Three Cheap (or Free) Materials to Create a Garden Walkway

Three Cheap (or Free) Materials to Create a Garden Walkway

One of the best ways to define a garden space is with a path. Before considering hardscape options like concrete or stones, consider some cheaper options. Softer options like wood chips, clover or recycled pavers are all going to be better for the garden, easy to upkeep, and richer visually.

Wood chips are an ideal ground cover for walkways

There’s just no end to the benefits of wood chips in your garden. They’re easy to get for free, they have superb drainage so they’re easy to walk on even in wet weather, and as they compost, they feed your soil. Use enough of them and they’re a weed suppressant, and mulch the ground so it retains moisture and soil. The contrast of color they have to grass, clover or other ground cover help to define a pathway. Upkeep is as simple as raking them out so they’re flat, and occasionally topping up the pathway with new wood chips (I’ve found once a year is sufficient).

Start by defining where the walkway will be, using something long and flexible, like a garden hose. Remove grass or other groundcover in the space, and then use flattened cardboard as a base to smother any remaining seeds in the ground. Cover with four to six inches of wood chips, and rake them to be nice and flat. You can simply walk back and forth over them to settle them in. Large chips stay in place really well, but you can use garden edging to maintain lines if you prefer. 

Clover makes a luxurious pathway to walk on

Everyone always thinks of grass for soft, green garden paths, but grass is expensive to upkeep, a lot of work to maintain and terrible for the soil. Worse, it’s miserable to walk on when it’s wet. One winter can kill the grass and make the path a muddy mess. Instead, use clover. It requires no mowing, very little water, and if you use a perennial variety like white clover, creates an incredibly thick mat that will stand up to the rain and snow. You can mow it, like lawn, if you’re a masochist who loves their mower. Otherwise, just let it grow and feed the bees and other pollinators. Clover will spread, so keeping it in line using curbing makes sense. 

You can always get recycled pavers for free

Someone in your neighborhood is trying to get rid of pavers, right now. Check NextDoor, Craigslist or Facebook: I guarantee you someone is currently dismantling a wall or chimney or just has a random pile of bricks that’s been in their backyard, and it can be yours, for free. For straight pathways, bricks and the grid they create can be a powerful architectural detail in your yard. For curved spaces, you can place the bricks straight on and then easily cut the curves out of the finished pathway, or align the bricks to the curves using a formula. In either case, you’ll want to dig out any grass or other groundcover, and start with a base of compacted sand that is level. This is followed by the bricks, and then the bricks can be filled in with paver sand, which actually locks the pavers in place. 

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