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alternatives to gravel roads  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I'm wondering if there is super hardy plant that I could grow on some of my roads that are used infrequently enough that gravel is not a smart option.

Right now, these routes are muddy messes. We plant to put a proper crown on these roads a little later in the year when they aren't such a mess. There has been a lot of talk of gravel, but I would really like to plant some kind of durable plant instead.

Any ideas?
 
j. bruce
Posts: 18
Location: York, PA
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I don't think you could go too wrong with the crown vetch.... however, from my experience, it holds a lot of water. It's important to understand that when using vetch... again, from my experience with it.
 
                    
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I have heard of porous pavers which can absorb a lot of water and I suppose disperse it somehow. It's a way to create a hard surface without creating impervious surface, but I've not seen it myself.
 
                    
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Try A-34 Kentucky Bluegrass or another similar golf course type of grass that is rich in lignin.
 
Cristian Lavaque
Posts: 14
Location: Taxco, Mexico
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Some days ago I found this product that may be something you could use for that.
http://invisiblestructures.com/GP2/grasspave.htm
 
paul wheaton
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Posts: 22492
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
 
paul wheaton
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Posts: 22492
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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If you have just a sandy soil and a good crown, maybe that's all you need? 

 
            
Posts: 77
Location: Northport, Wash.
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this alternative doesn't use plants, but one of the things we use in road construction for areas with lousy subgrade is concrete treated base.

What you do is spread about 1 inch of cement on the ground, then you till it in and add water during the process, it can be just dumped on the ground while tilling, but it is best if it can be injected right at the tiller.  On roads we use the big commercial pavement grinders which till the material in to about a foot deep, but a regular tiller would work for smaller applications.  I know it would take a while  but it is amazing at how much this stabilizes the ground, even with some pretty cruddy material to work with.  The experts in this field tell me it works with virtually any soil type. 
Once the material is tilled in (I would think that even 6 inches like with a garden tiller would work good for a driveway), then you need to grade it out and it is always a good idea to slope for drainage.  It could be done in small sections.  The material while being processed needs to be wet enough to form a small ball that holds together on it's own, and breaks cleanly when pried apart.
Just a thought.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Would it make sense to bury a tree cutting across the road to root along its length, and prune/shade it to only sprout at the edges of the road?  I'm thinking of all the hiking trails "paved" in living wood.

It would take quite a few to make a smooth ride with this as the only vegetation, of course, but it would help to dry things out and control the flow of runoff.  Eventually a network of roots would help fill in.  Putting them in at a diagonal would help early on, I imagine.  With the right level of traffic, the only pruning necessary will be accomplished via tires and bumpers. 
 
paul wheaton
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Are you seeing the log buried?  Exposed?  Would the wood run parallel with the traffic?

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I'm thinking of stems from 1 cm to about 3 inches, mostly-buried and running diagonal to the direction of traffic. 
 
paul wheaton
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So you're thinking that the key is to keep the road covered in vegetation?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote:
So you're thinking that the key is to keep the road covered in vegetation?


Not exactly.  I'd say the key is to keep it covered in something that gives good traction and won't pull out easily or be pushed down too far, but allows (forces?) moisture to leave the surface.  Most vegetation would fail at least two of those criteria...I could imagine the bumper catching and uprooting small plants, the tires eventually catching on the accumulated vegetation and crushing it to slime, then losing traction in the mess so created.  The point about vetch retaining moisture may have alluded to this kind of scenario.

I've walked on trails surfaced with tree roots, though, which works OK by all four criteria.  From that context, I think mesquite was the best I saw at taking direct, heavy foot traffic.  No clue if auto traffic would be OK or not.

An extreme example of what I mean (which I decided to give its own thread in Woodland Care) using rubber trees:

http://rootbridges.blogspot.com/

If someone does decide to lay a few wands of willow or such into a patch of mud that should be a road, and see if they help or hinder, I'd be curious to hear about it.  Then again, it may be a difficult mistake to fix, if it turns out to be a bad idea.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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I've seen what they called 'corduroy' roads in the wet woods here in the Pacific Northwest and in Southeast Alaska.  They were built by laying a continuous layer of logs down across the road bed.  Driving over them isn't much fun, and of course they do rot out eventually.  If the traffic was very light, live trees could possibly be used the same way, but it would take a long time for them to grow big enough.  Or lay live trees down and when they are big enough fasten wide boards down in the tire tracks to drive on and protect the trees.  It's a thought for an exceptionally muddy spot -- maybe that hole that threatens to take your tractor to China every spring?

