’d like to keep the plants short between the stones, consider varieties that tolerate mowing, such as thyme and ajuga.

Here are four common examples.

Creeping Thyme
(Mother-of-Thyme)
Thymus serpyllum
Zones: 4 through 9 (most of U.S.)
Height: 2 to 4 in.
Plant spreads 12 in.
Full sun to shade
Withstands heavy traffic

Carpet Bugleweed
(Ajuga)
Ajuga reptans
Zones: 3 through 9
Height: 4 to 6 in.
Plant spreads 12 to 18 in.
Full sun to partial shade
Withstands moderate traffic

Creeping Jenny
(Creeping Charlie, Moneywort)
Lysimachia nummularia
Zones: 4 through 8
Height: 2 to 4 in.
Plant spreads 18 to 23 in.
Partial shade
Withstands moderate traffic

Dead Nettle
(Creeping Lamium)
Lamium maculatum
Zones: 4 through 8
Height: 6 to 8 in.
Plant spreads 12 to 23 in.
Partial to full shade
Withstands moderate traffic

Flagstone Garden Path

Plant plugs of your desired plants between the stones and they’ll fill in the gaps within a few years.

Flagstone path Flagstone path
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