19 Best Trailing and Creeping Plants for Rock Gardens

Rock gardens are a wonderful way to add visual interest to your yard without creating too much work for yourself. In this article, Melissa Strauss shares some of her favorite trailing plants that look wonderful in the rock garden.

A dazzling cascade of delicate purple and pink aubretia flowers. Each petal boasts a vibrant hue, ranging from deep amethyst to soft rose, and forms intricate clusters that resemble miniature bouquets.


Rock gardens are a wonderful way to create a beautiful landscape that doesn’t require immense maintenance and resources. By incorporating stone paths, a rock wall, large or small rocks, and other stone elements, you can highlight another facet of nature in your garden that looks beautiful, and no matter how much you neglect them, rocks never die. 

Adding low, trailing, and creeping plants to your rock garden creates a wonderful juxtaposition of hard and soft. The contrast of grayscale stone with lush foliage and colorful flowers adds depth and interest to the garden and makes a home for those more rugged native plants to thrive and flourish. Here are 19 wonderful trailing and creeping plants in the rock garden.

Creeping Thyme

A close-up, top-down image of a Creeping thyme in full bloom. Delicate light purple flowers blanket the ground, forming a vibrant carpet. Tiny, dark green leaves peek through the floral layer, adding depth and texture to the scene.
This evergreen thyme variety, with a spicy aroma, fills spaces in rock gardens beautifully.
botanical-name botanical name Thymus praecox
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-8

This attractive, flowering, evergreen variety of thyme makes a wonderful filler between stepping stones and open spaces in your rock garden. It has a wonderfully spicy aroma and can be harvested and used in the kitchen if it overgrows the space where it is planted.

Creeping thyme produces small, pinkish-purple flowers that are very enticing to pollinators, including honeybees. Thyme is a natural bee miticide and helps protect local colonies against the greatest threat to their populations, varroa mites.


A patch of Snow-in-Summer blooms in a vibrant carpet of white. The petals are notched at the tips and have a delicate, almost translucent appearance. They are surrounded by a tuft of silvery-gray leaves, which are also covered in soft, white hairs.
Named for its abundant white flowers, this versatile perennial fills gaps and thrives in various conditions.
botanical-name botanical name Cerastium tomentosum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-7

This plant gets its name from the profusion of small white flowers covering it in early summer. It does a great job of filling in gaps left by spring-blooming bulbs and in pockets between rocks. It spreads quickly under the right conditions, both by runners and by reseeding itself.

As a perennial in zones 3-7, this is a very versatile and hardy plant. It is also salt-tolerant and works well in coastal gardens. After their flowers fall, Snow-in-Summer showcases its attractive, silvery foliage through the summer and fall until the first frost. 

Creeping Phlox

A vibrant close-up captures the delicate beauty of pink creeping phlox. Delicate veins thread through each velvety petal, while pollen-dusted stamens stand poised, ready to attract pollinators. Flowers appear to glow, inviting the viewer to appreciate its intricate details.
Phlox offers various sizes, from small to tall, providing versatile options for different garden landscapes.
botanical-name botanical name Phlox subulata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

There are many different types of phlox, from very small to very tall. Creeping phlox is a lovely trailing species that looks great in a rock garden, or anywhere else you need a bit of colorful ground cover. Blooming in late spring, the pinkish-purple flowers are fragrant and attractive to pollinators. 

Plant your creeping phlox in the spring after the threat of frost has passed, and watch it take off. This is a fast-grower that can be allowed to form an expansive blanket or trimmed to maintain a neat appearance. 

Blue Rug Juniper

This close-up reveals the intricate beauty of a Blue Rug juniper shrub. Its dense foliage boasts a mesmerizing silvery-blue hue, composed of tiny, overlapping scale-like leaves that gracefully adorn the slender, slightly drooping branches.
The smallest among junipers, this low-growing evergreen adds beauty to rock gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

The lowest growing of the Junipers, blue rug is a slow-moving evergreen that will bring beauty to the rock garden all year. Plant this juniper in full sun and watch as the blue-green foliage slowly rambles over your rock garden. This plant has a very nice centered and uniform growth habit, so it’s easy to predict where it will end up.

