How to Get Rid of Lawn Rust

Kentucky Bluegrass with Lawn Rust
Photo Credit: FLamiot

As if the unattractive yellowish-orange tint that lawn rust gives your turf weren’t bad enough, this fungus also weakens and thins out your grass. While lawn rust might look like a serious disease, it isn’t hard to get rid of.

Taking steps to improve the overall health of your lawn is often enough to clear up the problem.

Know What You’re Dealing With

Lawn rust is the common name for a type of fungus, usually the Puccinia or Uromyces species, that grows most frequently on Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass.

Because it thrives in warm, humid conditions with intermittent bright sunlight, it usually shows up in late summer or early autumn, particularly during wet years. Any time the grass stays damp for 6 hours or longer, lawn rust can take hold.

Before you start trying to get rid of lawn rust, make sure that’s actually what you’re dealing with. The gentle approach required for this fungus doesn’t always help with other types of lawn diseases and damage.

If lawn rust is your problem, you’ll notice certain common symptoms.

  • Areas of your lawn have taken on a sickly color ranging from yellowed green to orange-red or brown. The discoloration is more or less evenly distributed with undefined edges, rather than concentrated in distinct patches.
  • In affected areas, the grass coverage is thin and the blades break easily, but the grass isn’t dying off completely.
  • Individual grass blades are coated with a powdery orange-red to yellowish brown dust that you can rub off with your fingers. This is where the fungus gets its “rust” name. You might also find this dust clinging to your shoes or clothes after you walk through the lawn.
  • If the lawn has been affected for several weeks, you might find small pustules that have broken through the surfaces of the grass blades. These start off orange, but turn black as winter approaches.

Getting Rid of Lawn Rust Naturally

Lawn rust forms almost exclusively when the grass is in a period of slow growth, so anything that interferes with your lawn’s normal, healthy growth puts it at risk for this fungus. While there’s not much you can do about the weather, there are plenty of other ways to optimize your lawn’s growing conditions.

Nourish your lawn – Throughout the growing season, feed your lawn small amounts of slow-release nitrogen fertilizer every six weeks. Just 0.2 to 0.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet is generally enough. Pay special attention to fungus-prone areas, such as shady spots.

Steer clear of high nitrogen fertilizers in the fall. Too much growth toward the end of the season leaves grass vulnerable to other problems, such as Fusarium patch and red thread disease.

Water in the morning – Good watering practices protect your lawn from the damaging effects of heat stress without leaving it damp and prone to fungal infections. Watering your lawn in the cooler hours of the early morning gives the grass a chance to dry out during the day. Avoid watering in the evening because it creates the ideal wet, cool conditions for lawn rust fungus to grow and release spores.

Give your grass around 1 to 1 1/2 inch of water per week or enough to keep the soil soaked 6 inches deep. Water two or three times a week, rather than daily, so the lawn’s surface can dry between watering.

Mow regularly – Keep your lawn at around 1 1/2 inches, mowing when it hits 2 1/4 to 3 1/2 inches. When you’re done, rake up the grass clippings or use a lawn sweeper. Regular mowing and raking removes fungus-affected grass, making your lawn look better and preventing the fungus from spreading.

Rinse your lawn equipment after using it on areas of lawn rust.

Improve air circulation – Poor air circulation helps fungal spores form. To get more air to your grass, use a thatching rake to break up any thatch more than 1/2 inch deep, then remove the thatch with a leaf rake. Use an aerator to reduce soil compaction so water and fertilizer can reach your lawn’s roots more effectively.

Trees or shrubs that hang low over the lawn should be trimmed back, so they don’t block airflow.

Options for Chemical Control

Because improving your lawn’s health is typically enough to get rid of lawn rust, applying fungicide isn’t generally recommended. Lawn rust won’t kill your grass, and even if you can’t get rid of it this season, your lawn will still be able to produce healthy grass by next summer.

