Mulching your garden paths provides a number of benefits—if you aren’t doing this I highly recommend it! This is a follow on post to an earlier micro-blogpost I made on the STEEM blockchain about why you shouldmulch your garden paths.
I received some great questions about mulching garden paths that I wanted to cover in a bit more detail. The result is my blog post – Why You Should Mulch Your Garden Paths – which covers why mulching your garden paths is awesome including answers to some of the questions people asked.
A big question was about slugs and mulch. I get this question a fair bit and I hear from people that they’re worried about using too much mulch because of slugs or snails. It’s true that mulch can create a moist habitat that slugs and snails like.
But despite that I actually find I have less slug and snail issues (not more!) when I use mulch in my garden paths and my garden beds.
The reason is that mulch also creates habitat for the predators that eat slugs and snails (or at least their eggs). Predators in my area include some large black ground beetles, centipedes, and garter snakes—plus I’m sure others that I’m not familiar with but all 3 of these predators hide in mulch.
Every time I mulch an area and remove the existing grass I see a big reduction in slugs—snails aren’t really an issue here in my area.
The other reason for less slug/snail issues is that mulch helps maintain a consistent level of soil moisture (and cooler soil temperature). This helps to keep your plants happy and less stressed even during the heat of the summer. When plants are stressed, they tend to be more vulnerable to pests and less able to defend themselves.
Other Benefits of Mulching Your Garden Paths
Beyond helping with slugs and snails there are other great reasons to mulch your garden paths. The blog post dives into these reasons but here are a few examples:
1. Supporting beneficial fungi.
2. Reducing competition for water (if you’re replacing grass paths with mulched paths).
3. Saves you time by reducing how much you need to mow.
Rollie pollies (pill bugs) are what flourish in my mulched beds. It is crazy. The answer is simple though. Keep the fruit off the ground unless you want to share with them. Any tomatos that touch the ground becomes theirs.
It looks really nice too, especially straw and hay. Yellow little pathways are cute. I'm a pretty messy gardener, so many a times people just stepped into my beds, thinking they were on the pathways, it's a lot clearer where to walk for the dumbies i happen to know.
I've used a lot of old starw and hay this year. From barns, the mice had stolen all seeds, so no problem there. We can have really bad slug years, so it wouldn't be very funny if they start eating all my salads next year. Although there is a pond close by, so frogs and toads will become a slug eating army to be reconned with. I've seen quite a few firefly larvae in snail houses and an uptick of fireflies around the house.Also super-cute!
But i hope to convert to pathways of woodchips, because they're a lot more solid , last longer and in the long run bring more carbon in.
Another thing i noticed is that because the earth underneath stays wet and contains so much more worms who feast on the debris, the soil gets looser, it's easier to pull weeds out! Not everything, there are sorrels and deep rooting things that keep popping through, but i find it to be a lot easier to control. And as it isn't flourishing in the pathways, it's not spreading into the beds either!
I've bought a few Italian Elders today, they're better drought resistantgoing to form a nitrogen fixing hedge , hopefully block a lot of wind and i hope to use them as mulch in the furure. If i don't need them for propagating, that is.
Happy mulching everyone!
I specifically don't mulch paths in this area because in this ecosystem mulch breaks down in a year and becomes fertile soil. That soil needs to be moved and replaced with new chips, which is a lot of work, or it attracts lots of weeds. I have worked with several clients who thought mulch would make a good path, and then didn't have time to manage it.. Instead, I use grass for many of my clients since they usually mow the rest of their property anyway and don't visit their gardend in the rain. I use local flagstone, urbanite, and rocks for myself. One of my smaller clients who is also a handyman had old decking he used. I have also used cardboard to make paths in a high weed area. The neat thing about cardboard is I could label the adjacent plantings. It also has to be replaced annually, but doesn't make much soil and is an effective weed barrier at only 1 layer thick.
I appreciate that in some areas this works wonders though!
