Plants that will not only survive but thrive under foot traffic have long been a goal for people whose children and dogs wear bare paths into the lawn. Without an easy way to find suitable plants, homeowners have been left with those earth-colored trails just inside the fence or from the garage door to the backyard.
Finally plant growers are getting more savvy about marketing and in addition to selling plants according to height, bloom color and light and shade requirements, they're promoting a group of plants by the problems they can solve.
Like groundcovers that can handle foot traffic.
Classy Groundcovers is a nursery based in Blairsville, Ga., that specializes in plants for mass plantings such as vinca, ivy, pachysandra and day lilies. They also sell plants online and their Web site has a search engine where you can specify the attributes you want the plant to have, including resistance to foot traffic, scent, bloom color, etc.
Another company, the Under the Foot Co. in Salem, Ore., has made it even easier. They've selected a group of tenacious, hardy, low-growing perennials and are marketing them under the name "Stepables."
The uses for these plants are nearly endless. Plant them between patio blocks, stepping stones, in pathways, rock gardens, nestled between rock outcroppings, to cover a slope, in place of mulch, instead of a lawn or tucked into a topiary frame for a one of a kind garden statuary. Their potential is only limited by your creativity.
Each variety of plant is rated for its ability to withstand hopping, jumping, skipping, walking, stretching out on a sunny day and yes, even cars.
Like other perennials, they have their cultural requirements and, to be quite honest, sorting through 150 possibilities is time-consuming, especially at this time of year. But like Classy Groundcovers, Under the Foot's search engine can help you narrow the field and find the right plant.
The information provided for each plant is quite extensive. At the top of the page, you'll get a photo and brief description, scroll down to find cultural requirements, its traffic hardiness and a listing of where it's best used, whether it's scented, drought-tolerant, deer-resistant and so on.
Unlike the plants produced by Classy Groundcovers, Stepables are also marketed through local nurseries, including more than a dozen in the Capital Region.
If you are the type of person who needs to see and touch plants before buying, you can use the Web site to generate a list, then head on out to a dealer near you to see what they carry.
How does a plant get to be a Stepable? First and foremost, it must be able to withstand foot traffic, and they are rated accordingly. Light foot traffic means it can survive being walked on up to two times a week, moderate; one to two times per day and heavy, three or more times a day! In addition, the plant can not get any taller than 6 inches; some barely reach an inch in height.
Stepables come in individual pots so you can purchase just a few. Or, you can buy one of each type you want to try and decide which you like most later.
Classy Groundcovers, on the other hand, sells their plants in bulk, 50 to a flat. The more you buy, the less you pay per plant.
With plants from either company, treat them as you would any other perennial. Many can be divided before planting with a sharp knife. Water well after planting and until they are established.
As for spacing, the Stepables Web site has a handy plant calculator. You put in the size of the garden and the spacing you want to use between plants, before your eyes appear the square footage of your garden and the recommended number of plants. If you need to add top soil before planting, it'll figure that for you too.