Unlike most junipers, blue rug is quite drought-resistant. It likes dry, rocky soil and thrives on a sunny slope where most of its genus could not. The plant is very insect and disease-resistant and is exceptionally cold-tolerant. 

Golden Alyssum

Thriving in diverse conditions, golden alyssum boasts fast growth, easy care, and self-seeding charm.
botanical-name botanical name Aurinia saxatilis
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-7

This European native is an absolute delight any place you plant it. Golden alyssum is fast-growing and has a seed-to-bloom time of just 60 days. Sow the seeds as soon as the ground thaws and enjoy flowers through the spring and fall, with a pause during the heat of summer.

Golden Alyssum is very low maintenance and reseeds itself freely, so once you plant it, it will return year after year. The flowers are small and have a sweet fragrance that smells like honey. It comes in shades of pink, purple, white, and sometimes peach.

Blue Star Creeper

A close-up of a beautiful Blue Star Creeper flower in full bloom. The flowers have five delicate blue petals, each with a darker blue vein running down the center. Petals are surrounded by a small, green calyx.
Choose blue star creeper for resilient ground cover among stepping stones and rock gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Isotoma fluviatilis
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-9

Blue star creeper is a low-growing ground cover that works very well between stepping stones, in the rock garden, and even as a lawn alternative. It stands up very well to foot traffic and produces a profusion of small, blue, star-shaped flowers from spring through fall. 

This plant goes dormant in winter but returns to life when the weather warms. It spreads quickly, so it should have borders to keep it where you intend. Too much nitrogen will decrease the flowering habit, so hold off on the fertilizer with this plant.

Spotted Deadnettle

A close-up of Spotted Deadnettle flowers with bright pink petals and purple spots. The flowers have elongated, downward-facing petals and fuzzy white stamens. Sunlight casts a soft glow on the flowers, highlighting their delicate details.
Despite its name, its harmless leaves resemble nettles but won’t sting.
botanical-name botanical name Lamium maculatum
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Don’t let the name fool you. While the leaves of this plant resemble those of the nettle plant, they won’t sting you if you touch them. Spotted deadnettle is a pretty plant with green and white foliage that spreads well and only reaches about six inches in height

Throughout most of the year, spotted deadnettle produces pretty purple flowers that bees go crazy for. These quirky little flowers grow in clusters, with hood-shaped petals on top and a protruding lip beneath. One of the nicest things about this plant is that it can grow in near complete shade. 

Irish Moss

A close-up of a vibrant Irish moss growing on a stone path. The moss is thick and lush, with its delicate fronds reaching out in all directions. The contrast between the bright green of the moss and the stone path is striking, creating a sense of tranquility.
Ideal ground cover at one inch tall, it tolerates afternoon shade and slow foot traffic.
botanical-name botanical name Sagina subulata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to full shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

Contrary to its name, Irish moss is not a moss at all but rather a member of the carnation family. It is a hardy little plant that grows slowly and is perfect for rock gardens and stone paths. At only about one inch tall, this plant makes an excellent ground cover and doesn’t mind a bit of afternoon shade. 

Irish moss can handle a bit of foot traffic, but don’t grow this in a high-traffic area. It grows well and quickly from seed, establishing in weeks after sowing. It is adaptable in terms of soil but will grow best in loamy, fertile soil with good drainage


A close-up of a bunch of deep purple Periwinkle flowers with bright green leaves. Flowers have five petals that are fused at the base, forming a tube-shaped corolla. The flowers and leaves are arranged in a dense cluster, and they are set against a soft green background.
Trailing stems root easily, creating a versatile and skipping garden presence.
botanical-name botanical name Vinca minor
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

Periwinkle is a wonderful evergreen ground cover plant that works well in a rock garden. The attractive, trailing stems take root wherever they make contact with the ground, which keeps these plants skipping from place to place in the garden. 

This is a very versatile plant in terms of exposure. It prefers partial shade, but it will grow well in both full sun and partial shade. The flowers are usually purple, white, or blue and usually bloom in spring, fade for the summer, and are known to return in the fall.

