You'll find bags of mulch at home centers, but for the best selection of organic materials for a path, check your local nursery or landscape supplier. Depending on how big your path is, it may be cheaper to have bulk material delivered than to buy bags. Plan on a 3-in.-deep layer of mulch about 3 ft. wide as an alternative to grass. Call the public works department at your city hall or check with local tree trimming services. They often have piles of wood chips or mulch that are free for the hauling.
Gravel for paths is sold by type and size. Smaller stones, averaging under 1/2 in., are best for paths because they offer more comfort underfoot and pack together better. Visit your local nursery or landscape supply specialist to see what's available in your area. Gravel is usually sold by the ton. Measure the length and width of the path. Take these measurements to the supplier and ask for help to figure out the quantity of gravel you need. Unless your path is very short, it usually makes sense to have the material delivered. Gravel for a path 3 in. deep and 3 ft. wide will cost about the same as mulch.
Gravel paths do have a few limitations, though. The stones can get tracked into the house, so don't use them near entries. And gravel paths are a bad choice in areas where you have to shovel snow off them. The gravel can end up in your lawn or flower beds.
Tips for Building Mulch and Gravel Paths
- Rent a gas-powered sod cutter to remove grass if the path is long. For short paths, use a garden spade to slice off the sod.
- Set edging so it ends up about an inch above the fill material.
- Use a spacer stick cut to the width of the garden path as a guide when you set the edging or border. You won't have to keep pulling out the tape measure to make sure the edges run parallel.
- Cover the soil with landscape fabric to deter weeds and prevent the fill material from mixing with the soil. Don't use plastic. It'll catch water and create a soggy path.
- Have gravel delivered, especially if you need more than a half ton.
- If you want a path that's firm enough to roll a wheelbarrow on, use crushed stone and tamp it after leveling it. (Pea rock or other rounded stone won't compact.) Use a hand tamper for short paths. Rent a vibrating-plate tamper for long paths.