Mulch paths - novice questions

mamamermaidJune 26, 2007

More questions from a dreaded novice...

I want to make several mulch paths in my yard. Now, what do I do with all the dirt and grass that I dig out? Is that just too dumb a question? I have no idea what to do with it.

And...I read over and over about how landscaping fabric is evil. SO - do i really not need to put anything down under the mulch? Really? When I put the mulch down is there some kind of, uh, stamping (for lack of a better word) process to make it all thick and heavy? My paths will get a lot of traffic from 2 large dogs and my 3 year old.

My friend put cut up moving boxes under hers and I thought that was a good idea. Was it? She just did it so we don't know if this was really clever or really moronic...she's prepared for either result, preferring the former, of course.

And the last question: how on earth do you get the edges of the paths to be so perfect? I walk through my neighborhood and so many people have these lovely beds and/or paths and the edges are just so perfect. I feel like when I start digging I'm just going to be all over the place. I will mark the projected area, of course, but how to get such nice, clean edges?

Thanks so much!


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

What are "paths in a yard"? Do you mean they go through your grass? or through flower beds?

I would not have removed the grass. Just cover it with newspaper and cover that with mulch.

Since you have removed the grass, put the grass in the compost pile. It is probably the best soil you have, once the grass dies. Or pile it up, cover it with black plastic to kill the grass - then spread it on flower beds.

Just add the mulch to the paths. Make it 3" think, and forget it. I would not use landscape fabric.

You will get some weeds, but very few compared to open dirt.

Edging can be done with a flat shovel. It is not hard to get a good clean edge. to keep it clena looking you need to edge it once a year.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 10:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you!

Yes, they are walkways through my yard which is primarily San Augustine grass which I would someday like to remove totally as I live in a dry area. I haven't actually dug them yet. You're saying I don't need to dig out a pathway at all? Just lay down newspsper where I want the path to be and mulch on top of that??? Won't the walkway be "higher" than the rest of the yard, so to speak? Won't the mulch sort of slip off the paper?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 10:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The Saint Augustine will die under the paper and mulch and your path will sink somewhat as a consequence, but if you use shredded hardwood or some other matting type of mulch (not bark) there should be no sliding. Raking before mowing should take care or any mulch escaping into the yard and an occasional trimming with a spade should keep the grass out of your paths.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 11:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)


You are correct that if you do not remove the grass your paths will be higher than your lawn which might look a little awkward, but it is a lot less work. I would probably bite the bullet and remove the grass. Compost the removed sod and put it to use in your garden beds.

There have been a couple threads recently talking about edging garden beds and the same techniques can be used to edge your paths.

- Brent

    Bookmark   June 27, 2007 at 10:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm glad you asked the same questions, because we're about to do the same thing and I have similar questions. Regarding mulch on top of cardboard--I'd be afraid that would get slippery, at least until the cardboard decomposes. I'm also trying to decide whether just to cut in an edge, or put in some kind of metal or plastic edging material. We've got a contractor coming in a couple of days to give us an estimate, so I'll have to see what he suggests and what the price differences are. In our case we're planting shrub and groundcover beds next to the mulch path, there won't be any lawn. I'd love to hear anyone else's suggestions.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2007 at 11:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

While we are talking about mulched paths...I have learned that you need to give some type of visual indication that a mulched path is indeed a path. Otherwise people think mulch = planting bed = don't walk there. In one bed I put down some square stepping stones to define a narrow path and it made a big difference.

- Brent

    Bookmark   June 27, 2007 at 2:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
saypoint(6b CT)

Once the cardboard or layers of newspaper get wet, they will get a bit mushy and won't be slippery. Wet the newspaper as you put it down, and use 5-8 sheets or more if you have enough.

Using coarsely chopped wood mulch, of the type tree companies give away after they chip up the trees they cut down, might by slippery. I would think that large chunks of bark would be a problem, too.

A finer textured mulch like shredded bark or well shredded hardwood mulch will knit together a bit and be fairly stable. Use the shredded bark if you can get it.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2007 at 7:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I had mulched pathways at my home, and I put down newspaper and then put the mulch on top of that, it worked fine, but you will have to replenish the mulch to keep the paths looking their best. I didn't edge them at all just mowed the grass, and they looked great.


