Q: How can I make a gravel path that won’t get weedy? — Linda Reid, Portland, Ore.
A: Gravel makes great paths. It’s inexpensive, allows water to penetrate rapidly, and requires only periodic raking to neaten its appearance. The surface feels nice underfoot as long as the stones aren’t much bigger than half an inch. For a gravel path to last, it must be well-drained: In any part of the path that’s often soggy, the gravel will disappear into the mud in a season or two. Another problem is that gravel tends to migrate into adjacent beds. In desert regions or in rock gardens, a natural-looking solution is to mulch plants near paths with the same gravel. In many settings, however, stone mulches look harsh, and a protruding edging — brick, stone, concrete, wood, or steel — is necessary to confine the gravel. To keep weeds at bay, remove as many as you can before putting the gravel down. Then, excavate the topsoil 2 inches deep to make room for the gravel. After tamping and leveling the bed of the path, water it to promote sprouting of weed seeds that still lie dormant. A week or two later, hoe the area lightly to kill the seedlings. Before putting down the gravel, you can spread landscape fabric or apply a pre-emergent granular fertilizer, but I use neither of those. If you eliminate most of the weeds ahead of time, the seedlings that grow in the paths are usually offspring of desirable plants in the beds. I delight in the stray poppies, dianthus, lady’s mantle, and the like that pop up in my gravel. Pulling out a few wherever they are too thick is simple. If a whole colony appears, a quick spritz with Roundup or a scorch with a torch (extra fun for us pyromaniacs) takes care of it.