After writing about mulch and its uses in the garden or on the farm, it is interesting to note that there is another option for your pathways to prevent weeds from sprouting and spreading. You can plant your pathways with a crop that will act similar to mulch. This is called a living pathway.
The living pathway serves the same purpose as mulch. The clover above creates a thick canopy that prevents light from getting to seeds and crowds out any weeds that try to grow.
Beyond serving as a living mulch to prevent weed seeds from sprouting and spreading, living pathways also help feed the soil around flower beds by bringing nutrients to the surface with their roots. A living pathway also helps keep the soil in place and prevents erosion.
Some things to consider when thinking about living pathways:
How will you mow the pathway? Will you use a weed whacker, a flail mower, or a mulching mower? My farm is so small that I am able to use a weed whacker, but it does throw debris up onto the plants. I also use a manual push mower. This is helpful in the paths, but doesn't get around the edges. A flail mower or mulching mower will move plant debris below the mower. If you are using a mower, you will want to make sure that your pathway is the correct width for the mower to trim the pathway plants.
Do you care about the living pathway creeping into your beds? This has been an issue for me as grass and clover have edged their way into the flower beds. I have remedied this by using the weed whacker on its side as an edger and by pulling out encroaching plants. I also mow regularly to make sure that the pathways don't get out of control.
What is growing on your pathway now? My pathways hosted a mix of grasses and weeds. Instead of tearing up the sod, I decided to broadcast white clover seeds into the mix of grass and weeds in early Spring before much had started to grow. The clover quickly took off and has grown over the grass and weeds. You can also start from scratch by tarping or covering your pathways and then, once the existing plants have died back, seed them with whatever you have chosen to plant in your pathway.
Let's talk about what plants work best as living pathways. I have used white clover in some pathways, which held up really well until the past few weeks of dry weather. Clover is a legume, so it adds nitrogen to the soil. Other pathways include the native grasses or weeds already growing in our field. Another option I am considering is ryegrass. Jessie Frost of No-Till Growers suggests chamomile in the pathways. He has some great videos about living pathways.
Other helpful resources about living pathways:
Consider the three questions above before you dive in. If living pathways are right for you and your farm or garden, go for it and let me know how it turns out.