Kathleen
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Freeholder wrote:
it would take a long time for them to grow big enough. 


My thought wasn't of corduroy roads, really, but of twigs spaced about a half a tire radius apart and mostly buried.  Ideally, each twig could use its root structure to spread pressure from the tire out to a wider patch of soil, and to pull enough water out of that soil to keep it relatively firm. 

It wouldn't work to drive on in wet weather until roots had grown from several buds on each twig, but it certainly wouldn't need to gain enough strength to hold the vehicle's weight across a span of loose mud the way a log does in a corduroy road.

It would get unpleasant if too much soil eroded out from between them, so maybe another ground cover would be a good idea.  And whoever was building this would have to prune upward growth from the road surface before it made the surface too bumpy.  But I don't think it would have to be too bad to drive on, especially if everything crossed the direction of traffic at a diagonal.

Growing enough to press against each other as a corduroy road does might actually cause some problems with buckling etc.  I imagine one would need to regularly cut back the tall growth at the shoulders of the road after a certain point, in order to buy time before growth reaches such a diameter.
 
Wyatt Smith
Posts: 111
Location: Midwest zone 6
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It all depends.  How much road?  How much time, money, energy do you want to use?  What is the environment like.

In a brittle environment, grading and compacting the soil works perfect. 

In a non-brittle environment it is more difficult.  Grass such as bluegrass and fescue can be driven on by a car multiple times per season and survive, especially if they have adequate drainage.  If the road is used often or at the wrong times, grass alone might not work. 

If the road gets frequent use and there is sufficient budget you could make concrete turf pavers. 
 
Ken Peavey
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57 stone or crushed shale should work, but its along the same line of thinking as gravel.  Down here in FL, crushed seashells are available for 20 bucks a yard.

Pine bark mulch could serve your needs.

As far as a plant, the first thing that came to mind was Burdock.  The stuff will grow just fine, marking the road with clearly discernible growth.  Being a biennial you won't get burrs until the 2nd year.  Give it a couple of mowings to keep the burrs down year 2 or let it go to get some not quite woody but much stiffer than straw groundcover. 

The stuff will come back year after year, establishing a layer of humus over time.  There is a disadvantage if you wish to remove it later on.  Once established you will NEVER get rid of it.

You can dry and grind the roots into a primative flour.

My uncle had a muddy road back in Maine.  He cut some small alders, laid them across the road in late fall in several low spots.  Come spring, the winter snow had flattened them.  The woody branches offered some traction and helped fill in the low spots.

 
Max Kennedy
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Location: Englehart, Ontario, Canada
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Paul, you say "not much use"  but you don't say what kind and when.  Are we talking car, truck, atv, carrying a heavy load etc and what are the weather conditions when you want to use it eg spring thaw?  Slash piles are sometimes used up here in NE Ontario to fill in marshy area's on logging roads.  Works for a while but breaks down in 2-3 years.  If the road is to be used when it is wet, plants will still allow ruts to form and tires to spin thus more mud.
 
                              
Posts: 47
Location: Ohio zone 4-5
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I wonder if perennial rye would work. They use it on golf courses for hard use areas like cart paths. Once established it is an extremely tough grass with a strong root  system.
It was recommended for soil stabilization around my newly constructed 1/2 acre pond. I have freeze and thaw issues with clay so mud is part and parcel to that.
ETA ; Spatd is way ahead of me here, already suggested grass.

I planted many varieties of stepables between my flagstones on the patio. Most are fine if not repeatedly walked on. There is a bare path where I go from door to car, so just daily foot traffic is too much.  The toughest for me is Mazus, a low spreading plant but the roots aren't significant. Wild broadleaf plantain is tougher than Mazus to foot traffic.
 
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