I think marketers of landscape fabric have convinced everyone to believe that the act of purchasing and putting landscape fabric down in flower beds, around foundation plantings, and as an underlayment for garden paths, will stop weeds and that it will also keep pea gravel from getting smushed into the earth due to foot traffic.
I made pea gravel pathways in my garden long before I began a landscape business. I thought it would be easy, no or low maintenance, and cost effective. I lived with those paths for almost 20 years and observed a lot of things.
Before we get started, I need to tell you that landscape fabric is the worst thing you can do to flower beds and around your foundation plantings, you can read more about landscape fabric in flower beds in a previous post.
The first thing you will need to decide is if putting landscape fabric down for your pathway is a good idea. My experiences as an avid gardener and landscaper on the topic are… it is only a good idea under a few circumstances.
Problems With Using Landscape Fabric for Pathways
Do keep in mind that your path will probably look fantastic for the first week and might even remain problem-free for a few months, so do not let that fool you. That same path will begin to need maintenance after the first year. In subsequent years it will need even more maintenance. Expect that within 4-5 years it is going to look pretty shabby unless you do continual maintenance.
12 Problems with Landscape fabric for Pathways
- It is expensive; no matter if it’s the plastic type or spun fabric type
- Ground moves, gets mushy in heavy rains, heaves and thaws, which means your landscape fabric will move and bunch = it will stick up and bunch-up
- Curves or bends are weak points where the landscape fabric will separate over time
- Burrowing rodents will tunnel underneath (which causes changes in the ground and causes movement) and they will chew holes if the landscape fabric is located in a spot where they want to have an entry to their tunnel
- If you cut and piece together when you come to a bend or a curve, even with a 6″ overlap, the cut ends it will separate = it will stick up and your pea gravel will go into the dirt
- It looks terrible when your landscape fabric bunches-up or sticks up in your pathway
- To keep your pathway looking nice you will have to perform maintenance several times a year after your first year of laying it, as the years progress it will require even more in maintenance
- Having any type of landscape fabric covering the ground for any length of time does a funky thing to happen to the soil beneath; I’m sure there is a name for it that which I am not aware of, but what happens is the ground gets compressed in a strange way and dents in an odd way (some of which is caused by moles and voles) – if you have a flagstone stepping stone in your yard that hasn’t been moved in years, lift it up and you will see what I mean
- If your soil holds any moisture after a rain your path will be mushy and this will cause the landscape fabric to slide and bunch sooner, putting a pathway over a moist area is equally a bad idea
- Landscape fabric does not breathe nearly as well as you think, or were told, it would – in a moist area it will quickly start getting that funky swampy smell due to the standing water (and it does not take much water for this to occur)
- Unless you have some type of solid edging, your pea gravel will shift off either side and into your flower beds
- It does not matter if you are using pea gravel, bark mulch or wood chips, the landscape fabric poses all of the same problems listed above
I spent nearly 20 years pulling weeds out of my landscape lined pea gravel pathways! Many of those weeds were strong enough to poke holes and grow through the landscape fabrics soon as 3 years after building the pathways! Pulling weeds monthly for 17 years of my life went into maintenance! Don’t use landscape fabric for pathways in your yard… well, unless you want to spent a lot of time doing maintenance instead of other things.
This pathway once had landscape fabric under the wood chip mulch. After having rodents chewing and making holes in it for weeds to grow, it shifting and bunching up, and weeds growing both ‘on top’ and ‘under’ the landscape fabric, I finally removed it, all of it!
Who would have thought that simply removing the landscape fabric would put things into a lower maintenance!? Live and learn!
I also found that my mulch stopped slipping off of the landscape fabric in the areas where it was just a pinch steep (slipping mulch occurred mostly when there were heavy rains), no landscape fabric = no slipping mulch and unsightly bare spots!
However, I would apply a fresh topping of wood chip mulch every 3 years to keep it looking nice, which was far less maintenance than with the landscape fabric underneath. But this was not as low-maintenance as most gardeners would like.
In this garden, that I did for a client on the narrow side of her house, I did lay landscape fabric down before applying 6 inches of riverstone and setting flagstone on top of the river stone.
This worked well because the landscape fabric was 6″ down -plus- there was a French Drain below the pathway and garden bed (on the left side).
In this type of situation landscape fabric did work and it worked well, it never needed weeding and it never bunched, never shifted nor did rodents chew it up. But, it was a lot expense in riverstone, thankfully the distance was short. If the distance had been longer and wider, I would have used the solution below…
The Solution: Instead of Using Landscape Fabric for Pathways
After living for nearly 20 years with landscape + pea gravel pathways and spending a lot of time, energy and money on maintaining those paths I learned how to do it better. Live and learn, right!?
Here is my first recommendation:
- Do not use landscape fabric at all, for anything ever in the landscape!
What I do instead and what I recommend:
- Road Base Gravel instead of the landscape fabric! And, it is cheap!!!
What is Road Base Gravel and where do you get it?
Road Base Gravel is a mixture of small to super-small pieces of crushed up gravel. It is the mixture of various sized small pieces that makes it tamp together nicely, and stay in place.
I first learned about Road Base Gravel the same year I put landscape fabric down to make pea gravel pathways in my garden. I lived on a dirt road and there were some terrible potholes. I saw the township out there filling in the potholes, I went out to see what they were doing and because it looked like what was being done would be useless, yup, I thought the fine gravel mix they were shoveling into the potholes would surely kick-out after a couple of rain storms. HA!!!
Not only did the Road Base Gravel not come out of those potholes but those potholes never returned!!! It’s all has to do with those different sized pieces, everything form small pea sized to almost powder. The township guy explained that to me and I didn’t believe him… that was 40 years ago and ‘I’ have learned a lot over the years.
I have sense used road base in the landscape for pathways and it is delightful! I highly recommend it instead of landscape fabric. I also like that road base is not a plastic thing nor durable manmade fabric that will end up in a landfill one day!
The only downside to road base has to landscape fabric is that it takes longer to lay it and you need to wheelbarrow it to the location… but the time and money you will spend buying and maintaining landscape fabric makes the choice of going with road base absolutely superior!
Note: Road Base Gravel is not the same type of small stone mix that is used under flagstones or bricks.
How to Apply Road Base for a Garden Pathway
The road base gravel must be laid at 3-4 inches deep.
After it is compressed, rain water will be able to move through it easily and it won’t smell funky!
Now, you have a choice to make, do you like the way your tamped road base looks in your garden?
If, no… then go get some pea gravel and put 2-3 inches over-top of your road base.
That’s it, you are done! The amount of maintenance for years to come will be hardly any –AND– weeds will not grow in your path!
2 Extra Tips on Making a Nice Pathway
It drives me insane to look at and work in is a landscape that has pathways that are narrower than 4 feet wide! Why?
When you are pulling a wagon, garden cart, wheelbarrow, or even carrying large items or arms full of grocery bags, a path less than 5′ wide means you are going to step off the sides and into your garden beds… I hate it when that happens, don’t you?
The optimal path width I found is 6 feet wide. The reason is so that two people can comfortably walk side-by-side and stroll through your lovely garden, this is good Feng Shui.
The other thing that people do is, they make too many sharp curves in both their edging and pathways. Whether it be pathways or flowerbed edges, all curves in the landscape should be more sweeping and graceful. Avoid tight, sharp curves at all costs and your design will look far more attractive and it will have better Feng Shui too!
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When you do make a purchase you are showing me that you support my efforts, time and expenses… I am very grateful to those who have both chosen to come read what I have written, and at times utilize my referral of a service or product that I completely believe in.
Thank you very much!
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