This is your helpful guide to demystifying the art of natural pathway construction for the residential landscape. It is much easier than you may think. DG walkways are hands-down the best bang for the buck, but they offer so much more value than cost alone. Using decomposed granite can also be a brilliant cornerstone for xeriscape projects, xeriscape meaning drought-tolerant, low water usage, and low maintenance landscaping.
So what is a natural pathway? It involves a landscape process bent around features that give you the feeling of natural occurrence. Like finding a deer trail while camping in the forest, your back yard path should invite the weary traveler to trust it will lead something wonderful on the other end while taking a scenic route previously unseen by the human eye.
But even if your walkway doesn’t invoke as much zen spirit as you’d hoped, happy feet will appreciate its natural aesthetic (built from materials that naturally occur) and its cooler surface temperature. Concrete may be the most maintenance free system in the world, but it isn’t the ‘cool cucumber’ that its first cousin, the natural pathway, is.
We will dive specifically into building DG pathways that are stabilized with a liquid polymer, specifically a product called G3 – Pathway Stabilizer manufactured by TechniSoil. What the heck does liquid polymer stabilizer do? We will explain how, what, and why throughout this post including benefits and tips to save time and save yourself from a ‘hardscape headache’.
Are you ready to get started? Great, let’s venture through this project together. Feel free to skip around and browse the pictures, tips, and insight. And, of course, let us know what you think! Comment below, click like, or share – we appreciate the interaction and ideas on how we can help more in the future.
It’s an age-old concept, getting from Point A to Point B. Throughout history, trails and roads represent the single most important way to connect people, commerce, and culture. As roads improve, so follows infrastructure. One only needs to peer back into 19th century American history to see the explosive continuity created by cross-country railroads.
First things first. Where are we going and how do we want to get there? Do you need a pathway from the side gate to the back yard? Walkway from the patio to the garden? Or how about a cost effective patio area or hardscape apron?
For a general-use residential pathway system, the easiest way to get started is by marking out the project area. This will help you visualize the pathway and its boundaries. Let’s face it, we tend to think a project vision in our head will suddenly jump out into reality – but it rarely does like we hoped. No bother, you don’t have to be Picasso to get started on your design.
Using a garden hose, rope, or for the truly daring, a can of upside-down marker paint – map out the project area. Remember to stand back and take in several vantage points of the outlines. Does it look like your vision? If not, then keep tweaking it! And, if your brain is weary from processing too many revisions, bring in a another set of eyes to offer a fresh perspective.
Think of this step as a free license to spray paint your back yard with graffiti (sometimes referred to as tagging). You may discover a hidden talent, but please do not break the law – it’s not worth the thrill.
This is always an interesting and spirited debate. Straight lines or curves? While there may be no ‘correct’ answer, here are some points on both sides with a little psychology on the topic.
The Logic Thinker, the one who predominantly relies on the left side of the brain, will usually lean more toward straight lines. In this world of thought, objects are linear, parallel, and sense is made from seeing more than one object conform. The con to straight lines is the incredibly difficult time you’ll have trying to make it all work. What looks straight from two feet away, looks ridiculously crooked from 10 feet away – and this can be a maddening feat.
The Creative Thinker, the one who predominantly relies on the right side of the brain, will typically crave a more random and artistic approach to boundaries represented by curves. When everything is straight, they find harmony in nonconformity. The con to curves, and more specifically the overuse or aggressive hairpin design of such, can be what appears as total chaos. No one wants a jumbled mess, especially on a walking path!
The answer lies, as does beauty, in the eyes of the beholder. And suffice to say that congruent use of both will serve a project well.
So, a quick review thus far shows that #1) We need a path #2) We have mapped it out with zen harmony considered, and #3) We need to know what’s next.
It’s time to dig (DIY’ers morphing into pro’s will substitute the word excavate here). For the reckless, this will not be a fun experience. But with a dash of concern and a sprinkle of care, you will save yourself hours of fits during this phase.
First off, we are 100% certain that we have absolutely no idea what may be lurking below the surface area of our projected pathway site. Depending on where your digging around the house, there could be utility lines (water, electrical, gas), a rock garden, or your dog’s last 3 tennis balls that no one could find. The point is, be careful, but more importantly mindful of what might be down there and the damage that will ensue if something goes wrong.
