Affordable Garden Path Ideas
Paths you can build in a weekend without breaking the bank or your back.
Affordable Garden Path Ideas
Required Tools for this Project
- Drywall saw
- Garden rake
You’ll also need a garden trowel and gloves, a dolly for heavy flagstones and a tamper.
Mulch and gravel paths can be meandering, wood chip–covered trails or carefully planned designs, and they range from casual to formal depending on the design and edging material. You can choose from a wide variety of loose materials including coarse bark, decorative mulch, washed stones and crushed gravel or shells.
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.
Borders and Edging
- Plastic landscape edging is cheap. And it’s fast and easy to install. If you object to the look of the rounded top edge, hide it with a border of plants.
- Steel or aluminum edging forms a crisp edge that gives the path a neat appearance. It costs more than plastic, though, and is less forgiving on sloped terrain.
- Brick and stone borders are attractive and versatile, but they’re more expensive and a lot more work to install.
- Concrete edging is less expensive than brick or stone but has the same advantages. Newer types that look like random pieces of tumbled stone are a great lower-cost alternative to a real stone border.
- Landscape timbers are an economical alternative to stone or brick borders. They’re especially useful for building shallow steps on gradually sloping terrain.
You can also make attractive stepping-stone paths using 12-in. square or round concrete patio blocks. These are available in a wide selection of colors and textures from home centers, landscape suppliers and masonry dealers. Search online for “patio blocks” to see the variety.
Tips for Building a Stepping-Stone Path
- Arrange stones so the distance from the center of one to the center of the next one is 20 to 24 in.
- Set the stones in place and cut around them with a spade or rock saw. Then lift the stone and dig out the grass and a little soil.
- Spread a 1/2- to 1-in.-thick layer of sand under the stone if you want to make leveling the stones easier. Sand is easier to work with than soil. A 60-lb. bag of sand is enough for about four to six stones.
- Set the top of the stepping-stones about 1 in. above the soil level. This will give you a dry place to step while still allowing you to run a lawn mower over the path.
There are quite a few perennial plants that can withstand foot traffic and will grow between stones. Check with your local nursery to see what’s available that will grow in your area. Here are some ground cover plants that can tolerate some foot traffic: Creeping Thyme, Blue Star Creeper, Brass Buttons, Creeping Mazus and Sedum.
Tips for Building a Planted Path
- Arrange the stones along the walkway, leaving at least 4 in. between them for plants. Then cut along the edge of the stones with a flat spade to outline the path.
- Slice off a layer of sod and soil about 1-1/2 in. deep.
- Spread a 1/2-in. layer of sand. This will allow the stones to settle in slightly and keep them from rocking.
- Choose plants that will stand up to traffic and grow in the available light and soil type.
- Water the new plants frequently for the first few months until the plants are well-established.
- Pull weeds and grass from between the stones every few weeks to prevent them from overrunning the plants.