What’s more, the fungicides that work best on lawn rust, DMI (DeMethylation inhibitor) and QoI (strobilurin), are usually available only to landscaping professionals.

If you decide to go the chemical route, though, fungicide should be used only on a well established lawn and only after your other lawn care efforts have failed. Apply the fungicide before the lawn goes dormant for the winter. Most lawn rust infections clear up with just one treatment.

Newly seeded lawns are an exception. For these, apply fungicide at the first sign of lawn rust to prevent the fungus from taking hold.

When the conditions for it are just right, lawn rust can make frequent appearances. If you live in a climate with cool springs and warm, bright early summers or you have a shady lawn in heavy clay, you might find this orange blight showing up every year.

In this situation, it’s reasonable to apply a fungicide to keep the fungus under control. A professional gardener or landscaper can advise you on the best type for your lawn.

A lawn rust infection might look dire, but it won’t cause permanent damage, and it’s usually easy to get rid of. In most cases, you can restore your lawn to health by applying modest amounts of fertilizer, watering and mowing on the right schedule, and aerating carefully. When that doesn’t work, fungicide can help.

Posted on Categories Yard

Jalousie Windows 101

Open Jalousie Windows
Photo Credit: Nuberger13

Jalousie windows are a classic feature of mid-century modern homes, and during the height of their popularity, they offered a number of benefits over standard windows. As more homes were equipped with modern heating and cooling, though, some of these benefits became disadvantages.

Nowadays, jalousies are largely restricted to spaces without air conditioning.

The Rise and Fall of Jalousies

Jalousie Storm Door and Window
Photo Credit: Nuberger13

Jalousie windows, also known as louvered windows, consist of horizontal glass, plastic, metal or wood panels on a track in a window frame. Using a crack or knob operator, the panels can be opened and closed like the slats of Venetian blinds.

Although first patented in 1901, it wasn’t until well into the 1940s that these windows really took off. Between that time and the late 1960s, they became a common sight in the south where summertime ventilation is critical, and winters are mild.

In colder climates, they appeared on enclosed porches, gazebos, and sunrooms. They were also commonly found on mobile homes.

By the 1970s, more homes had some form of electric air conditioning, and these breezy windows turned into a liability because they waste air conditioned indoor air. When the 1973 energy crisis hit, and cooling prices rose, the popularity of jalousie windows fell into sharp decline.

Pros: Cooling Breezes and Convenient Privacy

Jalousie Window with Curtain
© Vladimirs Ozolins / Adobe Stock

Although not as popular as they once were, jalousie windows are still a practical way to enjoy airflow and privacy together.

Convenient Ventilation

Jalousie windows are most often used in warm climates because they provide ventilation while keeping the sun and rain out. Even when fully open, the angle of the panels deflects sunlight and rain, and slows down airflow to keep things in the room from blowing around. Adjusting the panels lets you direct the airflow and sunlight that enters.

In hot, humid climates before air conditioning became prevalent, these cooling breezes were essential for comfort. While jalousie windows aren’t as useful in homes with A/C, they’re still helpful on enclosed porches and other spaces without cooling.

With the jalousies open, you can enjoy some fresh air without getting rained on and read a book without glare and wind interfering.

Flexible Privacy

Jalousie windows let you have the window almost completely open for ventilation while still obscuring the view into the room. When the panels are angled down, air can still enter from beneath, and you can still see out, but passers-by can’t see in.

This is one reason this type of window is so often used in bathrooms. On the other hand, you can still get a completely unobstructed, albeit less private, view by fully opening the panels.

Multiple Upgrade Options

If you decide your jalousie window no longer suits your needs or your home’s aesthetics, you can change the window’s whole look just by replacing the panels.

Switch from clear glass panels to frosted or tinted ones for more privacy and better light control. Go for aluminum panels if you want the option to block the light entirely. Upgrade to wood panels for a customized, high-end look or for windows that blend in better with your new wood siding.

