Ok, talk me out of crushed shell paths (again)

castorpJuly 10, 2014

Every year at this time I begin thinking about ways to mow less--and also spend less time topping off organic mulches, which seem to rot instantly in this weather. And every year I'm drawn to the idea of covering much, or even all, of the back yard paths and sitting areas with "washed shells". (If you've never seen them, mulch companies sell them by the cubic yard, like gravel, and they're used like gravel.) I like them because they're a local product with a very Florida feel. I would border the paths with landscape timbers and set stepping stones in the shells to make walking easier and reduce the tendency to "track." I would buy shells mixed with silt so they would pack down with the rains, making a hard surface that I could keep clean with a leaf blower.

And every year i post on gw or ask gardeners I know and everyone yells in unison DONT DO IT! Your flower and vegetable beds will be full of shells, they say. They'll track everywhere, they say. Weeds will pop up and leaves will fall and it will be a big mess, they say. You'll alter the ph of the soil, nothing will grow (except weeds) and the garden will blind you it will be so bright in the sun, they say.

And I think, well, maybe crushed shells aren't such a good idea. . .

But then summer will come around again, and i'll mow and mow (and mow) and spread tons of organic mulch, and I start dreaming of crushed shell paths . . .

Indecisive Bill

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I have pea gravel in a path through my veggie garden and it has worked well. I have the black plastic edging to keep it in place with liriope (sp) grass as a border covering the black edging.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 7:32AM
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We used crushed limestone for a path a few years ago. It packs nicely and stays put. The crush is pretty fine...1/4'' maximum down to a granulated type dust.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:00AM
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We have crushed shells for the paths at our community garden. They don't get into the raised beds too badly. Definitely lots of weeds which come out easily when the ground is wet but are extremely difficult to get out when it is dry. The main problem is the sun, it always feels 10 degrees hotter than anywhere else and you burn super fast.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:09AM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake, F

Personally, my biggest concern is the PH factor. Where I live I am already on fairly alkaline soil, so adding something like crushed shell paths would just make things that much harder for getting PH right for some of my acid loving plants (blueberries). But, if you have your paths separated from your beds by a fairly deep, wood barrier, like those landscape timbers set at least 4" into the ground, you can help mitigate how much the paths affect the beds.

My second concern is mess. I have one path in my yard that wraps from my lanai door to my shed. Last year I decided to cover that path with pine straw. And it looked great! But as the pine straw started breaking down, I found that it would cling to my sandals more and more each morning, afternoon and evening when I took the dogs out. Especially if it rained. Now a year later, I no longer have a covering for my path. What pine straw I did not track inside and then sweep up and throw on my compost decayed to feed the now bare paths. I do not know how much of a mess the crushed shells make, but if your local mulch/gravel supplier has a mound of them, I would give them the 'heel test'. Go out to visit them shortly after it rains and put the heel of your sandals, shoes or boots into the pile and see how much clings to the bottom. Take that amount and double it and then imagine taking that much into your house or beds with you every time you go out on a misty morning.

And one final note: Local doesn't always mean good. Sand is a good local product as well, but when you look through Google maps around Tampa and other places where sand is collected, you can see just how much it is messing up the local environment to gather these local materials. This is not a HUGE deal for me personally, but it is something I keep in mind. But if this sort of thing does bother you, then getting this 'locally available' material might not be the best option. It's almost like cypress mulch and peat moss. Yeah, they're locally available, but their harvesting is completely unsustainable and robbing the public lands of their appeal. Again, I'm not waving a hippie flag here about saving the land, but it is a reality to keep in mind.

In the end, nobody should keep you from doing what you really want to do. If you have been pining for a crushed shell path for years now, give it a go. Take all things into consideration, so you can ensure the stuff stays where you put it as much as possible, and then create a small section with the crushed shell and see how it goes. If you still like it a year later, go full out and do all your paths.

Best of luck on your choice.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:27AM
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carolb_w_fl(zone 9/10)

We have them as well & it's not that bad - but ours are in partial shade. I love the 'Florida' look - & the historic Vinoy hotel had them as paths in their garden, last time I was there & took the tour.