Purple Rock Cress

A close-up of a bunch of purple rock cress flowers growing in a rocky crevice. The flowers are small and delicate, with four petals that are arranged in a cross-shape. They are clustered together on a short stem, and they are surrounded by green leaves.
Rock cresses form stunning borders in rock gardens and throughout the yard.
botanical-name botanical name Aubrieta deltoidea
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-7

Rock cresses make beautiful borders in the rock garden and anywhere else in the yard. This member of the Brassica family is entirely edible, and the pretty purple flowers have a pleasant fragrance. 

This alpine plant can thrive in places where many plants cannot. It can easily be grown on a slope and grows well by direct sowing the seeds in early spring. Purple flowers will bloom in mid-spring. Once established, purple rock cress is very low maintenance, requiring little of the gardener. 

Rock Soapwort

A close-up of a cluster of vibrant purple rock soapwort flowers. The flowers have five delicate petals that are deeply notched at the tips, forming a star-like shape. The cluster of flowers is attached to a slender stem that is covered in soft, downy hairs.
They create an enchanting display along rock walls and footpaths in gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Saponaria ocymoides
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2-9

Although it blooms only briefly, rock soapwort is spectacular when it is in bloom. This pretty semi-evergreen creeper spreads by self-seeding but is not aggressive or invasive. It has an attractive clumping habit. It is drought tolerant once established and is cold tolerant all the way to Zone 2.

Rock soapwort looks wonderful draping over a rock wall or next to a footpath, but it doesn’t tolerate much traffic. Keep this plant confined to borders, as it doesn’t make a good ground cover. 

Wooly Thyme

This close-up features a vibrant green carpet of tiny, fuzzy thyme leaves. The leaves, packed tightly together, form a dense, low-lying mat. Light subtly reflects off the soft, downy surface, creating a gentle shimmer.
While it occasionally flowers, it’s primarily chosen for ground cover rather than blooms.
botanical-name botanical name Thymus pseudolanuginosus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-8

For an excellent groundcover, wooly thyme is unmatched. It is incredibly resilient and releases a pleasing aroma when walked upon. This one can be used on a stone path or in the rock garden, even in high-traffic areas. 

Wooly thyme has soft hairs all over its pretty silvery green foliage. It is drought-resistant, and the stems root as they meander over the ground. It occasionally flowers but not regularly, so it isn’t typically planted for this purpose. 


Tiny purple Aubrieta flowers burst forth in a cascade of vibrant color, their delicate petals contrasting with the surrounding pebbles. Sunlight bathes the scene, highlighting the intricate details of the blooms, while the background hints at a wider garden waiting to be explored.
Create a dense mat along footpaths and stepping stones with this ideal plant for rock gardens and walls.
botanical-name botanical name Aubrieta spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-7

The common name for aubrieta is false rock cress, and it strongly resembles this other wonderful plant. The foliage forms a nice dense mat that works well in rock gardens and walls, along footpaths, and between stepping stones. 

Aubrieta is a member of the mustard family and, once established, needs very little care. Insects and deer are unlikely to bother this plant. It can be planted in full sun or partial shade but will become leggy if it doesn’t get enough light.

Creeping Jenny

A close-up shows a cluster of creeping jenny leaves. The leaves are oval-shaped and bright yellow-green in color. They have slightly wavy edges and a smooth, glossy texture and are arranged in pairs on opposite sides of the stems.
Establish boundaries as it spreads quickly; opt for golden varieties for a less aggressive spread.
botanical-name botanical name Lysimachia nummularia
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

This bright and cheerful creeper has a lovely, soft form that drapes beautifully in the rock garden, container garden, or hanging baskets. Creeping Jenny has pretty, small yellow flowers and bright green or chartreuse leaves, sometimes both on the same plant, with the foliage deepening as it ages. 

Giving this plant boundaries is a good idea, as it spreads quickly. In some situations, it can be considered invasive, but it truly makes a beautiful landscape element. If you want a variety with a less aggressive spreading habit, go for the golden varieties rather than green. It is classed as an invasive species in parts of the US.

Alpine Rock Cress

Delicate white petals unfurl like tiny stars in this close-up of  Alpine Rock Cress flowers. Each four-petaled blossom radiates purity against a backdrop of slender, emerald sepals. Blossoms burst forth with vibrant energy, their snowy whiteness a stark contrast to the verdant stems.
Rosettes of leaves spread moderately, yielding sweetly scented white flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Arabis caucasica
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-7

Alpine rock cress is a mat-forming evergreen that performs well in dry, rocky soil. A native to the Mediterranean region, this plant is drought tolerant and likes a lot of sunlight. Infertile soil is not an issue for this plant either. 

