3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways

3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways

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Our square foot garden consists of 4 large wooden boxes separated and surrounded by a grid of substantial walkways, which means we’ve experimented with several options over the years for keeping those areas mulched and free of weeds.

Based on our own experience, here are my top three tips for creating affordable walkways in the vegetable garden…

3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways | Yankee Homestead
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3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways:

We use two layers, starting with #1, and then adding either #2 or #3.

1. Newspaper Rolls

This was such a great find!  Granted, we have to make a bit of a trek to the nearest newspaper printer in our area, and they do charge a fee per roll.  It’s totally worth it, though.

Most newspaper printers have leftover end rolls of plain newspaper that they’re happy to get rid of.  If you’re lucky, you can even get them for free.

3 Affordable Walkway Materials for the Vegetable Garden | Yankee Homestead
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Newspaper rolls are just paper–no printing or ink to worry about.  And the best part is that they roll!  After much experience in using regular newspapers we’ve saved up, let me tell you that newspaper rolls are by far the best method for covering large areas quickly and effectively.

We use newspaper rolls as a first defense against weeds on our garden walkways.  It serves as the foundation for whatever natural mulch we choose as the finishing layer.

3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways | Yankee Homestead
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When you’re covering a large area, sorting newspapers and spreading them by hand is back breaking work.  This year we ran out of newspaper rolls, and had to finish the tomato area with recycled newspapers.  Yikes!  It made us thankful for the rolls, and determined to make the trek for a new supply.

Tips for Mulching with Newspaper Rolls

1. Unlike the pages from regular newspapers, the paper rolls are super easy!  Just position one roll at the highest point of your garden area, and give it a kick.

3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways | Yankee Homestead
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2. Be sure to use several layers, or even more.  The thicker the layers of paper, the better the weed control.

3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways | Yankee Homestead
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3. You’ll also want to spray the paper with water immediately after rolling it out–this will keep it from shifting or blowing away.

4. Top it with some sort of natural mulching material, such as #2 or #3 on the list below.

2. Free Mulch

Did you know that utility tree trimmers are often willing–and even delighted–to dump a load of mulch on your property?

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This huge pile of mulch was almost as high as our outbuilding!

Several years ago, a relative in the tree business recommended we cut down a large pear tree in our front yard.  It wasn’t the fruiting type, and it stood directly below a power line which required regular trimming by the power company.  Over time, it had started to look pretty silly with its top chopped off.  Plus, our relative called it a “junk tree”.

So when a couple of utility guys knocked at our front door a few years ago to  inform us they’d be trimming the tree, I told them to “Just cut it down!”  They were happy to do so, and they were also happy to dump their entire load of mulch in our driveway.

Plus, since they were working in our area and I knew they’d have even more mulch to dump, I invited them to bring another load or two.   Do you have any idea how much mulch those big trucks can hold?  So. Much. Mulch.

I really wanted to let them bring more mulch (Did I mention it was free?), but Mr. Native Texan tactfully pointed out that A.) We don’t own a tractor, and B.) We weren’t prepared to store vast quantities of the stuff.

We used that mulch–on top of layers of newspaper rolls–for at least two full years of gardening.  It was awesome.

3 Affordable Walkway Materials for the Vegetable Garden | Yankee Homestead
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We needed to move this huge pile of mulch off the driveway, but don’t own a tractor. Our kind neighbor came to our rescue with his handy John Deere.

Tip: If you see utility workers trimming trees near your home, ask if they need a place to dump their load.  They’re often grateful for a nearby spot to do so.  Note that you’ll need suitable access for a huge truck with huge wheels to dump a huge load of mulch in a reasonable location.

Note: I was fairly confident no questionable sprays had been used for the trees on our rural gravel road, but you may want to consider what types of products have been sprayed in the areas being trimmed near you.

3. Straw

This year, we have no free mulch.  So we’re experimenting with straw–it’s cheap and it looks good.  We purchased several bales and simply spread it over the layers of newspaper.

3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways | Yankee Homestead
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So far, so good!  I’ll try to keep you posted as the gardening season progresses…

3 Affordable Materials for Vegetable Garden Walkways | Yankee Homestead
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What’s your favorite affordable material for vegetable garden walkways?

Garden Archives

We’ve enjoyed the Square Foot Gardening Method for several years now, and along the way we added chickens and guinea hens.  If you’re curious about previous gardening adventures at the Yankee Homestead, read more here:

Looking for great children’s books about gardening?


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Kathleen Henderson

Let's get real! I’m Kathleen Henderson, your Natural Living Mentor. I’m on a mission to help families see the joy in real food, while finding natural remedies and creating a nontoxic home. Learn more about my story >>


  1. Kitzia on 05/14/2020 at 2:58 pm

    Hi! I’m new to gardening so excuse me if this is a dumb question, but, what do you do with the straw/wood chips when the growing season is over and winter arrives? How often do you change the straw /wood chips?

    • Kathleen on 05/18/2020 at 11:12 am

      Just leave it there! It’ll break down over time, so just add more as needed.

  2. Gina on 05/13/2021 at 4:07 pm

    Hello. I used straw around my plants last year and had weeds growing all over it that came from the actual straw. Did you have this issue in the walkways?

    • Kathleen Henderson on 05/13/2021 at 4:38 pm

      Yes, that does happen sometimes. It can depend on the straw, and it’s also why I like to put down a thick layer of cardboard or newspaper under the straw. On the bright side, the grass that grows from the straw has very shallow roots and is very easy to remove. 🙂

  3. Kelli on 04/04/2022 at 9:43 am

    I help operate a community garden with 40 plots. We’re looking for a way to suppress weeds/grass in the pathways. With a layer of cardboard and straw, have you had any issues with the wind blowing the cardboard and straw around?

    • Kathleen Henderson on 04/04/2022 at 1:30 pm

      Straw on its own is definitely susceptible to wind. Do you have access to free wood chips? That might be a better solution for you.

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