Our elementary school (Gulf Beaches) had the entire schoolyard covered in shell - worst thing about it was if you fell while playing - still have a scar on my knee from that!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:31AM
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As a Floridian, I LOVE that look of crushed shell paths. However: We lived on a shell road when I was a kid, you talk about OWEEE! And, we now have a rural crushed lime-rock driveway and the weeds get in there and it is a constant battle. If you let them go they degrade the material and then you will have wasted your money and efforts. So take warning. Also the soil PH is a factor with some plants, it will leach out and when you have alkaline soil the nutrients have a hard time working. BTW, the Florimulch that they sell at Lowes is very good, it's the cheapest one, it compacts very well, doesn't float away as bad, it's softer than cypress and large pine nuggets, and they harvest it in South Florida, it's an invasive species that needs to be irradicated anyway, so it's not harming the environment.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 11:04AM
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Thanks so much for the information, ideas, and experiences.

I didn't consider the sunburn factor--or what they might do to my knees if I fall!

Can those of you have these type paths (shell, pea gravel, crushed limestone, etc) tell me how you keep them clean? Will the leaf blower do the trick or does it involve a lot of careful raking--as I have been warned? I have some deciduous trees and will probably plant more, so it's a major concern.

Leekle2ManE, you raise a good point. I don't know if local crushed shell is collected responsibly or not. I'll look into it. My reasons for wanting a local product have more to do with local feel/color than environmental reasons, but I don't want to use anything flat-out bad for the environment either.

The more people tell me, the more I realized that I will need more shade if I do this--maybe a pergola with vines in the vegetable garden--something to put more green overhead when there is white underfoot.

Thanks again.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 11:15AM
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I use the Florimulch from lowes and I love it. In fact, if I don't go with crushed shells I will probably just use a lot more Florimulch. I realize it would be more practical in some ways, but the shells always tempt me.

I do wonder how much weeding the crushed shells would involve. I have a small patch of coarse gravel where water pours off the roof during the rains and I pluck a weed or two out of that pretty often, despite landscape fabric beneath. If that's an indication, a few hundred feet of crushed shell paths might be overwhelming to maintain.



    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 12:16PM
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I don't like the landscape fabric because debris breaks down and becomes trapped soil that the weeds grow in. I have pretty thick layers of pea gravel. I use round up for any weeds that show up. Using a leaf blower not pointed down blows off most leaves without disturbing the gravel too much. It does get ruts and I intend to put stepping stones as well in the path.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 12:28PM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

Off topic but tell me about Florimulch. I like the idea of using melaleuca but does it last longer than cypress mulch? I've been converting to pine bark simply because cypress mulch has to be replaced so frequently.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 2:05PM
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All of my paths are left from an old driveway that I planted in..it's pea gravel and I like it a lot. Easy to use a blower on, dooesn't track anywhere, a few weeds from time to time and useful to pick up a few pieces to hurl at the grackles on the feeders!
You could look at some of the pics I've posted if you want to see "the look"
And in the back of my house, I have simple paths with pine needles I rake up off my long driveway - free!
Good luck,

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 2:25PM
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I've not had much of a weed problem in our one compacted crushed limestone (shady) path. And, not concerned with the ph because we have acid soil and have to add lime anyway. In any case, it is going to take shells or crushed lime a long, long, long time to break down & have much of an impact on soil ph.

