Making Paths

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by Tasman, Jan 15, 2015.

  1. Tasman

    Tasman Junior Member

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    Hi All,

    We have a couple of acres of land planned for house, vege garden, orchard and food forest. We have a rough layout. We've put in a bunch of trees and a small vege garden. Soil is clay soil. Slope is mild to moderate. Grass is growing like crazy and we have started to kill it near the inner zone and plan to work our way out.

    We have always just drawn paths. Now we want to make them and I'm wondering whats the best practice to make and maintain them. We've never done anything like this before.

    Site resources are:
    Some large gum trees. Lots of limbs fall. I have cut some of them up with my chainsaw and find that the medium size branches make good borders for bed and path borders. Food forest instructor recommended them because of insect population they will support thus increasing diversity).
    Rocks. We have lots of rocks. Some people have told me that they are not so good for borders because grass will grow up around them and be hard to get rid of (but I'm not sure I see logs as any different in that regard).
    Clay. Don't have to dig far for this. And since we've been building a house we've got quite a bit exposed.
    Chipper/mulcher. We're thinking to get a heavy duty petrol powered mulcher. I haven't looked into it in detail, but I'm thinking that it could probably chip smallish limbs.

    Our idea is:
    dig out grass and topsoil. Put in some clay and then cover with woodchips. Border with tree limbs. Our idea is to make it with lots of keyholes to the side so we can get at gardens and trees and increase edge. I want to get some kind of animal (rabbit) in a cage to drop on places where things start growing, but this needs more investigation. I'm thinking to make some little drains to run water off down the hill and direct it to nearby structures (trees, garden beds, mini swale, bird/insect drinking station.

    I'd love to hear the advice of others on some kind of system for making and maintaining paths.

    cheers,
    tas

    PS> I hope this is in the right place. Seems like a kind of garden/growing question, though only obliquely.
     
  2. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    we have a ton of paths here lined with rocks on the sides. i am not a fan of dead path space and would much prefer a chop and drop path instead that can be left alone if it isn't needed for any other reason. planted with a mix of species it can be a welcome addition. use it as a low spot or a drainage path if needed.

    having a lot of garden beds (some raised) here separated by pathways and edges i am consolidating as many as i can when i have to redo an area. it is much less work to maintain fewer edges.

    to keep weeds and grasses out of rocks we use a weed barrier fabric and a layer of crushed rocks underneath the larger rocks. the ants here find any rocks at ground level as a great place to raise youngsters and while i don't mind ants myself i don't like that the rocks keep sinking as the worms and ants tunnel around them. by using a layer of crushed rock to perch the larger rocks on top of then it helps slow down that proccess (freeze/thaw cycles move things around too over the years).

    we have a lot of crushed limestone used as mulch in areas. once every ten years or so some areas get weedy from blown in dirt being enough to start sprouting seeds. so to clean the area i lift and rinse the dirt out and then replace the limestone. the deeper the better as then any seeds which fall on it have a harder time germinating (if they fall down in then they don't get enough light, if they stay up towards the top they don't stay wet long enough). that doesn't mean it keeps all seeds from sprouting, but it reduces the numbers by a great deal. our biggest problem species for seeding into the limestone is the decorative morning glories. other species which we don't mind seeding into the limestone are the lavenders and the delphiniums. both which come up easily enough from the gravel and can be replanted where extras are needed (or given away : ) ).

    wood chips are ok in some areas as pathway materials, but it does break down and go away and you want to make sure any barrier fabric underneath is kept well covered away from the sun's UV rays. every hole becomes a weed magnet. edges should be down 20-40cm depending upon your weed/grass species you are trying to exclude from under the pathway. it's a lot of work to do a weed free pathway. that is why i consider them a waste of time and prefer greener approaches that don't need so much maintenance or upkeep.
     
  3. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    It takes a LOT of wood chips to suppress weeds, and I haven't ever really been able to do it, even with redwood chips, which have growth suppressants in them. And once the chips are down, you'd have to keep the mower kind of high to skim off weeds, but they would probably just grow back as long as there is rain.

    I bought a chipper/shredder and the noise it makes is so irritating after even 30 minutes I get really grumpy, the neighbors get really grumpy, plus you need ear protection, and I've heard of a lot of eye injuries with them. Now I use my chipper-shredder top piece to mark a valve intersection so it won't get lost in the spring grass. Maintaining small engines I think is a real drag. There are a couple of them I will maintain, but pretty soon it seems like every freakin' thing has an engine to maintain. Most of it just isn't worth it, IMHO.

    My best paths are the ones I can mow and harvest compost makings from. I have some that are clover, some are a nice little native called bird's foot trefoil, which can be walked on. the rest are annual native grass, except timothy. That stuff is a mounded clump that can trip you and stall out the mower. I don't do perennial grasses because they can invade the beds next to them, and I want them to disappear in the winter, so if they don't work I can put something else.

    Once it stops raining here, in the mid summer, the grasses die and the paths don't require any maintaining, but for good looks, dead pine needles look nice.

    If there is a particularly wet spot I toss in 1.5"/ approx 3 centimeters rock that sinks at first, but after a few layers it stays on top.
     
  4. Tasman

    Tasman Junior Member

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    Thank you for your replies. It looks like you are both advocating simpler mowed pathways.

    It seems at this stage that grass is the enemy. Its everywhere. I'm sure its retarding the growth of our orchard trees.

    Perhaps this belongs in the next update about our property:
    We have put in quite a lot of fruit trees and a small temporary vege garden. We'll start the main vege garden soon when the house construction is finished and the site is freed up. We didn't realize how much grass would grow under the fruit trees or in the vege garden. We've started putting down cardboard and compost then planting things into that and mulching with straw. Under the orchard we are planting herbs that we hope will exclude much of the grass.

