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What do you use for walking paths?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 2
Location: Florida
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Hi Permies.
I have several small food forest beds in my front yard and am trying to get rid of the rest of the grass.  I live in FL and have been letting the native Sunshine Mimosa take over the grass but it takes quite awhile.  I'd like to get rid of the rest of the grass but still have something to walk on in between the garden bed.  Preferably something that is pleasant to walk on barefoot!  any ideas?  What do you use in your paths and why?
 
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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The last time I did a walking path, it was in my garden. I dug down and removed the sod and topsoil where I wanted my path and piled it atop my hugelbeet, and filled the void with woodchips.

I wasn't worrying about how they would feel on my bare feet. I was more interested in the effect on soil life. I had essentially created a woodlouse buffet. I had tonnes of them, and the local birds loved them so much, they preferred them to my seeds and seedlings, and I benefitted from their manure, too.

The surrounding soil also became much easier to dig. Before, where I could break a toothpick or a bamboo skewer doing a soil penetration depth test, I can now drop my pitch fork tines down from chest height and have it sink almost halfway up the shaft. I have to be careful to use the paths when it's wet before the groundcover takes off in the spring.

Before long, and probably due to soil, compost, and mineral soil being dropped or being brought in through the walls of the trench by soil macrobiota, I was soon left with a pathway that was largely rich, black soil with some wood chips mixed in. I have to dig it out seasonally. The partly decomposed, fungally active wood chips are sifted to the top and used as mulch in the garden bed.

Then I drop more wood chips. Rinse and repeat. I get soil volume and fertility, and my pathways stack as soil bioreactors.

-CK
 
pollinator
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Location: Manitoba, Canada
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I would say it depends on what you're going for with your paths. If you're looking for a living path, I'm not sure if it grows in your part of Florida, but I would look into establishing some clover. It is remarkable at withstanding trampling and (if you desire neat and tidy paths) mowing. It would also help to fertilize the surrounding soil. Clover is very nice to walk on barefoot... but the bees that like clover are not so watch out for those.
 
pollinator
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I have not grow this though it is on my wish list:

https://permies.com/Creeping-Thyme-Thymus-serpyllum

Here are so good threads on pathways:

https://permies.com/t/14950/Walkable-Groundcover

https://permies.com/t/63906/Planting-pathway-edge-pollinators-Ideas

https://permies.com/t/62923/Super-short-perennial-ground-covers

https://permies.com/t/49556/Live-Garden-Pathways-Clover-Grass
 
Posts: 1784
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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We have plenty of paths around our place, some which go through the trees where ground cover simply doesn't grow well. They get heavy use.

Three years ago we got some loads of woodchips in from a local tree surgeon and spread them three inches thick over the paths (about 100m total). It has been wonderful. Even in the depth of winter you can walk the garden without getting even slightly muddy. The paths are not slippery, and as the chips break down we simply top them with another layer. I would definitely do this again, and in fact have added more woodchip paths in the time since. They are very low maintenance, feed the soil, and make for easy walking even in very bad weather.
 
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Gina Scianimanico wrote:Hi Permies.
I have several small food forest beds in my front yard and am trying to get rid of the rest of the grass.  I live in FL and have been letting the native Sunshine Mimosa take over the grass but it takes quite awhile.  I'd like to get rid of the rest of the grass but still have something to walk on in between the garden bed.  Preferably something that is pleasant to walk on barefoot!  any ideas?  What do you use in your paths and why?



As others mention wood chips are one of the best path way covers. Since you are in Florida you could do a wood chip, crushed shell, wood chip path, the crushed shell would provide calcium that might not be at the best levels in your gardens (it will migrate by being used by the fungi and bacteria).

If you want to speed up the wood chip breakdown all you need are some spent coffee grounds to sprinkle o top of the wood chips along the path as you make it.
The Nitrogen from the grounds along with the bacteria, slime molds and fungi will create soil form the wood chips in about two years. I like to make a woodchip pathway then top dress with new wood chips every spring.

