Sep 232011
A thick ground cover keeps the weeds out

Dragon's Blood Sedum makes a thick ground cover to keep weeds out (click to enlarge)

In this post I want to address the issue of weed barriers.  Most garden supply stores will sell rolls of weed cloth made from polyethylene. It may have holes to allow water and air through it, but it is not biodegradable and will not break down.  It will break up, however, leaving you with lots of torn pieces of useless plastic in your yard.  It keeps the weeds down for a short while, but soon, the mulch you’ve put down to cover it, will turn to soil and weed seeds will blow in and grow on top of the plastic.

(Two exceptions: Gardener’s Supply sells Biodegradeable Sheeting. icon Amazon sells a biodegradable paper mulch too. )

When planting an area that you don’t want weeds in, think of planting a ground cover that grows thickly and will make what we call a living mulch. The more your soil is covered the less trouble you’ll have with weeds. In the short period of time it takes for the plants to fill in, you will probably have to do some weeding by hand. Over time this will soon drop to almost zero weeding.

The plant in the photo at the top of the post, is a very low growing ground cover in the Sedum family.  It will grow thickly, need little care and prevent weeds from sprouting. Another type of ground cover is a low growing herbaceous shrub like the Ceonothus griseus, pictured below.  One plant can spread to 8 – 10 feet in diameter.  It needs little water, and grows to about 2′ high. You can see how dense it is.  No weed barrier, no weeds, just a very nice planting.

Ceanothus griseus - thick ground cover

This creeping Ceanothus grows quickly and thickly


The weed barriers that I like to use the most are cardboard, old sheets, towels and blankets and even old rugs. Most people are shocked when I tell them my paths are covered in old sheets.  These materials definitely keep the weeds from growing, but they are also biodegradable and will eventually go back into the soil. This means they don’t last forever, but they’re free, garden worthy and will improve your garden, not harm it.

Sheets and towels under path keep the weeds from growing

Path with chips, covering the weed barrier made of old sheets

In paths I peg the material down on the leveled path and then cover it with chips.You can see in the picture on the left that the casual path can look very nice with free chips that one can get from your local tree trimmer.

When deciding which weed barrier to use, always ask yourself what the long term effects will be. Which is the best for the garden, the planet, and your pocket book. In the case of old cotton sheets and chips, it’s a win – win situation for you and your edible landscape.


P.S. If you prefer to use custom made fabrics for your sheet mulching, Amazon and Gardeners Supply
icon sell some good products. Both of these links I’ve provided will take you directly to fabrics for sheet mulching.

Sep 022011
Beautiful Paths
Beautiful Paths

Path into the Garden

Walking up the brick path to the front door, you can see a well defined path on the left leading through an open wire fence.  It just makes you want to go there.  This path is made of decomposed granite, also known as DG. It is easy to lay down, and weed resistant.  In this case we added a stabilizer to the granite to make it even more sturdy.

In the picture below you can see how we leveled the area and put a weed barrier down first. We did the same treatment for both DG and Redwood Bark paths.

Construction of a path

Laying weed barrier on path below your final material

The path leading into the garden, is more informal and we used Redwood Bark.  It looks like it belongs in the garden, but still leads you through easily and safely.  The curve of the path adds design interest and takes you up the hill with fewer steps.

The Redwood Bark Path

The informal bark path is still easy to walk on

Paths do much more than take you somewhere.  A path to the front door should also welcome you and be safe and clearly defined.  A front door gets lots of traffic, from toddlers to the elderly, who may be using canes or walkers.

You want the front entrance to be clearly identified, stable, with no tripping spots and well lit.

Welcoming entry

A well laid, flagstone path, sturdy yet still informal

Although this path is flagstone, it used large stones, is laid very flat and is clearly defined.  It makes a very welcoming entrance.

Paths in the garden not only allow you access to the plants to maintain the beds, but prevent compaction and erosion.  Plants need oxygen and water and aerated soil for their roots to grow.  Each time you step on the soil you compact it more.  After even only a few times, you will find that water doesn’t enter easily, the soil becomes hard and plants won’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need.

Here are examples of simple, easy paths to put in your garden.

stepping stones

Stepping stones in the garden prevent compaction

A very easy and simple path

Free chips laid on a path work well too

In the picture above, you can see small stepping stones in the bed on the left.  They are there to walk through the strawberry bed without compacting the soil.

Under the chips in this garden, we laid old sheets and towels to keep the weeds down. I really don’t like using plastic in the garden. Cotton is an organic material that lets water through, keeps the weeds from growing and will eventually break down into soil. Plastic weed barriers just break up into little pieces of plastic that will be there for the next thousand of years.   Think twice before using plastic in the garden.

Another example of a beautiful stone stepping path.  Easy to lay and beautiful to look at.

Slate stone entry and stepping stones to the back yard

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