Social Distance XVI – Garden Paths

This column continues explorations of three kinds of gardening activities that can respond to our creative energies, support healthful exercise, and improve the quality and enjoyment of our living environments.

Care for Your Garden

We recently touched on the Big Three of Weeding: pulling, solarizing and mulching. In this column, we survey ways to minimize weed growth on garden paths.

Some gardens consist of lawns with planted garden beds that either around or within the grassy area. In landscapes with large garden beds the lawn might take the form of narrow paths between the planted areas. In either case, managing weed growth in lawns requires supporting vigorous growth of the grass (good for the environment) or applying a broadleaf weed killer (bad for the environment).

The following notes focus on non-grassy garden paths.

The most basic garden path is bare soil, compacted by foot traffic. Such areas still can foster weed growth, although a layer of organic mulch could help to discourage weed rooting.

The next level of limiting weed growth is to cover basic paths with decomposed granite (“DG”), which is coarser than sand, with angular grains that can be tamped down to form a firm surface. Landscape fabric might be placed on the path below the DG installation.

A three-inch deep layer of DG provides an inexpensive path that is not hospitable to weed growth but weeds eventually will establish roots in the DG and their removal become a time-consuming maintenance task. While landscape fabric discourages weed growth from below, the weeds begin with seeds that winds and birds bring to the path’s surface.

As the DG path becomes weedy, practical weed management could be accomplished with occasional spraying of 20% or 30% vinegar. This organic treatment requires careful handling to protect desirable plants and nearby gardeners from this harsh chemical.

Some advisers recommend household vinegar (5%) mixed with table salt plus a small quantity of liquid detergent as a surfactant. Spraying with this solution will trouble weaker weeds but doesn’t really get the job done.

A DG path can be protected from weed growth with the use of a stabilizer that is added to the DG before installation. This method yields an attractive, durable, and permeable surface that is less expensive than concrete. Stabilized DG is best installed over a bed of crushed gravel. For one example of this product, see

The most stable and durable type of DG uses natural resign mixed in with the decomposed granite aggregate. This creates an asphalt-like material, but with a more natural look.

Then, we have a variety of hardscape paths. These include natural flagstones, cut stone slabs, common bricks, and concrete pavers. These materials should be installed over a bed of crushed gravel for stability plus a layer of sand for adjustment to a level surface. The gaps between the paving materials can be filled with sand, but such gaps eventually will harbor weed seeds and result in a weeding task.

A better method for filling gaps between paving materials is the use of polymeric sand, which is available from landscape suppliers. This filler is a mixture of fine sands and polymers that, when mixed with water, form a binding agent that locks the sand particles together and results in a uniform, durable surface.

Concrete provides ultimate and most costly protection from weed growth on garden paths. This approach includes installing concrete under and between the paving materials or creating a solid path by pouring concrete between forms. In either approach, a bed of crushed gravel is needed in for stability.

Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

As always, useful information on each of these methods for weed control on garden paths can be found by searching the Internet for the respective keywords. A search of YouTube also will lead to video clips that demonstrate the methods.

Enrich Your Gardening Days

The UCSC Arboretum has reopened, following a closure period in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This extraordinary facility offers a pleasant and completely safe opportunity to  enjoy unique garden vistas and gather inspiration for your own gardening ventures.

The Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) had been known only from fossils up to 200 million years old, but was discovered in Australia in 1994 and is being grown again in botanical gardens.

Erica mammosa ‘Ninepin’. The species name for this South African heath plant refers to the udder-like shape of the flowers.
The Spider Flower (Grevillea)grows in a wide range of sizes

Photographs with this column have been created by Bill Bishoff, the Arboretum’s volunteer photographer, as samples of the many plants that are in bloom at the “Arb” right now.

The Arboretum’s hours are from 9:00 to 5:00 every day. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children, and free for volunteers and members. When visiting, practice social distancing, wear a mask and bring your own drinking water.

For driving directions and information about being an Arboretum member or volunteer, visit The website also has links to purchase Arboretum plants online for curbside pick-up.

Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative and enjoy your garden.

Social Distance XVI – Summer Tasks

Our first day of this year’s summer arrived on June 20th, so we’re already well into the season. We’re also well into this year’s historic pandemic season, which we all hope and trust will end before long, and not return.

We are seeing many thoughtful and creative advisories on coping with the challenges of this crisis. Here are some recent examples oriented to health and emotional well-being: 

  • Care for Your Health
  • Confirm Your Responsibilities (e.g., wear a mask)
  • Vary Your Media Choices
  • Share Your Time and Assets
  • Continue Your Protections

As we consider these recommendations  and expand upon them from our individual perspectives, we recognize them as the beginnings of good advice.

This column adds three categories of gardening activities that can provide opportunities for our creative energies, always desirable exercise, and payoffs in the quality and enjoyment of our living environments.

Care for Your Garden

At this time of the year, caring for your garden focuses on maintenance activities.

Installation of  new plants would be best scheduled for the fall, after the hottest months have passed and the rainy season will soon water your plants. Some plants, e.g., irises, Shasta daisies, etc., can be divided and replanted later in the summer. Many bulbs, e.g., daffodils, can be lifted now and replanted in the fall.

Most pruning of trees and shrubs should be done during the dormant season, but several pruning-type tasks are appropriate for the summer months. Do not prune flowering shrubs that are setting buds for the next season. Examples include lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and others. Summer pruning tasks include deadheading flowering plants and herbs to encourage compact growth and avoid setting of seeds and cutting back spring bloomers to promote reblooming, except when you are encouraging plants to self-spread or gathering seeds for planting or sharing. Other seasonal pruning task: removing suckers from hybridized fruit trees and shrubs (e.g., roses).

Watering plants could require regular attention. Plants in containers might need daily watering, and plants in the ground should be monitored during dry weather. Water only when the soil has become dry, and schedule watering for early morning or evening, rather than during the hottest part of the day. When irrigating late in the day, avoid the development of fungus and disease by keeping moisture off the leaves with drip irrigation or low-level hose irrigation.

Weed management could be prioritized during the summer months. Manual removal of perennial weeds is always a good idea, and removal of annual weeds should be done before they set seeds. Some gardeners find weeding to be therapeutic in some respect, but serious weed management methods could be considered, particularly short-term solarization with plastic sheeting and smothering with a layer of cardboard covered by organic mulch.

Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

The University of California’s Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program provides excellent online information on weed control. Browse to and search for “weed management.” For details of the solarization method, search the same site for “soil solarization.”

Any of the other summer-season topics can be researched on the Internet. A search for “pruning plants” could yield an unmanageable flood of information, so searching for “pruning [your plant]” is more likely to provide advice for immediate practical use. As always, searching for a plant by its botanical name works best.

Enrich Your Gardening Days

The regular pursuit of seasonally appropriate garden priorities can be a satisfying experience. To increase the likelihood of this outcome, prepare yourself with studying in advance and schedule your work sessions during cooler times and days.

Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative and enjoy your garden.