The Great Cover-Up: Carpeting Your Garden Floor

I have noticed that keeping my garden’s paths well-mulched does a ton for the overall appearance of my garden. This makes sense: if you walked into someone’s living room and they had tasteful, comfortable furniture, well-displayed books and artwork and walls painted in a stylish but personal hue, but the floor was rough, bare plywood, you’d probably notice that something seemed….off, aesthetically.
But what is obvious indoors is easily overlooked in the garden, where the floor is…well…dirt. Over the years I’ve “carpeted” my garden paths with grass, gravel, straw, plain soil, different gravel and wood chips.
The current winner in my book is wood chips. I get them free from a local tree-removal company who would rather dump a 10 cubic-yard load in my driveway than pay the disposal fee at the transfer station.
It’s a win-win.
Recently I received a particularly attractive batch of chips, so I top-dressed the garden paths. I may have had a little help.

I am always a little taken aback how much of a difference it makes to have a nice fresh layer of mulch over everything. Of course, there are practical benefits to mulching your paths, too. Weed growth is suppressed, boots get less muddy in fall rains, spare weeds and foliage “disappear” in a few days as they dry and rot, bare feet land softly should you need to run out and shush an overly ba-gawky chicken at 6:30 in the morning.

So now that the paths are nicely groomed, the only thing I can’t seem to get covered up is Oliver’s tush. Talk about not respectable. I let that kid run around pant-less far more than is proper. 

I’ve noticed more and more households are mulching with free tree-clipping wood chips instead of the expensive (and sometimes freakishly colored) cedar bark mulch. I’m guessing the economy has something to do with this. Free costs much less than expensive. My local town used to mulch public garden beds and park areas with purchased compost produced off-site but now they mulch all the larger plantings with wood chips from municipal tree removal.

It’s interesting to observe that, as more people mulch with wood chips, the appearance of this cheap, functional and “ungroomed” option begins to look more respectable, so more people are willing to try it. Which in turn makes it look yet more normal, so even more people try it…and so on. Sort of like urban veggie gardening itself, actually.

What, if anything, do you use to cover up your garden floor, and do you like it?


  1. says

    We have a wood chipper, so we run the branches for the firewood-trees into the chipper, but it's never enough. Around here, there is ALWAYS a place to put woodchips. I WISH we had a tree service that would dump their chippings here, but we don't. Maybe I'll try going through the phone book again and beg once more.

  2. says

    My husband works in construction and was able to salvage some of the red rubbery composite surface of a university running track that was being replaced. We have that between some of our raised beds. It's wonderful…no weeds, can be hosed off if it gets muddy, etc. The only problem is where to find more as we expand our garden.

  3. says

    I would love to hear about the advantages and disadvantages of grass/clover. Am dreaming about a revamp of the garden area of our rental property and like the idea of planting clover in between the beds. Actually, planting clover all over this autumn, then setting up new beds next spring and just suppressing the clover Wherever a bed lands with a layer of wet newspaper before filling the beds with soil.

  4. says

    We got a load from a tree removal that was happening just down the street from us last year and were able to mulch all our trees, the side of our house, and around the garden beds. It's great and it helps build the soil as it breaks down. It's getting a little thin; we need to call for a new load. The last owners put small gravel in a number of pathways and I *loath* the stuff; it's awful to walk on with bare feet and it doesn't suppress weeds, just makes them nigh on impossible to pull out. As soon as we can get it all up it's going to be wood chip mulch all the way. The only downside to that mulch is that our neighborhood cats think we've made them a giant litter box. Gross.

  5. says

    I’m also not finding a place that wants to deliver free chips, and am wondering about getting cedar play chips to fill the pathways between beds. Any thoughts?

  6. Tara says

    Here’s my theory.
    Everything in life has balance, yes? Nature abhors a vaccuum.
    So your blog…..which inspires me over here on the other side of the world by the way…..contains zero malice, a lack of negativity, a dearth of bile.
    Therefore, nature redressed the balance by introducing a spiteful twat in the form of a troll.
    Conversly, into the troll’s tragic, stunted, vitriolic reality…nature injected some nourishment, education and light by making them read your blog.
    It’s Yin and Yang.
    Keep up the good work!
    Tara xxx

  7. says

    I use and have been using our cities free mulch like you have mentioned. It is available to the residents of our city every Saturday between the hours of 9am – 2pm. They also recycle other household items free. I to have had many different types of material for my walkways. Currently I have gravel, but do to its expense, I’m going to slowly but surely turn it all into a mulch heaven. Oh by the way ….. I love this place !!!

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