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Photo courtesy Lauren Jolley Roberts/Flickr
Pathways in the garden are just like hallways in the house—though, with a better view—and choosing the material to use for a path can be just as frustrating as deciding among carpet swatches. Wood chips are inexpensive but have to be replenished every year. Brick and stone are permanent but pricy. Gravel, however, keeps the price down, and it can be permanent if it’s installed correctly.
Here are four steps I recommend for laying a gravel path that will last.
1. Pick the Right Gravel
Pay attention to both the color and size of the gravel you choose. I like dark-colored gravel because it hides organic debris, which accumulates on paths over time. Gravel that’s 3/8 inch in diameter makes for better footing.
2. Use Landscape Fabric
Compaction from foot traffic and the shrinking and swelling of soil from drought and cold temperatures cause a gravel path laid on bare ground to disappear into the underlying soil. For a long-lasting gravel path, lay landscape fabric as the base. Sometimes sold as a “weed-block” (it rarely blocks weeds in most applications), landscape fabrics will keep gravel from mixing with the underlying soil.
Roll out the landscape fabric where you want your path, and pin it down with metal landscape staples as you go. I carry a bunch of staples tucked through a loop on my belt and a pair of scissors in my back pocket. A rubber mat to kneel on is handy, too. Fabric can follow curving paths as well as straight ones. Cut it or fold it over as you go around the curves.
3. Set the Right Depth
It’s not necessary to dig out soil for the path. You want it to be high and, therefore, dry. With the fabric pinned down, dump the gravel with a wheelbarrow. Then spread the gravel about 2 inches thick with the flat side of a gravel rake, so the tines don’t snag th4e fabric. Temporarily place a brick every few feet to help you get the depth right. (Bricks are 2 inches thick.)
4. Finish with Mulch
Compact the gravel a bit with a tamp, and you’ve got yourself an attractive, inexpensive, mud-free, permanent path through your urban farm. A couple of inches of mulch in the beds on each side of the path will leave things looking good.
About the Author: Frank Hyman has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and design and is an extension–trained IPM scout. He runs his 20-year-old garden-making business in the spring and fall. In the summer and winter, he writes, teaches and travels. Learn more about him at www.greatgardenspeakers.com or www.liberatedgardener.net.