For anyone who loves their garden as much as they love their four-legged friend, the best ground covers for dogs can prove invaluable.
After all, you’ve put a lot of hard work into putting together the perfect outdoor space, combining aesthetic beauty with practical functionality, and you’d love to keep it that way.
Yet at the same time, yours is one of those dog breeds who thrive outdoors, so you’re also eager to let Fido run, play, and get all of the exercises he needs to stay fit and healthy.
Unfortunately, as many a disappointed gardener will tell you, achieving both of those things at the same time can seem impossible if your pooch loves nothing more than to devour your plants. Quite apart from dealing with the aftermath of their destruction, the most important thing to be concerned about is that many ground covers can be toxic to dogs and make them sick.
Sure, the easiest option is to simply cover as much of your garden in concrete paving slabs or rubber pavers, but let’s be honest:
They’re not exactly attractive, nor are they all that ideal if you’ve got kids who want to make the most of your garden space in the summer months.
This is where a good quality ground cover that’s suitable for dogs can really come into its own, helping you to maintain a gloriously grassy garden without worrying about your pet taking ill.
In this guide, we outline the top ten best ground covers for dogs, including both live plant and grass options as well as more practical non-living options to help you find the most suitable option for you, your space, and your pet.
Top 10 Best Ground Cover for Dogs
1. Irish Moss
Time and time again, Irish moss is recommended by those in the know as one of the best possible ground covers to use if you want to keep your garden dog friendly.
Typically growing to roughly an inch in height, this herbaceous evergreen spouts tiny, white flowers in the spring and summer months which add a charming aesthetic to your garden.
The best part is that Irish Moss is completely non-toxic and safe for dogs, so if they do decide that it looks delicious, then they won’t come to any harm. In fact, Sagina Subulata (to give its proper name) is actually so packed full of nutrients that it’s actually sold as a health food for humans and provides plenty of benefits for your furry friend too.
The high potassium and calcium chloride levels can help promote healthy hair and nail quality, support bladder and kidney functionality and boost their immune system, while other nutrients can help stave off respiratory issues and even help with an upset tummy or other common digestion problems in dogs.
We should also mention that Irish moss is great at naturally reseeding and spreading indefinitely, so if they decide to tear up the garden, it won’t be long before it all grows back again. However, it’s also very easy to remove and control if you need to, so you never have to worry about it overrunning your garden.
2. Silver Carpet
Silver Carpet (also known as Dymondia Margarete) is the kind of dense, slowly-growing perennial evergreen that many local authorities in the southern US states choose for the areas around their sidewalks and other public spaces.
They do so partly because it looks pretty. The delicate daisy-like yellow flowers which sprout in the warmer seasons lend it an altogether pleasant and summery appearance, while the 1″ – 3″ silvery-green leaved matt is easy to keep tidy.
Mostly, however, Silver Carpet is chosen for its immense durability.
It can withstand plenty of foot traffic without looking too disheveled, and although you may find that it looks a little patchy if used as a ground cover in those areas where your high-energy dog does most of their exercise, it will bounce back and continue to survive.
If you don’t like the idea of a patchy garden, most gardening experts recommend using Silver Carpet as a dog-friendly ground cover that you can place between stepping stones when making a garden pathway.
3. Labrador Violet
The fact that Labrador Violet is named after one of our favorite large dog breeds is purely coincidental, we promise you.
Even if it were called something entirely different, we’d still recommend this slow spreader as one of the best dog-friendly ground covers because it takes the same combination of attractiveness and durability seen in the Silver Carpet to a whole new level.
Although violets are often disregarded as weeds, the Viola labrador (also known as alpine violet and, quite appropriately, American Dog Violet) also make for a tremendous ground cover, growing strong and tough up to 4″ in height with distinctive purple flowers that not only look impressive but are completely non-toxic and safe if your beloved lab decides to nibble on his namesake plant.
The best part is that since Labrador Violets are native to Greenland, they’re well suited for colder climates including hardiness zones 3 – 7, and ensuring you won’t have to worry about them dying out in the winter months.
4. Creeping Thyme
Creeping Thyme (also known as Breckland Thyme, wild thyme, or by its Latin name Thymus serpyllum) is a super tough species native to North Africa and Europe but which proves popular in the United States as a ground cover option that’s safe for dogs.
Unlike other creeping plants, Thymus serpyllum is completely non-toxic, so it’s not going to cause your companion any health issues if they decide to indulge in a mid-day herb feast.
It’s also pretty resilient and grows back well, so you don’t have to worry about your dog’s over-eager nature destroying the gorgeous look that these pretty plants can create in your garden.
Suitable for USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9, Creeping Thyme tends to grow up to 2″ – 3″ and is fairly easy to maintain, requiring little more than occasional watering and plenty of sunlight to be at its best.
And of course, as a herb, this one can also be brought indoors to use in your cooking, making a delicious addition to roasted vegetables and winter warmers.
5. Miniature Stonecrop
Miniature Stonecrop isn’t as widely known as some of the other living ground covers on this list, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t as good.