The loose rosettes of leaves spread moderately and produce clumps of sweetly scented small, white flowers. Cutting Alpine rock cress back after it flowers will create denser foliage. This plant prefers to be undisturbed, so it doesn’t transplant well.

Candy Tuft

A vibrant cluster of Candytuft flowers explodes forth in this close-up. Their numerous white petals, each delicately veined, unfurl like miniature flags, revealing bright yellow centers adorned with pollen-laden stamens.
This slow-grower is a long-lived perennial, adapting to various climates.
botanical-name botanical name Iberis sempervirens
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

This small subshrub is evergreen in warmer climates and deciduous in colder climates. Fluffy confections of white flowers stand out well against a dark green backdrop, but these flowers do not have a sweet fragrance to brag about. They actually have a rather unpleasant fragrance, so this is not the right plant to grow in an outdoor living space. 

In spite of their less-than-pleasing odor, candytuft flowers are quite beautiful and prolific. They come in pink and white and bloom heavily in spring and summer. This is a slow-grower and a long-lived perennial.


This close-up reveals the intricate beauty of a cluster of waterhyssop flowers. Each bloom boasts five pristine white petals, their edges smooth and unblemished. From the heart, a tiny cluster of vibrant yellow stamens emerges, like a beacon attracting an admiring gaze.
It thrives with moderate sunlight, being less drought-resistant in full sun.
botanical-name botanical name Bacopa
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 8-11

Waterhyssop is a wonderful groundcover and trailing plant that works well in many areas of the garden landscape. For the most flowers and the least maintenance, plant this one in an area that receives sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. If it gets sun all day, waterhyssop will be less drought resistant.

While it is less tolerant of temperature extremes, waterhyssop is quick to set flowers when it is well watered and the weather is mild. It may stop blooming in the summer, but it will resume in the fall when the days get a bit more temperate.

Note that this is an invasive species in parts of North America. Check with your local extension office before planting.

Silver Falls

A close-up of Dichondra Silver Falls showing its cascading stems and tiny, silver leaves hanging from a rail. The delicate leaves are heart-shaped, with smooth edges and a slightly waxy sheen. The stems are thin and wiry, as they drape gracefully over the rail.
Its distinctive color and shimmer make it a stunning addition among succulents and flowering plants.
botanical-name botanical name Dichondra argentea
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-12

Silver Falls dichondra is a favorite of mine. The lovely silver leaves grow in pairs along thin, trailing vines. In a mass, this plant creates a wonderfully unique texture and color in the garden. The leaves are fan-shaped and have a shimmering quality when the sun touches them that is simply unrivaled. 

For the most part, Silver Falls is drought resistant, but if you notice it begins to wilt, rest assured that a thorough watering will bring it back. Its unusual color and shimmery qualities make this a plant that absolutely plays well with others and looks stunning among succulents and other flowering plants. 

American Wisteria

A cascade of American wisteria takes center stage in this close-up. Delicate, lavender-purple petals with a hint of blue, dance in the light, revealing their intricate veining. Emerald green leaves peek in from the blurred background, suggesting a peaceful garden setting.
Lavender blooms on sprawling vines enchant pollinators, particularly bumble bees.
botanical-name botanical name Wisteria frutescens
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-9

Wisteria is typically thought of as a climbing plant, but it can also trail if given the right environment. A lush vining plant spilling over a rock wall is an absolutely magnificent sight. American Wisteria is less aggressive than the Asian types, which have been known to become invasive. 

Large panicles of lavender flowers drip from the sprawling vines. These blooms smell wonderful and are exceptionally attractive to pollinators, and especially bumble bees. The plant can grow in partial shade, but full sun will produce the most bountiful blooms and lush foliage. 

Final Thoughts

Adding trailing plants to your rock garden landscape is a wonderful way to create visual interest and soften things up with a touch of whimsy or a broad swath of lush green growth. Whether you want to incorporate more native plants in your plan or borrow from the stunning gardens of faraway places, these trailing plants will bring whimsy and life to your rocky foundation.

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