Managing Walkways

There is always a lot of discussion on how to keep farm pathways clear of weeds. We’ve tried a bunch of systems, and here are three of my favorites.

Weed barrier walkways for perennials. Our perennials are in open beds with permanent weed barrier walkways. We anchor with earth staples. I prefer open beds for perennials so that they can spread as much as possible. The weed barrier stays clean and we can access the beds in early spring when wet soils are a concern. I clean the pathways a few times a year with a leaf blower to keep them clear and tidy. Because our perennial field is on a hill, about every 4 years we must rake up the lower side of the bed that is caving onto the path.

Planted pathways for annuals on plastic. We grow most of our annuals in biodegradable plastic film. We’ve developed a slick system to seed the pathways with a cover crop that feeds the soil while suppressing weeds. We can seed our 1½-acre annual field in about 3 person hours using the following system:

  • As soon as the plastic is laid and the soil is still loose, use a bag seeder to broadcast seed over the whole field.
  • Have someone come behind with a leaf blower (backpack preferred) and blow the seed off the plastic.
  • Drive the tractor over the pathways once, using the wheels to flatten the pathways and increase seed-soil contact. Tractor is straddling the beds during thiAll the above should be done the same day you lay the plastic, and definitely before the field’s first rain.
  • After the cover crop is established, we mow the pathways with a walk-behind mower. During certain times, this can be a weekly task. After trying lots of mowers, I am partial to the old-school DR field and brush mower. If I had the luxury of more land, I’d make wider aisles and mow with a riding mower. Either way, our fields are very tidy, and we never use herbicide to keep paths clear.

I’ve tried many cover crops for this system, thanks to an ASCFG Grower Grant years ago. My current favorite is annual rye because it grows slowly enough to not need constant mowing, plus it establishes quickly in spring to cover soil and suppress crabgrass germination. For quickly increasing organic matter, oats are very effective. We were not happy with clover because it crept into the plastic.

Perennial pathways for shrubs. We planted our paths with red clover, but they’ve evolved to a mix of grasses, clover, and weeds. We mow this several times throughout the year, mostly when any of the weeds are flowering. Our shrubs are on a hillside, and the permanent planted strips help control runoff and erosion.

Weed barrier paths for perennials.
Transplanting June 3, pathways seeded April 24.
Hydrangea 'Limelight'

Michelle Elston

Roots Cut Flower Farm

Contact her at [email protected]