In a very small garden area in Cebu Philippines, we mulched a path with peanut hulls and sometimes corn cobs. All of the wet kitchen scraps were laid out between the plants and quickly consumed by agents of decay.
Some types of mulch break down very quickly, so it's good to have some woody stuff. Once we are on a farm, I expect that pathway mulching will include bagasse , the waste fibre from sugar cane, and bamboo scraps.
Speed of breakdown is not a big problem. It's very cheap to add more. I'm not sure how rice hulls would work. Mountains of them are available for free.
I have always encouraged snakes to live in my garden, in Canada. I don't really want a lot of snakes hiding in the mulch, in the Philippines, since they are likely to be cobras and other poisonous varieties.
As I use raised beds, I don’t make use of mulched paths. However, as I like mowing but hate trimming, I am looking at ways to have about a 2-4” weed barrier right next to my raised beds that I can mow over. I have considered woodchip covered cardboard strips. I have considered long strips f rubber mulch, the likes of which you see tree rings made of (but this doesn’t seem terribly permie).
Inside my raised beds, which are 8’ x 16’, so they are quite wide, mulch is everywhere and I sometimes place a steppingstone or two for access and I fertilize with urine. Eventually, this fertility will get accessed by adjacent plants.
I just have a small backyard (maybe 2000sf) and I have brought in multiple loads of wood chips over the last few years. I started with a backyard of nothing but ultra hard clay, some "weed lawn" and two dead old plumb trees we chipped and left in place. In between layers of wood chips I've also added a couple bales of straw.
I've been so surprised at just how fast the wood chips (many inches!) have broken down, and over the past year my terrible slug problem has disappeared. I also had an awful ant problem, and with a combination of the wood chips with worm castings around my fruit trees, it's about 80% better.
What started out as a way to keep my dogs from getting so muddy in the winter has transformed my garden and soil in ways I could have never imagined. Now I just sweep aside the wood chips, add a bit of compost, and create a garden bed when I want one.
BTW, I LOVE the sight of the mushrooms!! Increasingly, I am thinking that mushrooms belong in every garden, and your woodchip paths are a great example of garden symbiosis. Those mushrooms/fungi will eventually yield up some very nice garden bedding, nutrients, and best of all, microbes to help feed your plants.
Wayne – Yeah, the pill bugs do like it but I find that their numbers aren’t too bad as the predators build up. But they’re still around which I’m fine with. Like you said you can adjust and work with them 😊
Hugo – I fully agree! I really like the look of mulched paths. Sometimes I just leave the weeds depending on what they are. I like to harvest dandelions from the paths 😊 But you are right that overtime it does get easier to pull the weeds that do show up.
Amit – I can understand that and if rocks work well for you that makes sense. Rocks can support beneficial critters too and can be useful for creating warmer micro-climates. Here mulch breaks down fairly quickly too which is why I use chop-and-drop to help keep it built up. In the paths I put it down thick and I do top it up. But for me this is less overall work and I like my paths to be rich and fertile habitat for beneficial fungi. But I’m glad you have a system that works for you!
Dale – Interesting, that makes sense and nice to be able to use what is readily available. Yeah, snakes there are a different story! Here the garter snakes are great and of course harmless. If I lived somewhere with poisonous ones I would change my strategy a bit though I would still be mulching. Thanks for sharing!
Eric – Interesting, having a nice weed barrier makes sense. I really don’t like mowing—just not what I want to be doing. Plus there are other advantages to having less lawn grass around. But if this works well for you then that’s good.
Yeah, I love seeing the mushrooms and I do everything I can to encourage a good and healthy fungal community. But there are multiple ways to achieve this. Here mulching with wood chips works great and I’m starting to experiment with edible mushrooms. I spread some wine caps around my garden beds a month or so ago 😊
Kali – Thanks for sharing! I have had a similar experience with slugs and I have heard other gardeners say the same thing. Mulching really can be a great solution to this issue!