    Bookmark   June 27, 2007 at 10:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks, everyone!

I also plan to plant all along the path on either side so the path will look more defined. I'm also trying to get rid of as much turf as possible. I'm going to line it with large tree limbs that I've collected from around the neighborhood and plant native plants all in and around them.

Let me know what that contractor says, would ya?

I really appreciate all your replys.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2007 at 8:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Use curves instead of straight line?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 10:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

newspaper and mulch? how do u trim around the edge without everything flying everywhere ?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2007 at 12:20AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

How you make your paths depends a lot on how tidy you like your garden. Putting newspaper and mulch on top of the grass, even grass that has been mowed close, is going to make the path higher than the surrounding area. Since most mulches won't mat well, they will move into the lawn. You will have to decide what looks ok to you, and how much maintenance to are willing to do.

One way to clear a large area of sod and keep clean lines is to rent a sod kicker. If you have the strength, you can get a large area done in a short period of time. Otherwise, there are also gas powered sod cutters available at rental centers. You can rent or borrow a trailer to take the sod pieces to your county's recycling center if you don't have the space to let piles of sod sitting around to compost. If you have another person working with you, the whole thing can be completed in 2 days.

The cutter will leave you clean strait lines and a nice 2 inch or so recess for the mulch. If you want to keep the lines perfect, add some sort of edging. If you don't mind a little grass going into the mulch, then you don't have to bother with edging.

Don't use landscape fabric, newspaper is optional. Most weeds don't have deep roots, and the few that might pop up are easy enough to take care of. Always keep the path topped off so the area isn't lower that the lawn. Otherwise, the wheels on one side of the lawnmower will ride lower, which will cause the mower blades to shear off the grass down to the dirt.

Tamping down the mulch is as simple as walking on it. Wet it down with water from the hose, and continue to walk over it, adding more mulch as necessary.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 8:38AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

AH HA! Now we're talking. I like the idea of a sod kicker. I've just been stymied on how I'm ever going to be able to dig out all this grass/dirt. I do want the paths to be neat and tidy because I want most of the rest of the yard to be woodsy and kind of messy. If the paths are not clean-cut then the whole thing will look haphazard...I think. I really have no idea as this is my first yard, but that's my aesthetic hunch.

We're in Autin so we're gonna have to wait until the fall (cooler weather and less mosquitoes) - I'll send pics when it's done.

Thanks so much for all your help!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2007 at 10:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'll second the sod kicker -- although it's bulky, I found it much easier to use than the big gas-powered machine. Make sure to take before-and-after photos to share with us this fall!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2007 at 3:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you plant along side the path, wouldn't you want to mulch the plant bed? If so then you need to use different types of mulch so you can distinguish the plant bed from the path. Also, if the path is to be used by the dogs, keep in mind that they may kick up a lot of mulch that you would need to rake back into the path. Have you considered a crushed granite path?


    Bookmark   July 10, 2007 at 5:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Don - Good questions and this is another area in which I'm stymied because I DO want the path and beds on the sides to look different. Here's what I *think* I want to do.

Dig the paths and add about 2ft on either side for the beds. Put edging (some cool metal kind I think) on the sides of the path cuz I like the way they look and I think it might help with the look. I've been collecting large tree branches and tree stumps from all over my neighborhood and I want to "line" the path with these and plant all kinds of native plants and shrubs all weaving in and out between the them. I am hoping that the limbs and stumps will make a good "divider" between the path and the beds. I want it to look very woodsy and kinda random.

I lay (lie?) in bed at night envisioning mulch path versus decomposed granite path...mulch vs granite...mulch vs get the idea. I LOVE DG, but I dream of walking barefoot all through my yard and I have a 3-year-old who refuses to wear shoes. BUT, then again, I would love for him to be able to ride his bike through the backyard and the gravel would allow that and the mulch won't. ARG.