    In our plan we start in the middle and work our way out expanding a grass free frontier as we go. We fear if we leave the paths then then the grass will have a beachhead behind the front lines from which to reinvade our garden. So wherever there will be a path we have put down plastic to kill the grass.

    I was imagining that we'll need a chipper anyway to grind up inputs to the compost pile (eg: fruit tree pruning)

    We are inexperienced so we appreciate the advice.

    cheers,
    tas
     
  5. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    You can mulch pathways. I've got some here and some at the other place.

    Yes, it takes a lot of mulch to kill grass outright. I'd put the mower on low, or the whippersnipper to scalp and cut it. Then cardboard or newspaper and a healthy amount of woodchip, at least 10-30cm thick.

    I wouldn't buy a small chipper, they are crap. I'd hire a commercial chipper on an hourly rate and line all your trees, logs, branches in the same direction and get them chipped in one go. Even if it takes a month to line it all up. Start at the back of the line and lay your first branches down with the butts facing the start end, then the next branches lay on top of them and then the next branches lay on top of them. The chipper truck drives to the start and chips and then backs up along the windrow with the guys chipping all the time. Super-fast and super-efficient if you have a good crew.

    Grass sucks. Try living in a tropical area when it's raining in Summer. Beds that didn't have any grass in Spring will now have Setaria in them 8 foot high. You honestly can't turn your back on it. What I've learnt without animals or excessive digging, is just concentrate on smaller areas and get a good living mulch established, watch/weed it for new grass and then move on to the next area.
     
  6. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    it depends upon grass species involved, but if you have the kinds which send stolons or roots out sideways then it becomes important to put down a barrier along the edges of the pathway to keep the grass from sending roots/stolons under the pathway lining, because if there is even a tiny hole it will find it and get through. we've used a few layers of thick black plastic down 30-40cm for our grass species that we want to keep isolated by a pathway. this keeps the worst out of the path, but you may still have to spot weed from any surface seeds that get blown in or moved in by animals.

    i certainly understand about not liking the noise of machinery, we are almost done with making all lawn/grassy areas into gardens. i hope some day we'll be done with mowing. the hedge trimmers we have work for cutting back taller growth in spots if we do need that sort of effect, but i much prefer to let things grow and flower. the bees are all over the place here. we're probably the only place around that has much for early spring flowers or for variety.

    birdsfoot trefoil is a wonderful plant, yet some varieties are larger and will spread to cover a path. i know this because i have to knock them back each year from some edges or we'd never have those pathways. also, they give off so many seeds that once they do start spreading they can be hard to control. frequent chopping keeps them growing lower to the ground and they make a beautiful lawn plant with the golden flowers, but once it's in it can be very hard to remove so plant with care. : )
     
  7. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Oops, I put this link in the wrong place. Here are some nice paths that use sunken stepping stones you can mow over, like the moss and stone path,

    https://blog.builddirect.com/cool-gar...e-beaten-path/

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    As for the fruit tree grass suppression, Tasman, yes, they can be really persistent. I have 80 fruit trees, and a ton of grass. I use really, really deep mulch of mowed weeds and straw chunks if I have them. As deep as a shovel blade, and maintain it at that level. My clay soil absorbed and absorbed and absorbed these thick layers of organic mulch for about a year and a half before it started staying on top. But it works great now, even with the voracity of spring growth. I put it thickly all the way out to the dripline of the branches, then mow beyond that point, sometimes twice a week in the spring.

    Be careful about putting the thick mulch too close to the trunks of the trees because it can hold too much moisture there, and cause rot. Also, mice will chew on the trunks if they are protected under the mulch, so leave some space that you can hand-pull weeds/grass, which obviously come out more easily when they are small and the soil is wet. It's also best to have planted the fruit trees with the graft facing the sun all day, south in the northern hemisphere or north in the southern hemisphere, which helps keep it from rotting. and obviously that graft should be a hand's length above the soil.

    I even walk on my thick mulch to be sure it compresses and doesn't let light through, but it's so thick it doesn't compress the soil.

    By "straw chunks" I mean when I pull apart a square straw bale there are compacted chunks about a finger wide that I just put down as it. Fluffing it lets light through, and that doesn't help.
     
  8. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    And bird's foot trefoil fixes nitrogen and has those lovely scented yellow flowers. I a really moist area I've had it grow upwards, but I am always glad to see it, and it returns year after year. :)
     
  9. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    Great advice has been given by others already.

    Since you say you are wanting to define the paths, the log method is actually really wonderful for edges IMO it defines and rots to improve soil beneath as well as bringing in fungi and beneficial bugs it can also keep termites away from your structures.

    I use Irish and Scottish moss for long term pathways, they are durable under foot, spread to cover the defined area (fairly slow spreading which makes it easy to keep under control) and easy to edge with a spade. You can take those cuttings and put them into another path. My paths to our "wild" areas are all scarlet clover and we have evidence that the deer like to use these paths and stay away from the moss paths, probably because they can browse the clover as they head to where ever they are going.

    Now for your fruit trees grass problem.
    What I do is lay down landscape cloth then cardboard over that, so that it covers out 3-4 feet from the trunk, I then lay my mulch (really just unfinished compost) to 5" (36 cm) thick and I like to use rocks or wood logs as containment for the mulch.
    I add new mulch every spring and fall to keep this layer thick enough. The beauty of this method is that it also provides slow release of nutrients to the fruit tree roots while keeping the grass at bay.
     

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