How I deal with weeds in other paths (pine needles) is to broadcast Preen...Preen is supposed to be good for about 3 months & I have a short growing season up here in Wisconsin...anything that gets passed the Preen is either hand pulled or hit with Round-Up.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 2:43PM
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All I can tell you is, if you are a picky person and don't like weeds, don't go there with the crushed shell, you will be driving yourself crazy with the weeds. I live in a rural area where no-one cares what your place looks like so I don't get anal about it, but I do what I can and then learn to look the other way when they grow back, and as long and wide as our driveway is, it would be IMPOSSIBLE to mechanically rid it of weeds, I use roundup and then a month later I have to do it again. And forget the grassy weeds like sedge, roundup doesn't touch it.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 2:47PM
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Yes, I love the Florimulch, I like it better than any of the others and it seems to last just as long or longer than the others. And it's CHEAPER! Also, yes, I've started using Preen in the beds and it really keeps the weeds down, but when it rains a lot you do have to re-do it sooner than every 3 months. But it doesn't work on sedge grass, does anyone out there know what works on that? I have hit it several times with roundup and sedge killer and I just can't get it under control.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 2:55PM
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keiki(10 FL)

I work on Sanibel and everyone uses either washed shell or 79 rock. It is very old Florida look. When I first started at the nursery I thought it would be a nightmare but it is easy to keep nice. A blower or rake will clean up the leaves or flowers easily. I don't find it has more weeds than areas with mulch but we keep on it. I think that is the clue, if you see a weed pop up pull it right then. We keep it pretty thick and it is very neat. Rock in the areas you drive on and shell on the paths. We don't use anything to keep it in place other than mulch.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 7:44AM
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Katkin, thanks for the tip on the leaf blower. My fear is that if I don't use some kind of weed fabric my "soil" is so sandy it would swallow up any shells or gravel I put on it. I was hoping if I used a mix designed to pack down and form a hard surface it would prevent this from happening even if I didn't use the fabric, but I don't know.

Hester, I did a search and looked up photographs of your gravels paths. Very pretty! I love the look. It's what keeps drawing me back to the idea. Thanks for telling me about your experience with them.

Ritaweeda, I could use Roundup or Preen in the some areas, but I could see it getting a bit tricky in the narrower paths of the vegetable garden--where I really want these paths. I wonder, Could you reduce the weed problem by topping off with more shell now and then? I haven't figured out a way to kill sedges either.

Keiki, without barriers don't the shells/rock and the mulch get mixed up? Now that you mention it, I see driveways around here made of white or off- white rock (I'm not sure what it is) that don't seem to have barriers either. I'm wondering, How do you keep the edges neat? I'm going to investigate 79 rock.

Thanks again to you all.


    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 8:11AM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake, F

A good, economic way to apply glyphosate, aka Round-up, is to paint it on plants you want gone. When spraying, you always run the risk of overspray or the wind blowing it onto something you want to keep. But using a small sponge or cloth, you can wipe the leaves with the chemical. It takes a tad more effort than point and spray, but it is well worth it for the safety.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 1:37PM
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I use 3 sides of a card board box as a shield around the weed and spray. I think that goes a little quicker. :o)

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 2:27PM
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I have the cheap 12" pavers from HD and love them, I push and pull my cart or wagon and no problem, doesn't bog down... we set them in an alternate red-white pattern that looks good...sally

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 4:21PM
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whgille(FL 9b)

Hi Bill

I saw this bed at Disney and I thought it was very pretty! but probably is good in a raised bed not in a path where if you walking barefoot, you can get hurt. I like hay in some of my garden because it is easy for my little dogs paws.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 1:59PM
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Thanks for the picture, Silvia. It's a neat idea. If in the end I don't go with crushed shell paths maybe I can make a bed of whole shells somewhere.

Sally, I have been considering the paver idea too, as an alternative to shells/gravel, for the reasons you mention, and lots of others too. They're probably more practical in the vegetable garden. I had not considered using two different colors in a checkerboard pattern. I'm going to think about that. Thanks for the idea.

I've used a paintbrush to apply glyphosate but I never thought about the cardboard box idea. I'm going to try it next time I have to use it.


    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:59AM
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I like the pavers because after awhile they get that 'old' look and where they don't fit I fill in with bricks, the bricks look rustic and go well together with the pavers... I push and haul my cart and barrow and no problem ,they don't bog down.... and weeds don't grow, except between the pavers and I spritz them w/round-up, but have to be careful none drifts on the roses it is lethal.. LOL.. sally

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 4:47PM
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