Last Modified: April 2, 2024

Wood Chip Path

Primer for Planning a DIY Mulch Pathway

Play bark safety surface in a child's outdoor play area

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist

  • Building a DIY wood chip path is rated as 'Easy' by Outdoor Aggregates.

Overview

Planning a wood chip garden path for your garden is not only a step towards increasing its serenity and appearance but also a very cost-effective way to show your commitment to eco-friendly practices. A wood chip mulch pathway can get you safely from A-to-B while playing a significant role in improving the natural ecosystem, improving soil health and protecting your plants. In this guide, we'll delve into the benefits and uses of wood chips, followed by practical advice on installation, maintenance, and environmental considerations.

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Wood chippings along a garden path

Key Takeaways

  • Cost-effective: Building your own wood chip mulch path is simple and affordable.
  • Eco-friendly: Using woodchip almost products for your path is a sustainable and environmentally sound option.
  • InstallationGet tips and expert advice for planning a successful project.
  • Alternatives: Check out some alternatives that align with your project goals.
Installing a path using chipped wood

Benefits and Uses of Wood Chips in Your Garden

Gardens thrive on the combination of beauty and functionality, and a natural path can provide both while improving the vibe of your outdoor space. By incorporating a wood chip path into your garden design, you can also promote the growth and health of surrounding trees, as wood mulch helps retain moisture in the soil and provides a natural top layer.

Weed Control

One of the primary benefits of using wood chips for paths is their ability to suppress unwanted weed growth. A layer of 5 - 10cm (2-4 inches) is typically sufficient for effective weed prevention, creating a barrier that inhibits weed germination and growth.

An effective method to increase weed suppression is to lay a weed control fabric underneath the layer of wood chips. Using cardboard as an alternative to weed control fabric can also be an eco-friendly option, as it is biodegradable and can effectively block sunlight. However, it won't be as effective.

Laying heavy duty weed membrane for a garden path

Erosion Control

In addition to suppressing unwanted weed growth, wood chip paths also serve as an effective groundcover, preventing soil erosion and providing a natural and aesthetically pleasing alternative to traditional paving materials. Erosion is a common challenge in areas exposed to heavy rainfall or frequent foot traffic. Their structure helps stabilise the soil, reducing run-off and soil displacement.

Moisture Retention

Wood chippings for paths are superb in retaining soil moisture. This quality is particularly beneficial during dry spells, as it reduces the need for frequent watering, thus conserving water and reducing your gardening efforts.

Insulation

Fluctuating temperatures can be detrimental to plant roots. Wood chips provide a natural insulation layer, protecting roots from extreme temperature changes and fostering a stable growing environment, especially in the winter.

Aesthetic Value

Incorporating wood chips into garden as mulch paths adds a natural, rustic charm to the landscape. This can enhance the overall visual appeal of your garden, creating a serene and inviting outdoor space.  

Close up of shredded bark for landscaping

Soil Enrichment

As wood decomposes, it gradually enriches the soil with essential nutrients, fostering a healthy ecosystem for your plants to thrive in.

Did you know?

Wood chip paths can absorb up to 95% of impact from foot traffic, reducing strain on joints. Also, studies show that walking on wood chips can burn an additional 15-20% more calories compared to walking on paved surfaces.

Bark chips path in a garden

Installation and Maintenance of Wood Chip Pathways

Creating a wood chip path not only adds an eye-catching, natural feature to your garden but also provides a practical walkway for you and your guests to navigate to and from the house.

Planning Your Path

Before laying down wood chips, plan the route of your garden path. Use stakes and string to mark the desired path clearly.

Marking out the area for a garden path

Area Preparation

Clear any existing vegetation and level the ground to ensure a smooth base for your wood chip garden path. Once the vegetation is cleared and the ground level, it is optional to lay down a heavy duty weed membrane. This can prevent any unwanted growth from penetrating through the surface. 

Garden excavation for pathway project

Edging

To maintain the integrity of your mulch pathway, install edging along the sides. This helps to contain the wood chips and prevent them from spreading into surrounding areas.

Installing timber edging

Applying Wood Chips

Spread the wood chips evenly along the path to a depth of 2-4 inches, ensuring complete coverage for optimal benefits. Adding a layer of an organic bark product can also create an interesting look and improve its nutrient balance. 

Compacting and Leveling

Gently compact the wood chips to ensure stability and levelness. This step is crucial for creating a functional and visually appealing path.

Compacting and leveling wood chip path

Regular Maintenance

To keep your wood chip path in top condition, regularly check for and remove any weeds. Also, replenish wood chips in areas that become bare over time. Every couple of years or more, you will need to completely replenish the old chips, which will be excellent compost mulch for your garden.