Heavily drought-resistant (making it a solid choice for areas with heavy rainfall), this oft-forgotten sedum is remarkably resilient and can withstand plenty of foot traffic. So, if you’re looking for a ground cover that’s going to hold its own in those parts of your garden where your four-legged friend gets most of their exercise, this is certainly a good option.
Looks-wise, most Miniature Stonecrops have a noticeable red or pinkish hue to them which can really make your space look pretty, though as it easily reseeds you do run the risk that it can become invasive, so exercise caution if you do decide to use it.
Finally, it’s important to point out that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not include Sedum on its list of plants that are toxic to dogs, and we’ve seen plenty of experts recommend it as an option for a ground cover that is not only safe to digest but very resilient against dogs who like to tear up gardens.
6. Snow in Summer
Much like Miniature Stonecrop, Snow in Summer (Cerastium Tomentosum) is a dog-friendly ground cover that is highly drought tolerant and bodes well in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8.
Flourishing best in full sun, Snow in Summer can, unfortunately, spread rapidly and wildly, so if you’re going to go with this option then it’s best to be prepared and keep it contained with some good quality landscape edging.
The good news, of course, is that it’s completely safe for dogs. Fido won’t throw up if he does opt to dive into your Cerastium Tomentosum, nor will they leave much of a mess if they do as Snow in Summer is an incredibly hardy plant that can withstand plenty of abuse from even the most rambunctious pooch.
All the while, the beautiful silver-green leaves, and white flowers create an enchanting aesthetic, giving your garden a touch of Winter Wonderland vibes when it blooms at the height of summer.
7. Winter Creeper
From Snow in Summer to winter all year round as we next come to the magical Winter Creeper.
Also known by its Latin name of Euonymus Fortunei, or by the common names Fortune’s Spindle and Wintercreeper, this spectacular evergreen shrub is native to large parts of East Asia and can often be spotted in countries such as Japan, China, and Korea.
Since making its way to the United States, its gorgeous, green and gold foliage and dense thickness have proved a popular addition to many a garden, particularly among those looking to add an Eastern flavor to their Western gardens.
This one grows thick and fast, often reaching heights of up to 2 feet and widths of almost 4 feet in hardly any time at all.
This is great news if you want to grow a dog-friendly ground cover in your garden quickly, but it also means that it can get out of control if you’re not careful. In fact, Euonymus Fortunei is classed as an invasive species in many parts of the eastern United States, so if you live in that part of the country then this sadly might not be the option for you.
If you can safely use it, however, those glossy, luminous leaves can really add a striking look to your outdoor space and, more importantly, are a great option for dog owners.
Not only is it another plant not featured on the ASPCA’s “Plants Toxic to Dogs” list, but it’s also very difficult for even really strong dog breeds to destroy, so if you find that Rover constantly annihilates every type of ground cover you try, he may finally meet his match with the wintercreeper.
8. Elfin Thyme
No, Elfin thyme isn’t the part of the day for your Lord of the Rings cosplay, it’s the name of an ornamental herb that lends an enticing aroma to your garden.
It also produces some rather pleasant purple flowers in the summer months which can really enhance the look of your space.
Growing to around 2″ in height, Elfin Thyme sadly isn’t the most durable of ground covers and will look noticeably flattened if doggo goes jumping around in there. As such, you may be better off planting this one around your rock garden where it can cascade over the sides of the rocks to create a wild and natural look.
That said, we know that the most important part here is that it’s safe for both dogs and humans alike. Like most thyme variants, it can be used to treat respiratory issues and is a popular choice for making teas and gargles to soothe coughs, colds, and sore throats. It also lends itself well to soothe a tummy ache, so if your beloved pet does help themselves, they’re very unlikely to come to any harm.
Of course, that’s not to say they should gorge themselves on this stuff -eating too much of anything can cause a variety of health issues in dogs- but it’s good to know that if they dive in, you’ve only got a messy garden to worry about rather than a messy garden and a sick pup.
9. Kentucky Bluegrass
If you’re looking for a natural grass groundcover for garden spaces that your dog can run around and play in to their heart’s content, the humble Kentucky bluegrass may be just the thing.
This remarkably resilient grass is capable of withstanding heavy foot traffic, making it a great choice for active dogs, especially if you have kids who like to get involved in Fido’s playtime.
And if they do get a little over-excited and leave your lawn looking worse for wear? No problem. One of the great things about Kentucky bluegrass is that it grows very quickly. That’s the main reason why many gardeners use it to cover up rogue bald spots on their lawn and why you might want to keep some handy to keep your garden looking at its best.
What’s more, it’s non-toxic, easy to maintain, and, as a welcome bonus, is rather pleasing to the eye.
10. Buffalo Grass
If you like the idea of a natural grass ground cover but find Kentucky bluegrass doesn’t quite do it for you, buffalo grass may be the best alternative.
Popular in places like California and the southern states, this drought-tolerant grass thrives in warmer climates and requires very little maintenance.
Growing up to 3″ high, this slim, non-toxic grass may look delicate, but it boasts a surprising amount of strength that makes it a great choice for creating an outdoor space where your dog can roam free.
