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How to construct woodchip garden paths using a weed suppressant layer and woodchips. An easy, quick, and inexpensive garden path solution that keeps weeds down between garden beds.
Years ago I watched as a fellow gardener laid down wood chip garden paths between their raised beds. I thought at the time that they looked nice but that they could interfere with the soil and the garden beds. Years passed and not only did the paths keep the plot tidy, but the raised beds and crops also didn’t suffer at all. On the contrary, they thrived. I took the plunge then myself and learned that wood chip garden paths are effective, easy to make, inexpensive, and look great!
If you’re looking for a great way to keep weeds down in your garden paths without spending a fortune, feel free to use the following tips. They cover how to create wood chip garden paths, the pros and cons of them, and where to source wood chips. If you’re all about working smarter rather than harder then this a great solution for your vegetable garden!
Pros of Wood Chip Garden Paths
- They keep weeds down in your garden paths
- No grass means no extra time mowing
- Raised beds are infamous for drying out quicker than the soil around them. Wood chip paths help keep moisture in the soil underneath and so stop it from wicking as much water from the beds.
- They will not strip nitrogen from your garden soil
- Soil life underneath the wood chips isn’t affected
- They’re easy and inexpensive to put in
- They look attractive
Cons of Wood Chip Garden Paths
- Fungi will colonize the wood so you’ll likely get mushrooms over time. Not a big deal in my opinion.
- Within a couple of years the wood chips will break down into humus. If you do nothing, they can get muddy
- As more of the wood chips become humus, plants can start growing in the paths. A fresh layer of wood chips stops this though.
Creating your paths
It’s really very easy to create your pathways. If you have an established garden just mow and/or weed your paths between. Try to remove as many stones and any perennial weeds that you find growing at the edges. If you’re working from a blank slate, measure your beds and pathways out first. The paths should be a minimum of 18″ wide to accommodate a wheelbarrow.
Next, lay down a weed suppressant material. Many people use cardboard, but it breaks down in a matter of weeks so I prefer using landscaping fabric (more on that below). Whatever you do, avoid plastic. I had a bit of leftover plastic sheeting and tried using it at first. Just imagine a hidden ‘slip and slide’ running right across your garden. No photos or video exists of that experience thank goodness!
After your weed suppressant material is down you can bring in your wood chips and lay them down at least an inch thick. I use two methods to get them down. The easiest way is to dump small piles of them along the length of the path and then spread them out. For more accurate covering, I throw handfuls of wood chips where they need to go. For my entire garden, it took three hours to spread the fabric and to cover it with wood chips. If you use stones or anything to weigh the material down, remove them as you work.
Cardboard vs Landscaping Fabric
Many people choose to use cardboard as their weed suppressant material since it’s natural, free, and breaks down over time. If you’re planning on covering a relatively clear area with a wood chip path then it might be the way to go. However, my garden paths already had a lot of perennial weeds — dock and dandelions for two. These are plants that I’ve seen growing right up and through piles of woodchip three feet high! They’d also go right through cardboard so I prefer using landscaping fabric.
There are two main types of landscaping fabric that you can use these days: natural and synthetic. Natural landscaping fabric is made from cornstarch and breaks down into the soil after three to five years. That makes them an excellent choice for permanent wood chip paths. After three years, any weed plants will have died under the layer and the material is completely gone.
I’ve used synthetic landscaping fabric for years and have made a little discovery about using it. After woodchip paths break down into compost, I can use that compost to mulch my beds. And if you lay synthetic landscaping fabric down so that it’s easy to lift again, then the wood-chip-compost is easy to lift up with it. It pulls up like a dream as you can see here. Then you can lay it back down on the ground and add fresh wood chips for brand new woodchip paths.
I’ve had someone ask if landscaping fabric stops or kills worms in the soil underneath. It doesn’t, and with it being water-permeable the soil underneath is plenty moist for them. Even moister than if there were nothing on top of the soil.
Wood Chip Paths Aftercare
Wood chip paths need topping up with fresh wood chips every year. All you need to do is remove any plants growing in the woodchip (such as rampant strawberry runners) and spread one to two inches of fresh woodchip on top. They’re as good as new afterward and the fresh woodchip will deter plants and seeds from growing.
After having your woodchip paths down for three years, most of what’s just under the surface will have broken down into compost. Good compost that you can put on your garden beds. When you do this, it’s best to skim most of the fresher wood chip off then you can dig up what’s left and pile it on your garden beds about an inch thick as that season’s mulch. You can plant directly into it or move it aside and plant into the soil or older compost below.
As for whether or not this broken-down woodchip is good for plants, let the weeds growing it in on your pathways educate you. If you leave woodchip paths for a couple of years without topping up, your paths will become weedy thanks to the compost the material has become.
Where to Source Wood Chips
The best place to get wood chips is from local tree surgeons. Wood chip is a waste product for them and they’ll likely bring you as much as you need for free! Or at least inexpensively. I found this gem of a tip out from a friend who works in garden maintenance. On speaking with his contact I asked if he had wood chips available (yes) and how much it cost (nothing). Within a week we had a large truckload delivered and ready to use.
The wood chips in my garden are a mixture of softwood and hardwood. Basically whatever trees the tree surgeon had been working on at that time. You should make sure that none of the wood chip is from black walnut trees though — it contains compounds that will kill other plants. Wood chips in the winter will also have less green material and will be much better for pathways. Leafy greens break down quickly into a material that weed seeds can easily root in.
Inexpensive, Effective, & Attractive
Wood chip garden paths look great, feel good to walk on, and keep weeds down for years. I highly recommend them to anyone who’ll have a listen. Watch the video below to understand more about my paths and to see how I topped up the woodchips on my paths this year. You’ll also see the full effect that they give my garden. Oh, and make sure to subscribe to Lovely Greens on YouTube — I produce weekly gardening videos that I’m sure you’ll find helpful.
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