Cons: Air Leaks and Vulnerability to Damage

Church Building with Jalousie Window
Photo Credit: Warren LeMay

In addition to their inefficiency, jalousie windows also tempt burglars and require more upkeep than standard windows.

Poor Energy-Efficiency

While these windows are great for temperature and humidity control in an unair-conditioned home, once you have air conditioning, they become a major cause of energy waste.

The window panels never close completely enough to form a tight seal, so they leak air. Your cool air conditioned air escapes while hot, humid outdoor air comes in. Your A/C then has to work harder to keep you cool.

In winter, jalousies cause chilly drafts. Modern versions are manufactured with better air sealing than older models, but even then, they’re among the least efficient window designs available.

If your home doesn’t have air conditioning or you prefer natural ventilation, jalousie windows might still be a sensible choice for some rooms. Just remember that you’ll need to install a window screen because bugs can find their way through gaps in the panels even when the window is closed. When winter hits, install shrink film or interior storm windows to keep drafts at bay.

If you do use your A/C regularly, though, jalousie windows will raise your cooling bills.

Weak Security

Jalousies are notoriously easy to break into. A would-be burglar can remove the panels quickly and quietly just by prying out the metal clips that hold them in place. There won’t be any sound of breaking glass to alert you or a neighbor. Thanks to their reputation, just the presence of these windows on your home makes it a target for burglars.

You can improve a jalousie’s security by installing a metal window grille over the window’s exterior, but that affects the aesthetics of your home.

Need for Frequent Maintenance

Because jalousie window panels open horizontally, they collect more dust, pollen, and other debris than standard windows. The window’s uneven surface means you can’t just wipe it clean as you could with most windows. To really get a jalousie clean, you’ll need to remove each panel by taking out the clips holding them.

These windows also have more moving parts and are exposed to the elements more than other windows, so they’re more likely to develop mechanical problems. The operator and tracks are prone to forming rust that can make them stick. The panels break easily because they have no reinforcement.

On the plus side, most repairs are simple enough to do yourself. It’s usually a matter of removing the damaged part and installing a new one.

When they first came on the scene, jalousie windows were a boon to anyone living in a hot, rainy climate. With today’s efficient air conditioning, though, these windows usually do more harm than good in terms of comfort and energy savings.

That said, they’re still a wise choice for enclosed porches, sunrooms, and other spaces where you want to enjoy natural breezes. They also add an authentic touch to a mid-century modern house, although they’re not well suited to most other architectural styles.

Posted on Categories Windows

The Homeowner’s Guide to Handscraped Hardwood Flooring

Handscraped Hardwood Floor in Exquisite Spanish Style Home
Photo Credit: Bill Wilson

Smooth, shiny flooring might be the norm these days, but it doesn’t suit every home. If you’re looking for something with a little more character, handscraped hardwood flooring has plenty of personality to offer.

Also known as hand-sculpted flooring, handscraped flooring is finished with traditional hand tools to give it a rougher surface and the mark of individual craftsmanship.

How Handscraped Flooring is Different

For the last several decades, glossy and satin finishes have been the most popular choices for hardwood floors. Finishes like these haven’t always been possible, though. Before the advent of electrical equipment that could create a flawless surface, floor makers typically used a draw knife to smooth the surface of each board.

It’s a method that requires mastery, but ultimately, it still produces somewhat imperfect results. The uneven dips, scoops, pits, and scrape marks it leaves give every board a unique pattern. Once the only option, this labor-intensive woodworking method is now a rare art.

Traditional, Rustic Character

Original handscraped hardwood flooring is most often found in homes built before 1800, making them reminiscent of times when traditional craftsmanship flourished. If you own a historical home that doesn’t have one of these floors, installing one will add to the authenticity of the interior.

If your home is newer, but you love the ambiance of antique and handcrafted furnishings, a handscraped floor can help you achieve that feeling. Thanks to their modest appearance, these floors suit almost every room in the house, including bedrooms, dining rooms, and entrances.

