How To Construct A Gravel Path

Laying a gravel path is inexpensive, the walk is easy to maintain, and will be relatively free of weeds if you follow these steps.

Gravel walkways are inexpensive to construct and easy to maintain. All you need is a shovel, a rake, a rubber mallet, a rule, a pair of scissors, a bit of sweat, an afternoon without a football game to divert your attention, and you can create a functional and beautiful addition to your home.

The biggest problem with a gravel walkway is, if poorly constructed, weeds will start popping up between the stones. But if you pay special attention when you construct the footer, you'll all but eliminate that possibility. My own gravel walkway is about two years old now and I haven't had a bit of trouble with it, except that it requires an occasional once-over with a rake to smooth out the stones that have shifted around from use.

Before you begin you will need, other than the aforementioned tools, enough weather-treated 2x6's to place end to end along each side of your walkway, a roll of six-mil plastic sheeting, gravel, sand, and strong weed killer.

Decide the location of your walkway, it's course and it's length. If you feel more secure by doing so, you may want to outline it with pegs and string.

As I said, we're going to be overly-cautious from the beginning. You want your walkway to last a long time and, horrors, you don't want weeds. So we're going to take special care with the footer. A little bit of extra work now will save a lot of grief in the future. I can't emphasize that enough. (By the way, my definition of a weed is any plant that is growing where I don't want it to.)

Start by digging a long, narrow trench -- maybe about an inch or two deep -- that will outline both edges of your walkway. Use your rule occasionally to be sure that the width is consistent -- about three feet should be enough, but you may opt for something a bit wider or narrower. At the beginning of the walk, or at the end, or both, you may also want to flair out the sides a bit. When your trenches are finished, you're ready to dig the footer.

Scoop out the footer between your guides, about six inches deep. Keep the depth as consistent as possible. Then work the soil at each edge of the footer with a rake so that there is about 1 inch of loose soil on top, and about four inches from each side.

As I said before, the last thing you want is weeds and grass to infest your walkway. So we're going after those little buggers with a vengeance. After you dig the footer, place the weather treated boards along each side to keep herbicide from contaminating the surrounding grass. You may have to cut these in several pieces to fit, especially if your walkway curves. Pound them into the loose soil at the bottom of the footer to make a tight seal. Then apply the weed killer to the bare soil. Be sure to read the directions on the package so you won't pollute the neighborhood. Depending on the strength of the brew, a single application should kill most of the seeds and spores present.

Once the footer has been sterilized, remove the boards and put them aside. Begin cutting the plastic sheeting from your roll with ordinary scissors. The plastic should cover the entire bottom of the footer and lap up the sides about halfway. Just be to sure that nothing left alive in the soil can grow and punch through the plastic, I used three layers for my base. I would recommend at least two. You can buy the stuff in various sized rolls at your local farm supply, and it's fairly cheap. Farmers use it to cover hay bales stored outside their barns.

Once you have laid all your sheeting, replace the weather treated 2x6's along the sides of your footer. Rap them home with your rubber hammer and, again, make a tight seal, but not enough to rip the plastic. The tops of the boards should be about a quarter-inch higher than the top of the ground. Now spread clean sand over the sheeting to a depth of about two inches. This will provide some cushioning so that the stones you are about to spread won't punch through the plastic.

The choice of gravel is up to you. Smooth, round river gravel comes in various sizes from about 1/2 inch to three inches in diameter. The one inch size is just about right. For my own walkway, I used crushed limestone. I think it looks better and its irregular surface prevents it from shifting around too much under the movement of feet. The downside is that some of the rocks have pretty sharp edges and can cut through the plastic sheeting if you neglect to add the sand for cushioning.

Rake your stones so that the top of the walkway is about one half inch below the top of the boards. Then wet the whole sidewalk down thoroughly with a water hose. Be certain, however, that at least one end of walkway is not blocked. You'll want a place for water to drain.

Treat any weed that pokes its head though the gravel like your worst enemy. Pluck it out before it has a chance to seed and spread. If you are careful from the very beginning, you probably won't have this problem. When cutting grass, for instance, never allow cuttings to spray your walkway. And I treat my walkway twice a year with weed killer. The first weed has yet to show its ugly face.

It simply wouldn't dare!

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