Planning Paths

Planning Paths

When planning paths in your landscape it’s important to consider where they are, the reason you’re creating them, and the maintenance they’ll require. These, along with the look you desire, will determine what materials you choose. Here are some guidelines for designing a path or walkway.

  • Is the path going to lead to a door to your house? If so, you’ll probably want it to be at least 4 feet wide. Paths that lead to entryways are often made of smoother, hard materials so that they are easy to shovel when it snows, and so that less dirt, much or other natural debris comes in when people walk into the house.
  • Paths that lead to the main entries to your house should either be gently curved or straight. A curvy walkway that takes people longer to travel from the driveway or street to the door is unnecessary and annoying…save the winding paths for the garden or woods.
  • How much weeding do you want to do in your paths? Some require constant attention to keep the weeds down, while others require no weeding at all. See photos below.
  • Will you be using the path to maintain gardens? If so, it’s important to make it wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow or garden cart. A very narrow path might be fine for walking, but less useful when mulching or weeding needs to be done.
  • If people will be walking barefoot on a path, you’ll want to avoid gravel or large mulch chips. Flat surfaces are more comfortable for bare feet, but remember that dark asphalt absorbs heat in the summer.

Once you’ve decided how you want a path to function, then it’s time to consider how the path will look and what materials you’ll use to create the walkway. Here are a few suggestions.

Cobblestones or granite blocks are a favorite material on the Cape. They can be used to edge driveways or in a driveway apron where the drive meets the street, and this unifies the look of a property. If the stones are set in stone dust they are fairly weed free for several years, although moss might grow in the cracks.
Bricks are a traditional material used in walkways. Over time they can require the removal of moss and small weeds, but for several years after construction are pretty maintenance free.
Large stepping stones and mulch create a pretty path. These type of walkway is harder to shovel when it snows, and needs weeding and new applications of mulch on an annual basis. Many people chose this look for a side yard or a through-the-garden walkway that isn’t used in the winter.
This artist used wood to create a boardwalk path. This is especially nice for a summer house but the wood might be slick in the winter. The slight turns that were designed here were just enough to be interesting but not so curving to take people too far out of their way when going from the drive to the front door. Over time, weeds might grow in the cracks and as the wood ages it will need to be replaced.
This walkway is made of poured concrete. It is extremely functional as it is very flat and doesn’t support weeds.
These stones can either be set into concrete so that they stay level and weeds can’t grow in the spaces between the stone, or stone or rock dust can be used between them. Over time the stone dust will support the growth of moss and weeds, but it’s usually clear for several years.
Gravel is attractive but needs to be contained so that it doesn’t migrate into lawns and beds. Here a brick edging is used to hold the gravel in place. Gravel does allow weeds to grow, however, so those choosing a gravel path will need to be prepared to address weeds. Note that a landscape cloth barrier under the gravel does not prevent weed growth…weed seeds are happy to germinate on top of the fabric in and among the rocks, especially over time.
This gravel path is contained by low stone walls.
Here beach rocks were used to edge the gravel path. Again, the look is lovely but weeding will need to be done as time goes on, both in the path and the rock edging on either side.
Mulch paths are often more practical than gravel in that new layers of mulch can be added as often as needed, right on top of the old. Additionally, if mulch migrates into beds or the lawn it’s not as problematic as small rocks. To make a path stand out from the mulch used in beds, a different type can be used. Here chipped wood, often called landscaper’s chips, is used for the path and a finer grade of mulch was used for the gardens on either side.
Once a path is older and the ground very compact, weeds are less likely to grow. This path looks like it was once covered with shell pieces or gravel, and overtime hasn’t needed fresh applications of any material because the ground is very compact so it supports fewer weeds. The tree that is trained over a rebar archway is a weeping blue atlas cedar.
Turf grass can be a fairly low maintenance pathway if you don’t care that weeds grow along with the grass. In this garden, Pennsylvania wall stone was used to edge the walkway, sunk at ground level. This allowed the lawnmower to ride on top of the rocks, cutting the grass without the need of a string trimmer. The wall stone keeps the grass out of the flowerbed and the mulch out out of the lawn. This is also a very natural looking, less formal edging.
Moss makes a lovely pathway, especially through shady gardens. To encourage moss, compact the soil and remove any random weeds that appear. Given this treatment, moss will grow! You don’t have to “seed” an area with chopped up bits of moss – just provide shade, compact soil, and occasional water and nature will take care of the rest.

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