STEP BY STEP
More than one approach to the garden-variety path
By Tom Roebuck
Copley News Service
Maintaining a home garden requires countless hours of hands-on work, and for many that is exactly the appeal. It's all about spending time in the outdoors, getting your hands dirty, watching new life emerge from the earth - not to mention making your neighbors green with envy over your beautifully landscaped yard.
But it's not just the plants, soil and irrigation systems that need attention. Those meandering paths that wind their way through many home gardens need to be maintained as well. How much maintenance depends on the material used to make the path, and that is usually determined by what materials are readily available in your particular region.
"Part of deciding what kind of path is where you are in the country. If you're in the Southwest you're probably going to be using more stone, that kind of thing. If you're in the Southeast or Northeast you're probably more likely to be using a bark mulch because it's more available," said Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist for the National Gardening Association.
There are paths available that require little or no maintenance, but not surprisingly they're also the least pleasing to the eye. A concrete walkway is more sterile than a stone or mulch path, which provide a more natural setting for your garden. After all, isn't a garden much like a canvas for Mother Nature, a living work of art?
"Probably the least kind of maintenance path would be one of solid material, like a concrete path or one of these paver paths, that really all you have to do is sweep it off once in a while when leaves drop on it, and that's about it. But then, of course, they're the most expensive and a lot of people just don't like the look and they give the garden and the area a more formal look, a more built-up look," Nardozzi said.
For a whimsical, natural appearance that's also low-maintenance, Nardozzi recommends a stepping-stone path, with the stones embedded deep enough so a lawn mower can travel above them without blade meeting stone, damaging both.
"Stepping-stone paths, where the stones are laid down enough so that you can run a mower over them, those are very low-maintenance because you can just mow the grass in between the stepping stones and maybe once every year or two you have to go in and edge around the stones because the grass will creep on top of it," Nardozzi said.
Placing stones close together, as opposed to the stepping-stone approach, creates a path that is more complete and intact, but will require putting on gloves and pulling weeds, rather than simply pushing a lawn mower over the path. Except in extreme cases, getting rid of weeds requires pulling them out by hand, so don't turn to toxic herbicides to do the work for you.
Paths made of bark mulch or gravel are popular choices that won't keep you from the other chores that come with gardening.
"A lot of it depends on how well you build them. Ideally you want to bring them down a few feet into the ground, put down some kind of layer underneath them, put down some kind of weed mat, and then put the materials on top. If you build it well like that, they can last for many, many years," Nardozzi said.
A weed mat will keep most weeds from growing through a gravel or mulch path, but mold can become a problem, especially in humid climates. Aiming sprinklers away from the path will help keep moisture down, and stirring in new material with a leaf rake from time to time will help keep mold at bay.
"Any kind of organic mulch path you have, you'll need to refresh it at least once a year, and in a warmer climate maybe a couple times a year. And in the process of refreshing it you can rake it out a little bit, move it around, move out stuff, any mushroom spores that might be starting. Just by raking it you can break all that stuff up, pick up any weeds that may have come down there instead of germinating. Put a fresh layer over it and you'll be set for months," Nardozzi advised.
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