[Community_garden] Mulch vs gravel paths

Diann Dirks didirks at comcast.net
Tue Jun 30 20:54:38 CDT 2009

Dear All,
I have found that about 2" over cardboard suppresses the weeds, is nice to 
walk on, and when it deteriorates by composting, I just add another layer 
over the top of it. Eventually it's this lovely loamy walkway.
Gravel on the other hand doesn't deteriorate. But it will sink in eventually 
and have to have more added to it.
You can put in crushed granite which makes a lovely and neat looking bed 
which hardens.
But I think a mixture of mulch/gravel/granite in different areas also looks 
nice. I think it's what you can get for free because it's better to put the 
money into events, education, infrastructure, outreach, etc.
Diann Dirks
Director, Auburn CG
----- Original Message ----- 
From: <yarrow at sfo.com>
To: "Magali Regis" <fleurdelys at mindspring.com>; 
<community_garden at list.communitygarden.org>
Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 9:47 PM
Subject: Re: [Community_garden] Mulch vs gravel paths

> At 6:17 PM -0400 6/30/09, Magali Regis wrote:
> ...>1.  Mulch vs. gravel path:  We have a lovely community garden on East 
> 6th Street in the East Village in NYC with a gravel path and some of the 
> gardeners would like to see it replaced with mulch (wood chips). I happen 
> to like the gravel path a lot and would be sorry to see it go.  There is 
> something very 'zen' about it.  They say the mulch will be softer, easier 
> to maintain, smell really good etc...It is a lot of work to make that 
> change. I was wondering if you anyone out there has experience with mulch 
> and has an opinion, one way or another, about it? Or if there is any place 
> I could go for advice.  I want to make sure we do the right thing.
> Who will do the work? Mulch is easier to work with than gravel. It does 
> need to be renewed every so often -- I think it's best to replace it 
> totally every 3  years or so, because it creates compost eventually. I use 
> aged path mulch between my plants, or to cover kitchen compost in the bin. 
> Do some gardeners mulch their gardens or make compost? If not, what will 
> happen to the composted mulch when it's time to replace it with new mulch?
> On the other hand, logistics may be easier with gravel. Depending on the 
> size of your garden and paths, a gravel delivery will be smaller than a 
> mulch delivery. So if you don't have space to set aside a big pile of 
> mulch, or people to spread it out immediately, it may be in the way.
> Who will pay for the gravel or mulch? Can you get mulch for free?
> For aesthetics, it's easier to see what's out of place on a gravel path, 
> and probably easier to pick up garbage, if that's a problem. But some 
> gravel paths look better if they're raked. And at least around here, when 
> the mulch gets wet, we get some dog-vomit slime molds (yes, that's the 
> official name) -- though more likely in garden plots, not usually on the 
> paths. Mulch can also be slippery, and if you get free mulch, you never 
> know what you'll get. Lately, we've been getting a lot of twiggy mulch, 
> where every shovelful needs to have the larger, spikier materials sorted 
> out, lest people trip on them in the paths.
> The mulch will smell good only if you get something like pine (the most 
> fragrant we've had), and the smell doesn't last more than a month or so, 
> iirc. Mulch is softer than gravel, but only if you have a really thick 
> layer -- at least 4-6 inches -- and it will get harder within a few weeks 
> or months. On the main path in my garden that started out with a couple 
> inches of mulch, it's down to bare rock-hard adobe soil in some places 
> because the hoses drag the mulch around, so the mulch gets piled against 
> the garden beds, or dragged to one end of the path.
> If the gravel is thick enough, you can hear someone walking on it, which 
> could be a good thing. I've known people who install gravel driveways for 
> that reason. In my garden, I'm often startled by people standing nearby 
> because I don't hear them coming on the mulched paths.
> How are the garden plots separated from the paths? If they're not raised 
> beds or don't have definite borders, then with mulched paths, you can 
> expect the garden plots to gradually encroach on the paths. Gravel paths 
> define the edges better.
> Also, if you have gardeners who aren't diligent about weeding, mulched 
> paths can create a bigger weed problem as the weeds encroach onto the 
> paths more, and grow bigger root systems. But in my garden, I always put 
> cardboard or newspaper down first, then add 4-8 inches of mulch on top. 
> That light-blocking layer is essential here because we have tons of 
> bermuda grass and bindweed in the soil seed bank (plus roots).
> If I were in a garden with one or the other, I'd probably keep it. If the 
> gravel does not need replacing yet, I especially wouldn't change it. Or 
> when it's time to replace the gravel, you could allow the gardeners who 
> want to do the work to make mulch paths, with the understanding that when 
> it's time to replace the mulch, or in 2 years, the decision would be 
> reevaluated. Or if you have a main path and side paths, keep the gravel on 
> the main path and use mulch on the side paths.
> I see ants wherever the soil dries out -- in containers, along the edges 
> of raised beds, etc., not so much in the mulch itself. But I think it's a 
> general rule that more organic matter will support more fauna.
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