pathway and shade garden help

laur07May 4, 2010

I want to put a 25 ft long flagstone path in my back yard and have been to the local landscaping company to price out the rocks and the base materials. I plan on having the stones loosely arranged more like stepping stones with some ground covers in patches in between.

I was told to put down 3 inches of road base and float the stones in an inch of sand, then cover it with a layer of something for aesthetics. My question is how to insert the groundcover and will they grow from the soil through the 4 inches of gravel/sand or should I just use dirt instead of sand? I've been considering using small woodchips between the stones rather than small gravel to be more friendly for the ground cover and wonder if this is a bad idea.

Also, I have raised be that is in part to deep shade and need ideas for plants that will do well in zone 7-9.

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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I'm in 7a (but that's USDA 7a and I'm guessing your "zone 7-9" is Sunset?) and have a large garden under two huge cherries, and with a neighbor's Leyland cypress hedge to the south. There's very little sun once the trees leaf out, except in one corner. Before I bought the house, this was considered "lawn," but there was much more moss than grass. Anything I did to it would have been a major improvement....

Unfortunately, I wouldn't begin to know what plants to suggest for your location. But I can recommend that you take a look at GW's Gardening in Shade forum:

and perhaps as well the California Gardening forum?

I'm sure someone'll be along presently with paver advice.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 12:09AM
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dsb22(z7 VA)

I had the same question before we put in a 10' flagstone path last year. I decided to do the gravel and sand base. However I ended up removing the sand between the pavers in order to grow ground cover. I don't believe sand has any nutrients, it didn't seem to me that anything was going to be able to grow in it. If I had it to do over, I might have still done the gravel and sand base. (Maybe...just added a few additional stones to the ends and they seem quite stable dug into ground without the base.) I would definitely skip the sand between the stones. I would just put back well-amended soil. I don't think this would have caused any issues with the stones shifting because a) our underlying ground is compacted clay and b) it doesn't get *that* cold here in zone 7 northern VA. Plus with a good amount of space between paves, a little shifting isn't going to be the problem it is if the flagstones are abutted against each other.

Re what to plant between the stones. Well, our path runs from full shade to full sun so finding one thing to work the whole way has been a challenge. Last year I planted Steppables--Scotch moss and a couple of others. I'm drawing a blank on what they were, sorry. Absolutely no sign of them this year at all. Not sure if they were a casualty of our hard winter or the rain water that runs through our deck onto the path. I just put in dwarf mondo grass a couple of weeks ago and so far it is doing well. Oh, and I discovered that our normally very pricey local nursery sells mondo grass by the flat (24 pots for $29) which was much more economical than the individual little Steppables.

Let me know if anything above doesn't make sense.


    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 1:34AM
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Well you know that moss will grow so why not try that? Unless you don't like it. Floating stone paths are very nice. I've seen these in more Zen type gardenig. Very cool! The base is what is suggested to lay and hold the stones in place. Most ground covers don't need alot of depth as far as that goes and can adept to the area. So a soil fill on top of this base should work. You might have to adjust the sand, rock fill to accomidate this. Also if you do this don't spend alot of money on a ground cover at first. Just try some here and there to see how it takes. You will know in the first season or two how well this will work. If you go with small gravel it will be more user friendly to the foot traffic then will the wood chips. If color is a concern the gravel comes in some great colors as well.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 3:25AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Three inches of road base? Sounds like your landscaper may just have moved to California from... I dunno, Minnesota? Somewhere where they get a lot of ground freeze, anyway.

Depending on just how cold it gets for you, this may be serious overkill. How much? Here in southwest British Columbia, equivalent to your PNW, I have flagstone and slab installations that are laid on either straight dirt or dirt with a thin layer of sand to facilitate leveling. Both do fine. If I don't compact the dirt enough prior to laying the stone, I tend to have to lift the stones and fill under them after a while, but that's still not as much work as 3" of road base.

Obviously, ground cover between the stones grows fine in these conditions. If you do decide to do the road base, you will have to pay some attention to getting plant roots into some soil. What might work is putting soil directly under the rocks once you've levelled them. That is where the most moisture accumulates and where plant roots are inclined to go anyway.


    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 11:03AM
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Zone 7 in No Cal? Does it even freeze more than the top 1/4 inch of dirt there? That sounds like overkill for that zone, especially for a backyard garden path.

Plop the stones where you want them, walk the path a few times to make sure it's easy to maneuver. Adjust stone position as needed.

Then pick up each stone, dig out under its position a few inches and put in builder's sand, tamp it down real well, level it, and put the stone back ... if you need to adjust the level later, pry it up and add more sand.

This gives you drainage, and dirt for the plants.

As for plants? Ferns, Columbines, Fuschias ... all the stuff I can't grow here.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 2:47PM
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Just some general interplanting concepts--decide if you want to plant along and between every stone and are going to try to do that densely to try to suppress weeds, or you can to a combination of gravel between some stones and planting (in soil) in others, if you want more of a random look and want to buy fewer plugs or plants.

In south zone 7, dwarf mondo is one of the best things for shade between stepstones. It takes a fair amount of foot traffic. I don't know anything about CA climate issues. Many of the tiny sedums do surprisingly well in shade, or at least the part shade, and offer a change of color and texture--also they are very easy to propagate, so you can buy one and coax it into more. Mazus, creeping Charlie also like shade.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 6:58PM
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