COVERING GROUND: Walks and Paths
Martha Maletta, Hunterdon County Home Horticulturist
July 2001

Walks and paths in the home landscape provide access to somewhere - doorway, utility area, yard, garden, pool. They also help direct foot traffic ... if they are placed right. They can be of various sizes and configurations and be 'paved' with many different materials. Decisions about where a walk or path should be built, what size and shape it should be and what it will be made of depend on the intended use.

Primary walks - most typically those leading to the main entrance of the home - will be largest and most permanently constructed. These walks should be a minimum 4 fee wide - 5 feet is better. At this width, two people can walk comfortably side-by-side and the walk will be in scale with the building. Primary walks should also run straight from point to point unless there is a good reason for it to curve. A wiggly walk cutting across a wide open lawn conflicts with our "instinct" to take the most direct route to our destination. Primary walks will usually be constructed for long life and frequent use. Concrete, brick, flagstone, manufactured pavers are common materials. Construction considerations are beyond the scope of this article; professional installation is probably warranted.

Secondary walks - those leading to utility areas, secondary entrances and other such locations that are used regularly should be at least 2 and 1/2 to 3 feet wide and will usually be constructed of the materials mentioned above. In addition, gravel or stepping stones may be suitable. Installation of a permanent gravel walks requires some of the same preparation as concrete, brick and stone. Stepping stones can be set in turf (thought regular trimming will e needed), or in gravel or wood or bark mulch. Placing them on a 3 inch bed of sand will make leveling easier. The stepping stones should have at least one smooth surface, be about 1 and 1/2 fee in diameter or width and be set with centers about 24 inches apart for comfortable stepping.

A path should blend into its setting, so choice of material will depend on where it is located. For a formal herb garden, brick atomically comes to mind. For a wood path, bark or chip mulch is natural, though it will need to be renewed periodically. Stepping stones might be set into mulch for a more solid footing, especially if drainage is not the best. Gravel (1/2 to 1 inch thick) may suit some locations, a poolside garden, for example. Grass paths may be a good choice for larger garden beds, but mowing and edging will be an ongoing chore.

A few additional tips, whether for walks or paths, lay out curves, by using a garden hose or heavy rope. In choosing materials, consider need for snow removal, degree of permanence desired and, of course, cost. Secure and even footing may be especially import for older members of the family or frequent visitors. Gravel may be a tempting "toy" for youngsters. Gravel, brick and stone walks and paths may eventually sprout weeds, depending on how they are installed. Steps are usually a good idea if a walk or path crosses an area with slops greater than 10% (10 foot change in elevation of 100 foot length).