Groundcover Perfect for a Stone Path
Pro tips on plants that grow best between the stepping stones
What can I plant between the stepping-stones in a path on the north side of my house? It gets full sun in summer and dense shade in winter. Please, nothing invasive! —Susan Ferrell, Thompson’s Station, TN
Jennifer Nawada replies: Here are my favorite ground-hugging perennials for stepping-stone pathways. They perform well in the sun, survive winter shade, and are hardy in your climate, Zone 6.
1. Purple creeping mazus (Mazus reptans) or white creeping mazus (M. reptans ‘Albus’). This Himalayan native spreads quickly, but is not considered invasive because it doesn’t cause problems in wild areas. The orchid-like flowers bloom in late spring to midsummer.
2. Irish moss (Sagina subulata) or Scotch moss (S. subulata ‘Aurea’). Not true mosses, they’re a striking, bright green with tiny, white star-shaped flowers.
3. ‘John Creech’ stonecrop (Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’), Dwarf stonecrop (S. humifusim), and ‘Goldmoss’ stonecrop (S. acre). These hardy, drought-tolerant succulents have a knobbly evergreen foliage that forms dense green mats and turns red in cold weather. Dwarf and ‘Goldmoss’ stonecrops send up little yellow flowers in the summer. ‘John Creech’ stonecrop, one of my favorites, has pink flowers.
4. Red creeping thyme (Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’), Bressingham thyme (T. praecox ‘Bressingham’), and woolly thyme (T. praecox ‘Pseudolanuginosus’). They all have similar tight-to-the-ground growth habits, tolerate dry conditions, and have pink flowers in late spring and early summer. And they emit a delicious herbal scent when stepped on. Their differences show in the color of their tiny leaves: Woolly thyme is dusty gray, Bressingham thyme is light green, and red creeping thyme is deep green.
Generally, with all these groundcovers, you plant them about a foot apart and wait a couple of years for them to grow together. But a closer spacing will also work if you want to shorten the wait and don’t mind the initial extra expense. Just make sure there’s actual soil between the stones, and not stone dust or sand. As you’re planting, shake some soil off the roots so you can nestle them between the stones. And blend a little of Lebanon Turf's Roots Healthy Start fertilizer into the soil to encourage the roots to become established.
These plants may need occasional weeding as they fill in around the stones, but once they form a continuous carpet, the weeds should be minimal.
Jennifer Nawada owns Nawada Landscape Design in Boston. She appears regularly on TV episodes of Ask This Old House.