As another interesting feature, the exact look of the floor’s uneven surface changes with the level and angle of the light. Your floor might look rough and rugged in bright, direct light, but softer in more diffuse lighting.

Carefree Durability

One of the biggest benefits of handscraped flooring is that it can hide minor damage within the other variations in its surface. While a scratch on a glossy floor will be fairly conspicuous, a handscraped floor easily camouflages sizable scrapes and dings. That makes this floor a practical choice for high-traffic areas such as the entryway, living room or kids’ rooms as well as for families with young children or active pets.

Better yet, if your floor does pick up a scratch that stands out, you can repair it yourself just by covering it with a little matching stain and finish.  

Cleaning can be tricky because the floor’s pits and grooves collect grime that’s sometimes hard to get out. Dry-mopping, sweeping or vacuuming once or twice a week helps keep this problem under control.

For deeper cleaning, wet mop once every one to three months. Many handscraped floors are finished with tung oil or another oil, so use a hardwood floor cleaner designed for oil finishes or a solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon warm water.

The biggest threat to this floor is water. It’s somewhat less water resistant than other types of wood flooring and frequent spills or mop water left standing too often can cause permanent damage. It’s something to consider before you install this flooring in your kitchen.

Refinishing the floor is another potential challenge. If the existing finish becomes damaged, you’ll need to find a floor finish product that requires only buffing and a little hand sanding before application.

If you want to change your floor’s color, though, there’s a good chance the floor will have to be sanded, which can smooth out the handscraped features. Too much sanding and the features will disappear entirely, meaning you’ll need to handscrape the floor again or pay someone to do it.

What to Consider When You Buy

The skill and labor involved in making genuine handscraped flooring means these floors don’t come cheap. Because so many people love the look, but don’t have the budget for the real thing, manufacturers have developed other ways to reproduce a handscraped appearance.

Machine scraping is one of these methods. The problem with this method, especially on cheaper products, is that the machines used give each board the same pattern of pits, scrapes, and other features. It might look all right on one or two boards, but fill the whole floor with them and you’ll end up with a repetitive, tile-like effect that looks anything but handcrafted.

If you decide to go for machine-scraped flooring, make sure you know what the boards look like on a large surface before you buy.

Don’t confuse handscraped hardwood flooring with distressed flooring, either. Distressed flooring is made to mimic the look of a floor that’s gone through years of wear and tear. Distressing is done by machine, usually a brush-like device that repeatedly hits the wood with wires to wear it down.

Handscraped floors are made to look new, but with an artisan’s touch. The amount of handscaping features varies from maker to maker. Some have only light scratches, while others deep groves and other prominent marks.

If you’re hiring a craftsperson to handscrape your floors, you’ll need to discuss the look you have in mind.

Getting the Installation Right

If you decide to have handscraped hardwood floors installed in your home, choose a contractor with experience installing these or other artisan flooring materials.

To create an attractive effect, your installer will need to select each board carefully, so the pattern of handscraped features looks natural and similar boards aren’t placed too close together. Doing the job well takes an installer with an eye for aesthetics.
No matter how skilled your contractor, though, the leveling of your floor will be slightly uneven because handscraping produces boards of varying thicknesses. It won’t make much practical difference, but you might notice it when positioning small, light pieces of furniture.

After decades of being disregarded for shiny finishes, handscraped hardwood flooring is coming back into its own. If you’re a fan of handcrafted goods or you want to maintain the traditional character of your older home, these floors can give you the look you want.

While the purchase and installation costs can be high, you’ll get the benefit of a floor that can last many years without visible wear even in high-traffic areas.

Posted on Categories Flooring

The Homeowner’s Guide to Sewer Taps

Metal Sewer Cover
© R. Roth / Adobe Stock

When you’re already using it, the city sewer system is a convenience that’s easy to take for granted. Tap into it for the first time, though, and you’ll find there’s more to it than flipping a switch.