Redhawk
 
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Is there a reason you would not want to use leaves instead?  In our area, leaves are much easier to get.
 
pollinator
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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tony elder wrote:Is there a reason you would not want to use leaves instead?  In our area, leaves are much easier to get.



Tony, the only problem I have seen with leaves is that they are slippery when wet.  If the area is relatively flat, it may not be an issue.  I prefer working with wood chips for that reason but leaves are awesome and I use them for lots of other things.
 
Posts: 13
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
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Our walking paths are of two types: grass/weeds that get trampled and sometimes mowed; and of woodchips 8"-10" deep, after first removing the topsoil to the adjacent beds, and the sod to the compost.
I have to say the wood chip paths are great! Low maintenance, no weed seed bank, no mowing, sorta soft and squishy to walk on. They do break down over time, needing topping up, and soil creeps in at the edges (or are the chips creeping out??), but even 4 years on, still serviceable.
Much nicer than wading through wet grass, and nice for rolling carts on. Can't speak directly to barefoot, since that's not my thing, but I did make an effort as I filled to rake the coarser chips along the path and into the ditch, to bury them deep, and leave smaller chips to be the finished top layer.
I would also agree that cycling the chips from tree-srevice, to path, to compost pile/or mulch, is a great idea... but I haven't even got all our paths converted yet!
 
tony elder
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Todd Parr wrote:

tony elder wrote:Is there a reason you would not want to use leaves instead?  In our area, leaves are much easier to get.



Tony, the only problem I have seen with leaves is that they are slippery when wet.  If the area is relatively flat, it may not be an issue.  I prefer working with wood chips for that reason but leaves are awesome and I use them for lots of other things.



What I am using has been seriously "mulched" down with a lawn mower. The thick mat I have laid down over the past few years (4" - 6") is working great. I plan to continually add to that every year.

I am using it as a complete ground cover. I am adding "sandy top soil" and composted horse manure for planting areas, but only mulched leaves for paths. I know that larger leaves that have not been chopped up can create a slippery surface when wet. But I will be quick to say - I personally have not had any problems with the paths being slippery using mulched leaves. And it feels like walking on a mattress.

I haven't really looked that hard for woodchips, mainly because I have a few reservations about using them at this time. The growing areas are still changing. Perhaps next year or the year after, I will shift my focus. But for now, I'm more interested in building a thick layer of humus everywhere, that doubles as erosion control and weed control. 

The leaves break down fairly quick, so I'm thinking that at some point woodchips may work better since they take more time to break down (less work on that means more time for other stuff). That will probably happen once I settle on what are the planting areas and what are paths.

 
Posts: 63
Location: Youngstown, Ohio
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We have a lot of woodchips out front, so anything that is not planted is automatically a path...except for thistles and the occasional dandelion and chicory that find their way through even 12 inches of chips.  For the rest of the garden we use old carpeting for a year or so to smother, then plant in micro clover.  I absolutely love micro clover as a path.  Infrequently needs mowing and usually out competes everything else. 
 
tony elder
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Cris Fellows wrote:We have a lot of woodchips out front, so anything that is not planted is automatically a path...except for thistles and the occasional dandelion and chicory that find their way through even 12 inches of chips.  For the rest of the garden we use old carpeting for a year or so to smother, then plant in micro clover.  I absolutely love micro clover as a path.  Infrequently needs mowing and usually out competes everything else. 



Thumbs up for the micro clover. I've been seeding it in lawn areas not covered with mulched leaves - in an effort to replace "lawn" grass. This will be year two. Not really disappointed but it hasn't established itself as good as I would like.

I think I waited too late into the spring last year. Other grasses had already grown enough to give the new clover a lot of competition.

Nevertheless, I like it well enough to re-seed this year - late winter / early spring. I'm hoping between last year's clover and this year's second sowing it will have a better chance of "taking over".

Fingers crossed.
 
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There's a coffe import business near me.  They give away burlap bags by the pallet load.  I use the burlap for many garden projects including paths.  Near Seattle, the rain and wear from walking rot the bags every two years. Since my paths are permanent, I just put another layer of baags on to of the old ones.
 