Need to work out how many bark chippings your project needs? Try our free wood chip and bark calculator.

Wood chips path

Environmental Considerations

Eco-Friendliness

Wood chips are a renewable resource, making them an environmentally friendly choice for garden paths. Free wood chips can also be a suitable substrate for this purpose. However, it is important to bear in mind that wood chips from arborists can contain unknown trees, such as Yew, which is poisonous. Green waste can also introduce diseases to your garden. For this reason, it is something to do with extreme caution, and we do not advise this for novice gardeners.

Choosing the Right Type

Opt for hardwood chips for long-term paths as they decompose slower than softwood chips. Softwood chip products are also suitable, although as a material, they are not as hard-wearing. This will require slightly more frequent top-ups.

However, for those looking for an eco-friendly option, whether hardwood or softwood chips, both are beneficial as they will eventually break down and can be added to compost for enriching your gardens soils.

Application Tips

Avoid placing wood chips directly against plant stems or tree trunks to prevent rot and other diseases.

1wood logs breaking down in a forest

Alternatives to Wood Chippings for Paths

If your goal is to use environmentally friendly materials, then there are quite a few earthy alternatives that fit within different budgets.

One budget-friendly alternative to a wood chip path could be using gravel, which not only provides an aesthetically pleasing look but also requires minimal maintenance. Slate chippings also come from recycled roofing tiles and make enchanting walkways.

Stepping Stones

If you are feeling creative with your woodchip path, consider the placement of stepping stones, which can be up-cycled hardscaping materials from around the garden through to lovely pieces of slate stone. This can establish a practical and pleasing mulch pathway with a difference. Eventually, you may see enchanting, green moss growth around the edges less travelled.

Composting

Composting wood chips before use can enhance their nutrient value, making them an even more beneficial addition to your garden beds. The texture of a composted wood mulch path not only adds visual interest to your garden but also provides a soft and comfortable walking surface. However, it is worth noting that the surface may be more prone to movement or water-logging when using compost mulch.

Safety and Precautions

It is recommended to always wear gloves and eye protection when spreading wood chips, particularly in windy conditions or when using a leaf blower.

Nitrogen Depletion

Be aware that as wood chips decompose, they may temporarily deplete nitrogen in the soil, which is generally only a problem with young plants. This can be mitigated by using nitrogen-rich fertilisers, such as rotted horse manure, to maintain a balanced soil composition and ensure the healthy growth of foliage.

1frozen bark mulch path and leaves

Summary

Creating a wood chip garden path is more than just a landscaping project; it's an investment in the health and beauty of your garden. In addition, a wood chip path offers a more natural and organic feel, blending seamlessly into any garden or outdoor space. Its soft surface also provides a gentle cushioning effect, making it a comfortable choice for walking or running.

Remember, the key to a successful wood chip path lies in thoughtful planning, correct installation, and ongoing maintenance. By choosing the right type of wood chips and following these guidelines, you'll create not only a charming garden feature but also a sustainable environment for your plants to flourish. So, grab your gloves, gather your wood chips, and embark on the rewarding journey of creating a wood chip path that will enrich your garden for years to come.

Happy gardening!

1colourful plant in front of conifers scaled

FAQs

What materials are commonly used for creating wood chip paths?

For wood chip paths, popular choices include cedar chips and hardwood mulch, known for their natural appearance and durability. These materials are effective in preventing weed growth, blending seamlessly into garden aesthetics.

How long do wood chip paths typically last?

Wood chip paths can generally last between 2-5 years, varying with climate, foot traffic, and upkeep. Consistent maintenance such as raking and topping up the wood chips can significantly extend their lifespan.

What maintenance is required for wood chip paths?

Maintaining wood chip paths involves regular raking to prevent compaction, replenishing the wood chips to maintain a depth of 2-3 inches, and edging to define the path's boundaries. This depth ensures optimal moisture retention and longevity, while also contributing organic matter to the surrounding soil as it decomposes.

Are there any specific preparations needed before installing a wood chip path?

Certainly. Prior to laying a wood chip path, it's crucial to clear the area of any existing vegetation and level the ground to ensure proper drainage. Laying a weed barrier fabric beneath the wood chips is recommended to reduce weed growth and enhance the path's durability.

How do wood chip paths compare to other types of pathways in terms of cost?

Wood chip paths are a more budget-friendly option compared to pathways made of concrete or stone. The materials are not only affordable but also widely available, and the paths demand minimal maintenance. According to a 2023 survey, the cost of installing a wood chip path is approximately 50% less than that of a concrete or stone pathway.

There are many other varieties of wood chippings available for your project. Check out them out!

About the author 

Ben Parrot

Ben Parrot, is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.