Whether you need a sewer tap for a new house or because you’re tired of your septic tank, understanding how these fittings work can save you time and hassle.

The Sewer Tap’s Role

A sewer tap is the connection between your home’s sewer lateral (waste water line) and the municipal sewer system. The pipe fitting that forms this connection lets waste water from your home flow into the sewer system, so you don’t need a septic tank to hold it. It also forms a seal that prevents waste water from escaping into the ground.

If you’re building a new house or switching your existing house from a septic tank to the municipal system, you’ll need to file for permits and hire a plumbing contractor to have your home hooked up to a sewer tap.

Getting Your Sewer Tap Installed

Connecting to a municipal sewer system isn’t a cheap or quick project. The cost of permits and labor vary widely by location, but typically come to between $3,000 to $10,000.

Chances are, the sewer tap for your property has already been installed by the city, and is capped off and waiting until someone needs it. In this case, you’ll need to apply for permits to use the tap, then hire a contractor to make the connection.

If no sewer tap is in place, either the city water utility or your contractor can probably install one for you. There’s a limit to the number of taps a city sewer line can support, though, so it’s possible you won’t be able to tap into your city’s system. This is one of the main reasons so many homes end up using a septic tank.  

Before you consider hooking your home up to the sewer system, call your local water utility and ask if a sewer tap is available for your address, where it’s located, and the cost of the tap fee.

When you’re sure you’ll be able to use the city system, you can start looking for plumbing contractors licensed to perform sewer taps. Your city water utility might even be able to give you a list of licensed contractors. While some contractors take care of all the permits for you, others require you to do the paperwork yourself.

If you need to arrange the permits yourself, typically you’ll first need to apply for a sewer tap permit and wait for the city to perform an inspection. The contractor might also require you to get a right-of-way permit before they can start work.

Once all the paperwork is in order, your contractor will come install a sewer lateral that extends from your home to the municipal sewer main. The job requires the contractor to dig a trench for the pipe, so prepare for some damage to your lawn.

If your sewer lateral is already in place, the contractor will try to align it with the sewer tap to avoid having to move it.

If you have a septic system, the contractor will close it, usually by filling it with sand or gravel. The majority of the work can be done in one day, although it might take longer than eight hours.

After the work is done, the tap must be inspected by the city health department or another appropriate authority to ensure your home’s sewer lateral and the sewer tap are correctly installed and that the septic system, if any, is properly closed.

Maintaining Your Sewer Tap

Your sewer tap is considered part of your home’s sewer lateral, so it’s up to you, not the city, to maintain it. For the most part, though, the tap itself requires next to no maintenance. Protecting it from damage is mostly a matter of keeping your lateral free from clogs.

Over time, even well maintained sewer tap fittings wear down or work loose and need to be replaced. When this happens, you might not realize anything is wrong until you get a letter from the city inspector.

In other cases, a plumber clearing out a clog or repairing a leak in your sewer lateral might spot a problem with the tap. This is one reason an annual plumbing inspection is so valuable.

Your plumber can use video inspection equipment to check over your plumbing system and let you know about any developing problems with your sewer tap or other parts of the system. This way you’ll have time to plan for repairs. The plumber can also tell you what might have caused the damage, so you can prevent it from happening again.

If your sewer tap fitting needs to be replaced, a licensed contractor can do the job, then arrange for city inspectors to come confirm that everything is up to code.

Tapping into your city’s sewer system can save you the trouble of maintaining a septic tank. While the work itself only takes a day, you might need a few weeks to get through all the red tape involved.

If you’re considering having a sewer tap installed, start by talking with your local water utility to find out if it’s possible and what kind of permits you’ll need.

Posted on Categories Plumbing

Landscaping Terminology

Beautiful Residential Landscaping
© Jamie Hooper / Adobe Stock

Like every specialty, landscaping has its own lingo that can get confusing when you’re not used to it. If you’re thinking about hiring a landscaper or planning a DIY project, learning basic landscaping terminology will help you get exactly the look you want.