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Is there a reliable way to clear a woodchip path of snow in winter?  I have an old paver path that clients use at my home, but it needs replacement.  The neighbor wants to help me put concrete in, but if I can make natural materials work, I'd much rather do that (and then ideally, avoid salting it too).  My concerns are snow/ice and making sure there's enough traction.
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 1427
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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What do you think of making sure that the chips are saturated enough that the whole mass of wood chips freezes solid?

It would probably stay frozen longer than the ground, which means better access to mucky ground without destroying soil structure.

As to shovelling, if there were chips sticking up out of the path, they themselves would add traction, or a shovel blade would chip away the protruding bits while shovelling.

You could also drop more chips during a daily thaw cycle so that dry chips are left sticking out of slush that freezes overnight to incorporate it. Again, the insulative properties of the wood chips would keep the mass colder than a block of ice of similar size for longer, so adding chips in a thaw will effectively insulate the mass more and perhaps reduce the frequency of necessary additions of chips for traction.

-CK
 
pollinator
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I like the idea of the micro clover. Woodchips are good were you plant things which want forest soil but not for everything. Did anyone actually try the microclover? Did it work without mowing?
There's a difference between microclover and miniclover. Both seeds are not available in Australia.
I am really intrigued by this.
Here is  a list of cround cover plants (a seed vendor's list so take it with a grain of salt): groundcover plants
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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We started a path with Irish moss, it is wear resistant and is extremely soft under bare feet, plus it looks grand as a garden path.
We might even start using it in other places too, currently we are letting it grow for harvesting to use elsewhere around the house site.
It is a bit expensive but I like mosses and have always started a moss bed where ever I have lived since I was a child. Usually they aren't big, just large enough to lay down on.
This is my first time to use a specific moss for what it is traditionally used for.
 
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Things don't exactly like to grow here so throwing stuff on top of the ground does the trick for me. I use hay in my garden and I've recently started getting wood chips for free for the rest. Probably not great barefoot though, the wood chips. Though considering the only plant that really likes it here is russian thistle, the wood chips feel just fine.
 
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My aunt used to rake up the walnut leaves under her trees and put them on her garden paths to keep them weed free. They took much longer than other leaves to decompose, too.
 
tony elder
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:We started a path with Irish moss, it is wear resistant and is extremely soft under bare feet, plus it looks grand as a garden path.
We might even start using it in other places too, currently we are letting it grow for harvesting to use elsewhere around the house site.
It is a bit expensive but I like mosses and have always started a moss bed where ever I have lived since I was a child. Usually they aren't big, just large enough to lay down on.
This is my first time to use a specific moss for what it is traditionally used for.



I have a great deal of respect for your knowledge and experience. So, please I am not challenging to any of that. It is a request for information - so I can understand.

Each spring, parts of our "yard" will have a fairly healthy growth of moss. I assume it is native to our area, because it was not planted - at least not in the past 30 years that family has lived here. I don't know what kind it is specifically, but it is definitely moss. But that growth has usually gone dormant by summer - and we are left with brown patches of moss until the next spring.

I like moss, and thought seriously about encouraging its growth and spread - as much as I could - especially since it was native. I looked into what moss needs to try and keep it healthy year round. The condensed version of what I found says "Moss requires an acidic environment, compact soil, protected sun to semi-shade and consistent moisture."  This information helped me understand why I might be having problems with maintaining a healthy growth year round. 

Acidic soil. No problem.
Compact soil. The soil is farily compacted where it is growing. But this raises a concern for trying to get it to grow in other areas (like a pathway).
Protected sun to semi-shade. Protected sun would be the best description for where it is growing now, but this need would be an issue where I would like to have it growing.
Consistent moisture. This is a problem and probably the biggest reason it goes dormant by summer. The heat and sun will dry out the soil in this part of the yard.

