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Use stones to border the garden pathways

Question: I have several gravel garden pathways and a gravel drive. They look great, but I am constantly battling weeds and mud. What sort of edging can I install on a very limited budget that will keep these nuisances out? I'd like to use something that is earth-friendly and, if possible, recycled.

Answer: Visit any home center, garden center or landscaping supply business and you will see all sorts of garden-edging products, in metal, wood or plastic. Perhaps the least expensive edging products are the thin plastic ones with a rounded top. Thin edging material comes in handy if your path and drive are curved. These materials bend around curves with a very tight radius.

Metal, wood and plastic might satisfy your earth-friendly requirement if they are made from recycled materials. Wood edging that comes from sustainable forests would be a very responsible choice.

The material I prefer to use for garden edging meets or exceeds your environmental concerns by a long shot. I have a soft spot for rock-hard stones. I prefer to use salvaged and recycled granite cobblestones for garden and driveway edging. The cobblestones I have used frequently served as ballast in sailing ships. They were often unloaded while the ships were in port and were used as pavement in many older city streets and roads. Modern redevelopment often unearths these stones, and the demolition contractor sells them to landscaping supply or stone supply businesses.

You can also buy new granite cobblestones. White, pink and gray are the most common colors. You may find those that have been tumbled to produce softer edges. Laborers in India, South America and other parts of the world still shape thousands of cobblestones each day, and these imports stream into the United States regularly.

Installing the cobblestones is very easy. Typically the stones are only 5 inches thick. I like to have about 1.5 inches of stone show above the paved surface. This creates a formidable barrier to weeds, grass and mud. If you dig a 4-inch-deep trench, you can install a thin base of coarse sand or small crushed gravel under the stones. This material helps you position the cobblestones, as they are very rarely the same height. It is very important to keep the top of the cobblestones level so that the edging appears uniform.

Do not install the cobblestones one at a time. I find it is best to dig the narrow trench and then position perhaps 15 or 20 stones in a line or around a curve. Use a short piece of 2-by-4 to help you maintain the finished height above the gravel surface.

After you have the stones positioned, stand back and look at the curve or the line. If it looks good to your eye, add small crushed gravel on the side that contacts the gravel path or driveway. Soil can be used to backfill the other side of the cobblestones. Use coarse sand or very small gravel chips to fill any spaces or cracks where one cobblestone touches another. This gravel helps lock the stones together.

If the granite cobblestones are too expensive, you have two choices: You can install them a few at a time as you can afford them, or you can use a more affordable stone product. There is a distinct advantage when you select recycled granite cobblestones. Only a finite amount of these worn cobblestones are left. People notice the beauty and unique character of these stones. As such, the price rises each year for these prized works of Mother Nature.

Tim Carter is a licensed contractor. Got a question for him? Call from 10 a.m. to noon today toll-free 1-888-737-1450 on his radio call-in show (not broadcast in the Tampa Bay area). You can listen to his archived radio shows online at any time by clicking on www.askthebuilder.com/cgi-bin/multimedia. To view previous columns or tap into his archive of information and sources of building materials, visit www.askthebuilder.com.

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