My dogs - sigh - we just live in a constant state of disarry around here. Nothing else to do cuz we love em! Won't DG track in too? We have hardwoods and I was thinking the tracked-in mulch would be easier on them than the DG...what do you think?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2007 at 1:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My 2 cents about a mulched path--use stone or gravel especially with dogs and/or children. I got SO tired of sweeping the mulch tracked in house. Gravel costs more but you will be happy in the end. You will want to put something under the gravel otherwise it will keep sinking in and you'll be replenishing it for years until it's hard packed enough.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2007 at 8:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

here's my two cents lol i prefer mulched ppaths set with stepping stones for several reason First you don't have to do much preparation,Second you can use as many or as few as you want to start and then add to them in the future ,or change your mind and move the whole thing. Cuts the start up cost way down.
I HATE gravel paths in my location.Very difficult to walk on ,they shift, Eventually a layer of dirt will get on top and it's weed heaven lol Also the neighborhood kids pick them up and throw them . Moving the path is almost impossible without picking up each stone. gary

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 5:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sunnie(9/10 So.Calif.)

I've had decomposed gravel paths in my garden for 4 years
and its the greatest !! The only stray small weeds that come are from seeds the wind blows on it.
Not enough to ever have to weed it. No landscape fabric was used
under it. Dig the path out deep. It will harden with age, and its very easy to walk on. I definately vote to have
decomposed gravel paths put in. It will be more expensive at first but will last without having to re-do the path.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 7:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

A lot of the good qualities of a gravel path depend on the type of gravel you use. I don't know all the ins and outs of this. I've seen some great gravel paths that were long lasting and some awful ones. I've worked a lot with mulched paths. Need to be topped off every year. Limbs for borders is a great natural look, but they will gradually decompose and have to be replaced from time to time, depending on the size and type of wood. I imagine bark mulch paths will speed the decomposition process of wood borders, comparitively more than gravel, but the wood itself is prone to that if not treated with nasty poisons. The paths I worked with for years at various parks and camps were wood mulch with log borders. Very easy maintenance but not maintenance free. Also occasionally suffer from outbreaks of bugs, but a lot of that depends on weather, and the state of the environment around them. Things can get out of balance . . . or not.

I like mulch, but if I knew how to do it right I'd go for gravel paths if you want a contrasting look between the paths and surrounding beds. I have had pavers in a gravel path and pavers sunk in grass, and hated both. I do like pavers though, and have never used them mixed with bark mulch paths. I imagine them shifting, but that would depend on the design and maintenance I guess. My pavers shifted in my old gravel path, but that's because I unknowingly put the darn thing over a dry stream bed in a drought cycle. I sure learned the hard way when the rainy year came.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 11:31AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have extensive mulched paths of wood chips from downed trees through my country yard. I have heard that the Roundup that I use to control the weeds causes leukemia among children and small animals such as dogs when they walk on the paths. I also pull any large weeds that appear, but spraying with a herbicide is more effective and less labor intensive. do you have information on a safe herbicide to control weeds such as quack grass, thistle, etc. Or is Roundup both safe and effectiv?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 8:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I haven't heard the leukemia story before. To my understanding, a limited use of Roundup in the garden is safe (if you know what you're doing). There can be problems if used near sensitive plants like tomatoes or daylilies.

What I worry about is the wholesale use of Roundup in agriculture. Also heavy use by anyone who doesn't know what they're doing, sprays on a windy day, lets children get in the way, etc.

An alternative to try in your situation would be a spray bottle filled with household vinegar and a small amount of surfactant.

Read this for more information: -- and do also click on the link mid-page to their "What to Expect From Home-made Weed Killer." You may still want to use Roundup or a digging tool for the tough ones.

Generally in these garden recipes, you're told to pick a dishwashing liquid that doesn't say "detergent" or "anti-bacterial" as your surfactant -- apparently because those types can damage plants. Obviously in this case, damaging plants is not a problem. [Baby shampoo is supposed to be the ultimate in safe surfactants, for example if you're making a concoction to kill insects on desirable plants.]

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 11:32AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
adding curb appeal to our home
Hi, ** I also posted this in the tips and techniques...
Wind, sun and what best fits my backyard
Hi everyone! Please ignore the grass situation, will...
Spacing for Armstrong Maple and Crimson Spire Oak
I plan to provide height to the borders of my backyard...
Bob Sislow
Landscape advice for front yard please!
We have just moved into a house in SoCal - zone 10...
Women Landscapers?
I am one. Any others out there? Do you hire women workers? If...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™