And my personal observations: The moss we have is fairly resilient in the spring, but still has trouble dealing with constant traffic or heavy traffic (wheelbarrel). Our moss doesn't have a deep root system, so when the soil is soft or damp, it isn't able to hold or "contain" the shallow moss root system when it is disturbed enough. The moss becomes detached from the soil and sits on top of mud. And I feel that these areas become even more vulnerable to being compromised when the moss goes dormant.

Now, to the specifics of using it along our garden paths. I think that the soil conditions in a garden path would be even less supportive - for all the obvious reasons. It seems that levels of sunlight, consistent mositure, and heavier traffic would all make if very difficult for moss to become established, grow healthy and be stable.

This was the biggest reason I decided to sow micro-clover instead of moss. The micro-clover is doing OK, and I'm hoping that a second sowing this spring will help it get established as a lawn grass and replace what we have now. That would eventually include our garden paths.

What (if anything) have you done to "fix" these problems?  ...or do you even have these problems with the variety of moss you are using?   ...or better yet, is there something I can do to prevent these problems with growing our moss?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Tony.

First off, mosses are not suitable for every path type so there will be many paths that I would use micro clover or wood chips.
In fact wood chips or straw are our vegetable garden path materials since they are more durable and easy to replace as they wear into the soil beneath the covering.
The reason I started this Irish Moss experimental area was because we are building a flower/berry area that goes down our south facing slope (29%grade) in terraces with a single winding pathway for foot traffic.
Irish Moss is far hardier than US mosses, it has a deeper root system and can be started in slightly acidic soils (this moss will acidify the soil some as it grows), it also is fairly durable under foot.
There is also a Scottish Moss that has similar characteristics but the look is not as fine since it has more defined "heads".

I love the use of micro clover for paths but it too will not stand up well to things like wheelbarrows, I haven't found many plants that will stand up to that type of "traffic".

I think the thing to do is use that pathway covering that works best for each situation.
If you are talking vegetable garden paths, then you need something that wheeled things like wheel barrows, push carts and so on won't destroy within a years worth of use.
We still have a few of this variety of path that are grass, but that means we have to mow them, they will be going away by laying down straw to about 4" thick and the traffic will tamp that down.
The winding path, since it isn't designed for anything but human or dog feet, is our only space that the moss works well for now. I hope to make a few walking paths to "contemplation stone seats" in the next couple of years, time will tell on that part of my want list.

The paths where we regularly use carts, barrows, two wheelers, are wood chips that I make from tree thinning for silvo pasture, this means the woods are; hickory, ash and beech, with some junk trees included.
These chips tend to break down over a two year period and that means that I get to make more chips and spread them over the paths as a top dressing layer.


Now to your moss issues.
US mosses tend to grow well in two types of soil, compacted or not compacted, if they start growing in not compacted soil and that soil becomes compacted, the moss will diminish but then will make a come back as the roots adapt.
Scuffing your feet over US mosses will result I tearing it up as the roots are sheared from the forces that your feet apply, to repair such a tear, you just press it back into place and add a little water.
Since these mosses have a shallow root system, they are best used for things like foot traffic only spaces or for sit down contemplation (meditation) areas that are going to see lots of shade or dappled shade, especially in the hot, dry times of year.
I have seen mosses growing in soils as acidic as 2.5 pH(these tend to have an orange color and they are brittle) the best pH range for great moss growth seems to be 4.5 - 6.0.

I have some little areas in our woods where this sort of moss grows, on rocks, up tree trunks and such similar spaces, all see more shade than sun over a day period.
I have a couple of areas where I planted different clovers as ground covering and these attract lots of bunnies and bees, butterflies, humming bird moths and other pollinators.
I only planted these spaces one time, now they regenerate on their own or they go away.

I think you have expressed a really good plan for your pathways, and I am sure the micro clovers will do very well for your needs. (I'm going to see about getting some of that seed and giving it a trial on two of our paths, I think it will work better there than the chips we have now, thanks for the idea).

Redhawk
 
tony elder
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With my respect...  pilámaya

 
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