General Landscaping Terms

Hardscape: non-living features such as pavement, walls, planters, gazebos, rockeries, and ponds. Hardscape elements give structure and depth to the landscape while providing support for plants.

Landscaping fabric: synthetic or organic fabric that blocks sunlight, but lets water through. It’s typically placed around garden plants to inhibit weed growth while still allowing water to reach the plants’ roots.

Natural landscaping: also called native gardening, this approach to landscaping focuses on native plants to minimize the need for additional fertilizers, watering, and other care. One of the most common forms is xeriscaping, which focuses on using drought-tolerant native plants in desert climates.

Site plan: a detailed bird’s-eye-view map of your landscape that shows important features such as buildings, paths, and planting beds. Creating a site plan lets you experiment with landscaping ideas and ensure everything will fit together before you start planting.

Softscape: living landscape features such as flowers, grass, and trees. This often includes soil and mulch. Because these elements change with the seasons, they bring a sense of life and flow to the landscape.

Soil test: a landscaper might conduct this test to check your soil’s pH and nutrient levels. With this information, they can decide what soil amendments, such as compost or peat moss, should be added to the soil to make it more hospitable for your plants.

Plant Care Terms

Annual: a plant that reaches maturity, then dies completely in one growing season. Most die after the first frost. In frost-free climates, some annuals act as perennials, living for multiple seasons.

Barrier plants: plants with thorns, spiky leaves or other deterrents that dissuade people and animals from crossing. They’re often used in place of fences to keep neighborhood kids and dogs from entering an area.

Biennial: a plant that lives for two growing seasons. The first year, it produces leaves and roots, then goes dormant for the winter. The next year, it produces flowers, then dies.  

Compost: nutrient-rich soil formed from decayed organic matter, such as leaves or kitchen scraps. It’s used to improve soil with a low nutrient content or poor drainage.

Drainage: the rate at which water passes down through the soil. Soil type affects drainage, with sandy and loamy soils draining faster than clay types. Poor soil drainage causes a variety of problems both for plants and hardscaping, but you can improve drainage by adding compost, peat moss or other organic material.

Edging: a clearly defined border between separate areas of the landscape, such as the lawn and flowerbeds. Usually made from metal or plastic strips, masonry or wood, edging helps keep grass and flowers from spreading beyond their respective sections.

Frost line: the level down to which the soil moisture freezes in winter. Because frozen ground expands and can damage structures buried in it, the frost line affects the ideal depth of structural foundations and supports.

Grading: creating a slope, usually by adding or moving soil. Land is typically graded downward from building foundations to direct water away. You might also re-grade a steep slope to make it more level and easier to maintain.

Mulch: a layer of material applied over the soil to hold in moisture and keep down weeds. Grass clippings, wood chips, pine straw, stone, and rubber are among the most popular mulches, but the right type depends on your landscaping needs.

Perennial: a plant that produces flowers or fruits year after year. The leaves and stems might die after the frost, but will sprout again in spring.

Transplant shock: a condition that causes transplanted plants to wilt, turn yellow or lose leaves. Symptoms can take from a day to several weeks to appear, but are usually temporary. Although not always avoidable, correct site selection, planting, and watering minimize the damage.

Underplanting: a method of planting smaller plants under trees and large shrubs to give the space more dimension and color than only soil or turf would.

Lawn Care Terms

Aeration: a process that creates tiny holes or slices in compacted soil to allow more air, water, and nutrients to reach plant roots. It’s usually done with a handheld tool.

Dethatching: the process of removing the layer of mostly dead organic matter, called thatch, that accumulates between green grass and the soil. Because thatch inhibits the lawn’s growth, it’s removed with a dethatching rake or machine in spring.

Lime: a mineral added to soil to increase its acidity, freeing nutrients for your grass and giving you a greener, lusher lawn. When needed, it’s usually added in early fall.