Non-Living Dog-Friendly Ground Cover Alternatives
While natural ground covers like grass and plants tend to make the most attractive options, they’re not ideal for everyone.
Even the low-maintenance options require at least some work, and if you just don’t have time to manage your space or if you’d simply prefer to spend more time making the most of your garden rather than looking after it, a synthetic, non-living ground cover might be a better option.
Alternatively, it may be that you’d prefer a natural ground cover but find that everything you try eventually gets torn to shreds by your eager pup and gets too expensive to keep replacing.
Whatever the case may be, these three non-living options prove every bit as safe for your dog while also being much easier to look after.
1. Synthetic Pet-Friendly Turf
If you want all the benefits of a large, flat lawn that your dog can run around in without all the hard work of mowing it, synthetic pet-friendly turf may be a suitable alternative.
Most varieties tend to be very easy to install and can create a fresh-looking space all the year-round.
Of course, we all know that as well as playtime, most dogs tend to use lawns as their own personal bathrooms, and there are good and bad points in this regard.
On the plus side, artificial grass is very easy to clean up after your pooch has done what he needs to do. On the downside, it is known for absorbing urine which can leave a rather unpleasant smell after a while.
With that in mind, it might be a good idea to get hold of a product like Nature’s Pure Edge Yard Odor Eliminator to prevent those unwanted smells.
2. Wood and Bark
As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to using bark and wood chips as a dog-friendly ground cover.
On the plus side, they’re a great choice if you still want a natural look for your outdoor space that requires no more maintenance than occasionally raking it over once your pet has been let loose across it.
They’re also a very hardy option capable of withstanding high foot traffic and thus might be a good fit if you have several dogs that like to chase each other across your garden.
They’re also really cheap, making them a great choice for creating a dog-safe garden on a budget.
However, they’re far from perfect.
Though generally non toxic, some wood chips can prove to be a haven for fleas, and you don’t need us to tell you what a pain it can be to get rid of fleas. As such, you’d be better off looking for cedar wood chips which actually repel fleas, though test out a small bag first to ensure that they don’t trigger an allergic reaction.
Last but by no means least, don’t rule out gravel as an option if you have the right environment for it.
Some dogs do like to lie out on gravel on a warm day, but such spots are best reserved for areas where there’s plenty of shade as gravel that gets too hot on seriously sunny days could end up burning your poor pup’s paws and fur.
On the blus side, it’s also another cheap, environmentally-friendly option and usually makes cleaning up after them a breeze.
Buyer’s Guide: What to Look For When Choosing a Dog-Safe Ground Cover
All in all, we’ve given you 13 options to choose from when it comes to determining the best ground cover for your dog, but how do you know which one is right for you?
Here are a few things you might want to keep in mind.
If you’re choosing a natural ground cover like plants or grass, then it’s important to note whether or not it can withstand the kind of climate you live in.
If you live in an area that gets very little rainfall, for example, then you’ll want a drought-tolerant option like Buffalo Grass, Snow in Summer, or Miniature Stonecrops, the latter two proving to be great options if you’re able to plant them in an area that gets full sun.
You’d also be wise to check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to see whether your prefered cover is suitable for the area where you live.
Maintenance and Control
With our living ground cover picks, we tried to look for those that required very little maintenance. Creeping Thyme, for example, often requires nothing more than occasionally introducing it to your watering can. However, the truth is that many dog-friendly natural covers have a tendency to grow fast and reseed themselves, which can mean they start to become invasive if not properly cared for.
With that in mind, when choosing a cover, it pays to look at how much work it’s going to take you to look after it and, if that’s too much, may be opting for a non-living option such as artificial grass.
Last but not least, we should at least consider the aesthetic appeal. Sure, what matters most here is ensuring your dog stays fit and healthy, but that doesn’t mean you have to have an ugly garen. The silvery-green leaves and cute yellow flowers of Silver carpet or Labrador Violet’s striking purple flowers, and the glistening green-and-gold leaves of the Winter Creeper are our favorites in terms of their appearance, though this is obviously all a matter of personal taste.
The Final Word on Choosing the Best Ground Cover for Your Dog
So, having said all that, what is the absolute best ground cover for dogs?
Honestly, it all depends on what you’re looking for.
If you’re hoping to spend as little time as possible maintaining your garden, then a non-living ground cover such as synthetic pet turf may prove to be your best option as not only is it practically maintenance free, but stays looking its best all year round and is easy to clean once your pet has been to the bathroom.
If you prefer something natural and aesthetic appeal is important to you, then we really do argue strongly in favour of either Silver Carpet or Winter Creeper.
However, for our money, the best all-around ground cover suitable for dogs is Irish Moss as it combines everything you’d want from a cover.
It’s easy to maintain, it looks attractive, it’s durable, safe, and non-toxic and, best of all, actually has healing nutrients that may actually do your dog a world of good.
Forrest is a lover of dogs, the wild outdoors, deep mysterious conversations… and coffee. He is the owner of several websites, including Canine Weekly. He resides in Austin, Texas.