Follow the rock-paved road
August 22, 2014 9:30 AM   Subscribe

What to do with a rock path in our yard that is almost covered in grass?

The front yard of our house has a rock path from a previous owner (Pictures here). We like it and would like the rocks to be more visible, but right now grass is encroaching on the rocks and we aren’t sure how to improve the situation to make the rocks more visible. Picture 1 is what it normally looks like: grass mostly obscuring the rocks. The rocks are even enough to run a lawn mower over, but even after a fresh mowing the grass seems to be enveloping the rocks.

I pulled up a bunch of grass from part of the rock path (pictures 3 and 4). Now there’s just exposed dirt between the rocks. While I actually think the exposed dirt looks nicer than the overgrown grass, it doesn’t seem wise to just leave exposed dirt since it’s at risk of erosion and weeds.

Once I got tired of ripping up overgrown grass, I also tried levering up some of the rocks and putting them back in at a slightly higher elevation so they weren’t sinking into the grass. You can see them toward the top and left in picture 2 - compared to the rocks on the right side of the picture they are more visible and less grass-covered. It looks slightly nicer but the difference is marginal - and it doesn’t seem like a permanent fix.

What do people do to keep rock paths like this looking nice? I guess we could put down mulch or pebbles between the rocks, but it seems mulch or pebbles would just get pushed around by weather and foot traffic and would eventually messily spill onto the rocks like the grass is now, so I’m uncertain about that. Plus, dumping a bunch of pebbles seems like a hard-to-reverse decision so I’m hesitant to do that. What the best practice is for keeping a walk like this looking sharp? Is there something we should do to keep the grass in check? Put something down between the rocks? Painstakingly run an edger around every single rock once a month?
posted by Tehhund to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My family had a home with this type of rock path once. We put down mulch between the rocks and never had any issues with erosion or movement, even with fairly heavy foot traffic. We used pretty small chunks (that's a technical term) of mulch and big flat stones like the ones in your photo.

The mulch will also help keep the grass in line.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:37 AM on August 22, 2014

You could buy a goat, but I'd just break out the trimming shears.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:42 AM on August 22, 2014

Roundup works remarkably well.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:44 AM on August 22, 2014

posted by misterbrandt at 9:44 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Type of grass has a lot to do with it. You want one that doesn't spread by runners and is soft and thin stalked. I don't know US grass names to offer a suggestion. Keep it cut short, you can usually just mow over the whole lot if the stones are set deep enough, do this often. Keep it well watered. You might also look into other plants besides grass. I have seen babys tears and thyme used to great effect with stone paths like that, though they were in shade and did tend to grow over the stones a little.
posted by wwax at 9:45 AM on August 22, 2014

I was going to suggest pea-gravel, not mulch, but the same basic idea.
To kill off the grass on an area that large, I wouldn't want to do chemical herbicide, I'd go with soil solarization - using clear plastic to trap solar heat for heat-death, or if you're not in a hot/sunny enough area, use black plastic and it will die of starvation (lack of sun/rain). Then you'll have gaps that you can fill in with gravel/mulch.
posted by aimedwander at 9:46 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

After killing off the grass (whatever method you end up using), you might consider planting something like Stepables, which are low-growing, apparently durable to foot traffic, and would prevent a return grass invasion.
posted by tully_monster at 10:01 AM on August 22, 2014

I am a fan of thyme planted between flagstones. Depending on the quality of your soil, you may want to remove some of the existing soil between the stones and replace it with garden soil containing fertilizer to give your new plants a good start.

Vinegar, roundup, solarization --- all will help kill your grass.
posted by Ostara at 10:15 AM on August 22, 2014

Mulch between the stones might be a better idea than gravel. Gravel has a way of migrating which looks messy and can be dangerous if the mower throws those little rocks.
posted by Cranberry at 11:41 AM on August 22, 2014

We use a weed-whacker regularly to keep the grass in check on ours. I like the look of the grass in between the stones, but it does have a tendency to take over.
posted by cecic at 11:52 AM on August 22, 2014

Step one is definitely removing the grass, either by pulling/digging out, or chemical means, whatever you prefer. But as you note, that still leaves exposed dirt between the stones, so grass and weeds will still creep their way back in over time.

If you you like green between the stones, then just plant some durable ground cover (thyme, moss, creeping jenny, etc) in the cracks. These will require a bit of care an maintenance, but won't be as bad as the grass.

Otherwise, you want to scoop the organic soil out from in between the stones, and then sweep in sand to fill in the gaps. Ideally, your complete flagstone path would be set on a bed of gravel or sand, but I'm guessing it's just on soil. So you'll probably still have some plants creeping in even with sand in the cracks. If you're feeling adventurous (and have time and energy to burn) you can pull of the stones up as you go and get a layer of sand underneath (essential lifting the whole path an inch or two) and then sweep sand over top to fill the gaps. The sand will disperse a bit over time and then you can just sweep in some more once a year or something.

There is also polymer sand, which I have never used, but may be worth investigating. It may not disperse as much as regular sand, but I'm guessing it would crack over the winter.
posted by Kabanos at 1:01 PM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a pea gravel area in my yard that gets very overgrown with clover and other weeds. I have intense hatred for roundup, so I looked at other options and discovered Flame Weeding. A $40 flame weeder and a bottle of propane has taken care of my problem and the weeds haven't come back.
And you're not spraying poison around.
Also- fire. So much fun. But be careful.
posted by nthnldtk at 1:52 PM on August 22, 2014

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