Sod: a section of soil held together by grass and roots. It’s often sold in squares or rolls that are used to start new lawns.

Turf: grass that’s regularly mowed and maintained, such as a lawn.

Hardscaping Features

Arbor: a U-shaped, open-framework arch used to provide support for climbing plants and shade any plants under it.

Gazebo: a covered structure, usually with open sides and a solid roof, used to shelter seating areas and hot tubs, giving you a comfortable place to spend time away from the house.

Pergola: an open-framework roof supported by sturdy posts. While often used for climbing plants, its primary purpose is to define and lightly shade a seating area.

Privacy screen: a feature, such as a fence or hedgerow, designed to obscure or block the view into an area. Some let light and air flow through, while others are completely solid.

Retaining wall: a wall built to minimize erosion and otherwise hold back soil in order to stabilize a slope. The wall can be made of wood, concrete, paving stones or bricks.

Terracing: building a series of low retaining walls up a slope to form flat areas in a staircase pattern. This reduces erosion and creates manageable planting beds.

Legal Terms

Easement: part of your property others have the right to use for a specified purpose. It’s designed to allow public utilities workers and your neighbors to access utility lines when necessary. You can landscape your easement however you want, but that landscaping might be damaged if it interferes with someone else’s legal access.

Setback: the minimum distance from a sidewalk, property line or structure where you’re allowed to build. Because you can’t legally build on a setback, you’ll need to know where the setbacks are on your property are before you install any major hardscaping.

Posted on Categories Yard

Tertiary Walks for Gardens and Greenery

Beautiful Garden Walkway
© lamart1971 / Adobe Stock

Unlike the main walkways running to your house, the tertiary walks found in gardens and other more natural places have a much greater leeway in terms of size and composition.

These allow your garden paths to look natural or eloquent, be wide or narrow, and use crafted or organic materials.

Tertiary Walks Using Pavers

Man Building Walkway with Pavers
© Evgenia Tiplyashina / Adobe Stock

Pavers are a popular material for walkways. Consisting of brick, cut stone, or precast concrete, pavers have high durability compared to most other materials. They function well for more formal walkways and paths leading away from a patio or garden shed.

Differences from Major Walkways

When building a tertiary walk, the focus is on aesthetics more than function. To this end, a tertiary walk is rarely designed for moving heavy or wheeled objects.

Alternative Materials

Gravel Garden Walkway
© Barbara Helgason / Adobe Stock

Due to the less strict requirements of tertiary walkways, a wide array of materials are considered suitable that are impossible for a primary or secondary walkway. Many of these are very natural and add an aesthetic appeal that is perfect for dense gardens and nature-oriented landscaping.


Flagstones, while usable in primary walkways, really shine in a tertiary walk. The most common use is to spread them apart so that one may comfortably step from one to another. The gaps my then be filled with gravel, mulch, or a ground cover such as moss or baby’s breath.

While some weeding is required compared to a solid flagstone walk, the appearance is more rustic, and certain ground covers will release a pleasant aroma when stepped on.

The process for making a stepping-stone pattern for flagstone begins with the same base and setting bed as with a regular masonry-based walk.

Once laid, you will need to pour approximately one inch of sand where each flagstone will be placed and install the stone, working it until it is stable. You may then add the filler, being careful not to dislodge the flagstones.

Gravel Walkways

Gravel walkways are designed similarly to paver walks, although the base is more shallow. The base should be excavated to a depth of three to four inches, and line it with geotextile fabric.

Fill the trench with one and one half inches of crushed gravel or another base material. While you may use a hand tamper or vibrating plate compactor to tamp the base, a drum roller is often easier to use on narrow paths.

Once the base is completed, add your top coat and use a garden rake to gently smooth it, being careful not to disturb the base. Smaller gravel may be tamped down in the same way as the base, although larger gravel sizes such as pebbles should not be tamped.

