Recently, a reader asked me what to do about some well worn patches across her lawn. It seems that her family continues to "beat a path" across a particular area, despite her gentle requests, more forceful suggestions and downright threats!
I started to think of various types of tough, resistant grass or ground cover. And then it struck me.
Why fight it? Go with the flow!
There is probably a very good reason why her family continue to take this particular route. Maybe it's the most convenient way to reach the garage, the shed that houses the bikes and lawnmower or the basketball net. Demanding that they cease and desist obviously isn't working, and there aren't too many varieties of grass that can really stand up to heavy traffic and thrive in hard, compacted soil.
So I came up with a more practical suggestion: (a) Accept that this is an area that is going to receive some heavy foot traffic. (b) Turn the "trail" into an attractive and practical feature of your landscape.
If you are facing a similar problem with your own lawn (or with your family, if you prefer!) then these ideas might be helpful for you, too.
Looking for super-simple? Go to your local hardware store and buy some concrete stepping-stones or paving slabs. They come in various sizes and shapes and you'll probably want some that are about 18 inches across. You can simply lay them down in directly onto the lawn with the centers about 24 inches apart (the length of an average adult stride), or a little closer if kids are the main culprits.
However, I don't really recommend that approach. In the long run, it's better to dig out an area for each stepping stone, so that the top surface is approximately a half-inch above ground level. Why? Because you will be able to roll the lawn mower easily over them, trimming down the grass and weeds that will soon grow up around them.
Another approach would be to pour bags of pebbles or large gravel around and between the stepping stones, so you will not have to worry about mowing near your path at all. If you decide to go this route, I suggest you consider putting down a layer of porous landscaping fabric before you add the stepping stones and the pebbles. This will inhibit weed growth while allowing proper water drainage, as you're creating a pathway not a river bed.
You can also use less expensive black plastic sheeting but you will need to punch holes for drainage, unless it comes ready-perforated. You could also look for a product called WeedPro Weed Mat. It's designed to prevent weeds growing around young trees, but it should work under your stepping stones and gravel too, as you simply "staple" it to the ground and pour the gravel on top.
Another very pleasant solution could be to use some kind of mulch, either surrounding your stepping stones, or simply as the entire pathway.
There are various types of mulch you could choose from, but bear in mind they can be messy: kids and pets can track mulch into the house, particularly on rainy days. If the pathway area is some distance from the house, or runs through a wooded area, a mulch path could be an attractive and inexpensive answer.
To give a more formal look to a mulch pathway, you can buy wood or plastic edging pieces from a hardware store and just whack them in with a mallet along each side.
Try pine needle mulch if your pathway has a gentle slope, because the needles tend to cling together and are less likely to wash away under a heavy rainfall. Bark nuggets are an attractive alternative, and it's now possible to buy nuggets that are stained red, brown or black and are less susceptible to fading under the summer sun.
I suggest planting some attractive ground cover on one or both sides of your new pathway. Try Carpet Bugle (Ajuga reptans) which produces crowns and spreads by horizontal above ground stems called stolons. Carpet Bugle has foliage reaching 4-6" in height and produces attractive 8-10" spikes bearing purple-blue flowers in late spring.
Another pathside ground cover I recommend is Trailing Perwinkle (Vinca minor), a fast growing excellent evergreen ground cover for shaded and semi-shaded areas. It produces dark green oval-shaped foliage and conspicuous blue flowers in early Spring, but is pleasant year-round.
Put your pathway where your family members have "voted with their feet" and you won't have to worry about down-trodden, bare trails on your lawn!