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I mulch my paths once a year with chipped Christmas trees. Except last year, when shortly before Christmas I found a pile of discarded chipped hedging conifers in a lane near here and used those instead. I just pile more on top each year.
the good and bad I've seen with mulching so far...
I have a series of raised beds and recently converted to using hardwood bark mulch in the paths (formerly straw)
I'm in Zone 7a, clay soil.
- looks nicer than straw
- great results with fungal activity near raised beds and softer soil along bed edges
- stays in place and stays clean looking
- voles have moved into the garden (don't know if this is a coincidence)
This is my first year having raised beds in the field. (formerly fallow) so perhaps voles migrated there last fall. I also wonder if vole populations have exploded because we've had a few months of drought. They used to be prevalent in the slope near the field, but now they seem to have expanded their range!!!
Here's some of my solutions:
- open gate in garden at night to allow predators in
- sprinkle capsacian in paths?
- add owl nest boxes around field
I have also recently locked the chickens out of the garden (as I mulched beds with straw and they love to tear into it). It's possible I may have also removed one of the other predators?
I have been experimenting with growing my own mulch. The Bolivian sunflower grows like crazy here so I have been cutting it into 3 -4 foot lengths and then dumping it on weedy areas next to my irrigated plants.
This guarantees me a source of mulch as I can't always get tree trimmers to dump loads here.
I just had another thought for you regarding the voles. I used to get moles like mad. I could hardly believe the damage they would do to my lawn. I asked around for advice and got a LOT of highly questionable information (my favorite was to get a propane tank, fill their tunnels with the gas, then set it off! Someone told me to do the same with gasoline! Actually pour gasoline into my yard!! Yuck! You get the idea). Eventually I found a mole repellent based on castor oil (I think that is within the organic or better guidelines here at Permies). It actually came in two formats. One was an oil that was sprayed on the lawn. The other was a granular product. At first I sprayed as that was quite fast acting. As in I had to spray the whole yard. It was not the cheapest option, but the moles were gone! After that I bought the granular product, put it in a fertilizer spreader and sprinkled it around the perimeter of my yard and then by the perimeter of my house and driveway. The idea was that once they were gone, give them no way to get back in.
The way the stuff works is that apparently it stinks terribly to the moles/voles. The closest I ever got to any perceptible odor was that for 2 days after spraying the liquid, I thought I smelled someone cutting hay. It actually took me 2 full days to connect the dots and realize that I was (barely) smelling the oil scent. And I would never consider this to be offensive to me personally, but apparently the moles hate it and skidaddled out of my yard (GOOD)! The peletized version did last several months.
My thought for you is that you could sprinkle the pellets on your paths and the moles would then want out as fast as possible.
Just a thought. No moles were harmed in this practice and the product is safe (I would probably not eat the stuff, but you get the idea).
Permaculture. It’s a journey, not an event.
Location: Barnardsville, NC
posted 2 months ago
Those are both great suggestions. I don't have a problem with voles in the lawn areas. I mean, I don't care if they are there.
I have a feeling that the mini drought is possibly impacting their decision to leave the now patchy lawn areas and try their luck in the planting beds where I've got some cover crops. Also my cat (kitten) has been out of commission because sbe was going through her first heat and then has been kept indoors after her "operation". Once she's fully healed, I'll put her back into production.
Also, last night I began leaving the garden gates open after dusk when the chickens have gone to their coop to give a chance for other predators to have a chance at the vole buffet. I'll keep y'all posted.
My paths tend to get mulched gradually/consistently, instead of doing it once every few months like the growing beds do.
Since I use wood chips from the local tree trimmers I tend to get material that's a mix of sticks/bark, branches/trunks, and leaves that's a variety of sizes. I've found that as the mulch in the beds breaks down, the larger pieces tend to accumulate on the surface, so I go through about once a week and just collect that stuff and toss it in the path closest to the bed.
Doing that makes it easier to plant the beds, and keeps the path soil covered. Plus, I help break down the larger pieces by walking on them.
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