Note that gravel tends to remain loose and can be easily dislodged, so it is best to have some form of barrier along the edges, such as medium-sized stones or brick.

Pine Needles

Pine needles are a surprisingly soft and springy material which makes for an excellent garden path. Being organic, the needles will degrade over time, requiring more to be added.

One advantage to using pine needles is the fact that they knit together naturally, forming a barrier that makes it harder for weeds to grow. They also have a pleasant scent that is released as you step on them.

Creating a pine needle path is very easy. Begin by creating a base as you would for a gravel path. Then, simply pour the pine needles onto the base and rake smooth, being careful not to disturb the base material.

You may choose to place cardboard layer on top of the base with a 2 to 3 inch overlap to further deter weeds, but this is an optional step. The edging may then be hidden by stones, plants, or a variety of other means.

Wood Mulch, Chips, and Nuggets

These three materials are often associated with gardens as a form of weed deterrent, but make for a wonderful path. As with pine needles, the material is organic and will break down in time. The three types of wood product vary as follows:

  • Mulch – Primarily shredded wood or bark, with generic mulch containing approximately 70 percent of the named wood and quality mulch containing at least 85 percent of the named wood.
  • Nuggets – Chunks of bark removed from mature trees and graded according to their size.
  • Wood Chips – Waste wood that has been run through a chipper and most commonly the size of a quarter; pine and other resinous woods should be avoided for paths.

The base for a mulch path is the same as for a gravel walk. You will want your edgers to be slightly higher than the final level of the mulch to avoid scattering debris into the plants or lawn. Adding stones over the edger will make for a more natural look, although surrounding ground cover will usually be enough to hide the edgers.

Some home gardeners will also add cardboard between the base and mulch layers with a 2 to 3 inch overlap to further deter weeds.

It should be noted that bark-based mulches degrade slower than pulp-based mulch. Furthermore, bark nuggets are not as comfortable to walk on as mulch or chips, but works well as a transition material if the surrounding area also uses mulch.

Having a different type of mulch on the path than connecting garden beds will also set a nice contrast that helps separate the path. Finally, shredded or small-particle mulches also have a tendency of intertwining over time, forming less loose debris than larger mulch types.

Ground Covers as Filler

Garden Path with Ground Cover Filler
© wittybear / Adobe Stock

There are a wide array of ground covers that make for colorful and aromatic fillers between stones. These tend to be small grasses, moss, and some creeping plants.

Be wary of plants which grow too quickly or have different watering requirements than nearby garden plants for easier maintenance.

The following are just a few popular types of ground cover used for walks:

Baby’s Breath

This popular ground cover features clusters of small, aromatic flowers ranging from pink to white. It requires a more alkaline setting and sunlight to thrive. Stepping on baby’s breath releases the scent, making it a very pleasant covering for garden paths.


Also known as campanula, this popular plant includes a wide variety of species which have small blue or white star-shaped flowers. They can be used for walls, ground cover, and as potted plants with equal ease. Well-drained and sunny to partial shade locations work best for this plant, which blooms throughout summer.


Moss is a simple ground cover that adds a very natural green to any flagstone walk. It can appear on its, own, but you may choose to make a mixture to speed up its propagation.

Begin by dissolving a fist-sized lump of porcelain clay in three cups of water. This will produce a thick sludge. Add one cup each of moss and undiluted fish fertilizer. The mixture may then be thickly painted in any spot you wish for the moss to grow.

Sweet Alyssum

One of the best plants to use for edging, sweet alyssum is low-growing with small clusters of fragrant flowers. This compact plant thrives in sunny, average soil and blooms throughout summer. For the best effect, cut after the first blooms begin to fade to encourage fresh buds.


This popular ground cover has clusters of small, aromatic flowers. While the leaves of this creeping plant are fairly well-divided, the flower clusters may grow as much as three inches across.

These flowers may be seen throughout summer and autumn. It requires a sunny, well drained environment and may be uprooted and stored during cold winters to avoid re-seeding.

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