Low-growing groundcovers stay almost as short as a lawn but also offer colorful, seasonal bloom. They'll naturally stay low and tidy without mowing. An asterisk (*) indicates those that tolerate some foot traffic.
Baby winter-creeper (Euonymus fortunei 'Minima' or 'Kewensis') These groundcovers thrive under full sun to full shade. Tolerates a variety of soils, except very wet. 4 inches high, 1-3 feet wide. Finer leaved, lower-growing version of the popular euonymous. Evergreen with deep green veins with attractive pale green veining. Zones 5-9
Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) Full sun to full shade. These groundcovers like rich, well-drained soil but tolerates dry conditions. 6-8 inches high, forming mats a few feet across. This pretty groundcover thrives in a variety of conditions with strawberry-like leaves and sprays of yellow flowers in spring. Zones 4-7.
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans). Full sun in the North, otherwise light to full sun. Prefers rich, moist, but well-drained soil. 4-12 inches tall, spread a few feet in ideal conditions. Sending up pretty usually blue flower spikes, there are many types of bugleweed with fascinating number of color variations. Zones 4-9.
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) Full sun. Average to rich, moist but well-drained soil. 3-6 inches high, up to 2 feet across. The pretty daisy-like flowers this plant produces are the basis for the famed herbal tea. Can even be used as a low-traffic lawn, especially if you mow it occasionally. Zones 3-8. *
Creeping cinquefoil (Potentilla neumanniana or reptans) These groundcovers enjoy full sun. Average to poor well-drained. 4-12 inches. A low, less-woody cousin of the popular shrub, this groundcover produces bright yellow flowers atop mats of emerald green foliage. Some types spread slowly, but the most commonly available spread rapidly. Zones 5-8.
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) Full sun to light shade. Rich moist to wet soil. Does well in drier soil if in shade. 4-8 inches high, spreading to 1-2 feet. This moisture-lover as distinctive dime-size leaves attached to visible stems. The yellow-green types are especially popular. Zones 3-8.
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) Full sun to part shade. Average to rich, moist soil. About ½ inch high; about a foot across. Some types of mint can top 3 feet but Corsican mint has tiny leaves and hugs the ground tightly. Zone 6-9. *
Dichondra (Dichondra micrantha) Full sun to light shade. Average soil and moisture. 6 to 12 inches high and wide. Once all the rage as a lawn replacement, this perennial in warm climates can be planted from seed. Zones 10-11*
Irish and Scotch moss (Sagina subulata ). Full sun to part shade in the North, part to full shade in the South. Rich, moist soil with ample water. 1 inch high and a few inches across; spread more in moist conditions. Producing tiny white flowers, this is not a true moss but looks like one. Perfect for between pavers. Golden types available. Zones 3-9.
Mazus (Mazus reptans) Full sun to full shade. Rich, wet to boggy soil. Good for low-lying sites. 2 inches high, 1 foot wide. Excellent along creeks, ponds, or other wet site, this groundcover produces pretty showy flowers, usually in lavender, for two months. Zones 5-8.*
New Zealand brass buttons (Cotula squalida) Full sun to light shade. Rich, very moist soil. 2-4 inches high, about a foot or so across. The fascinating, fern-like foliage is evergreen in warmer regions where frost is rare. It's an unusual plant and can be difficult to find but is worth the search. It's named for the distinctive golden little flowers that look as though they have no petals. Zones 5-11.
Peruvian verbena (Verbena peruviana) Full sun. Average soil. 1-3 inch high and 18 wide. This slower-growing groundcover has glossy leaves and covers itself in bright red flowers that have the classic, fan-like verbena shape. Zones 6-10.
Sedum (Sedum spp.) Full sun. Average to sandy, well-drained soil. Groundcover types grow just a few inches tall and spread a few to several feet over time. This succulent comes in many forms. Choose those with tiny leaves and a tight growth habit for best traffic tolerance. Good choices include 'Dragon's Blood', golden stonecrop, blue spruce sedum and the variegated 'Tricolor'. Zones 3-10.*
Thyme (Thymus spp.) These groundcovers enjoy full sun. Light, dry, well-drained soil. Grows about 1 inch tall and spreads to a few feet over time. Fragrant, tough thyme loves growing in tight spaces between flagstones or tucked in among rocks, but it grows well just about anywhere it has plenty of sun and good drainage. It covers itself with pretty little flowers in pink, blue, purple, or white in spring. Dislikes humidity. Zones 4-10.*
Veronica (Veronica spp.) Full sun to light shade in the South. Average, well-drained soil. Groundcover types grow just a few inches tall and spread 1 to 2 feet. Also called speedwell, this flower blooms with gorgeous blue flowers in spring. Try any of the prostrate Veronicas (Veronica prostrata), such as 'Heavenly Blue', or blue wooly speedwell, or Turkish speedwell (Veronica liwanensis). Zone 4-9.