For a residential foot traffic path, the rule of thumb is 4″ to 6″ of excavation below finish grade (the general height of your pathway’s surface). This will allow for a sturdy subbase and surface layer. We’ll cover this in more detail soon.
Don’t forget to make a plan dealing with a location for the newly excavated materials! You will not be using them on this project, but maybe they fit into another? If you have any areas that need grade modifications, move the native soil into a stockpile (nothing is more frustrating than having to pay for fill dirt on a future project when you had some laying around).
Or you can take a tip from The Three Stooges in the episode entitled Cash & Carry, when they masterfully realize they need to ‘dig a hole to put that dirt in’.
Now we have an excavated pathway project ready for new materials. This is where the fun begins, where your project transcends the demolition and prep phase and enters construction phase. That point where you become an artist, and this dirt below the project (known as the subgrade) is your blank canvas.
But before you get too far ahead of yourself, there’s one crucial element to consider first – drainage. Where does water pool or run off in comparison to your pathway location? Will the path be exposed to regular water other than rain, like sprinkler irrigation? And when it does rain, let’s say a real belly-washer, where does all that water go? Answering these questions and factoring in solutions may save your pathway project.
The subgrade stage is the perfect time to manage drainage issues. Think about all places water will come from; rain, sprinklers, gutter downspouts, drip irrigation, swimming pool overflow, etc. If any of these will cause water to pool up or flow with force, you need an underground drainage system. Catch basins and corrugated drain pipe will work wonders, just be sure to consider slope for flow and a sensible exit area for the excess water.
If all went well during excavation, you didn’t puncture any water pipes or sever any electrical lines. You only need to expend a little effort to prepare the subgrade in most cases. The goal is to expose inconsistencies in the native soil; mole or gopher tunnels, decomposing rocks, washouts, or sinkholes.
Compact the subgrade layer with a vibratory plate compactor. This is a gas powered piece of equipment available at most any rental supply store. The vibrating plate rocks back and forth performing two functions; #1) compacting loose materials into a tighter and more structurally sound mass, and; #2) propelling itself forward to make life easier for the operator. Usually 3 to 4 passes over the entire area will suffice. Use a hand tamp in tight corners or anywhere the compactor can’t cover.
Here’s a pro tip and some myth debunking information for you to chew on. At both the subgrade and subbase stages (see more below), there are two different camps of installation methodology about using weed or landscape fabric.
Weed fabric or weed paper as it’s also called (ha ha), is a woven fabric that helps prevent weed growth in planter beds while still allowing air, water, and nutrients to pass through to the soil for plants and shrubs. In the old days, people used plastic or visqueen (horribly inefficient over time and not beneficial for nearby plants).
The problem with using landscape fabric underneath a natural DG pathway is that it can act like a pond liner. Meaning, any water that permeates the surface (as opposed to running off) can get trapped for a period of time until flow-through or evaporation occurs. Where this is beneficial in a planter bed as a moisture retention method, it can be devastating for a pathway. The trapped water keeps surface materials soft, thus creating issues for foot traffic (we’ll talk more about this later in the polymer stabilization section).
Weed fabric is not to be confused with geo-grid or geo fabric. Geo-grid materials are usually mesh woven fabrics or plastic with large openings throughout. Geo-grid helps reduce erosion by bonding layers together making it difficult for one layer to slide off of another.
Are you starting to feel like a professional installer yet? Well, keep your shirt on – we’re not done just yet, but you’re doing great so far.
The next step is to install the subbase layer. THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT STEPS IN THE ENTIRE PROCESS. Did we get your attention?
One of our favorite inspirational business quotes essentially sums up this section;
“For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” -Steve Jobs (Former Apple CEO & celebrated technologist)
What Steve was saying was that you cannot simply slap a pretty cover on a pile of junk and hope to have a worthwhile product that would last. Think of the old ‘lipstick on a pig’ reference.
For your decomposed granite path to hold up, it needs a good subbase. The subbase layer is where all the load bearing strength comes from. Just like your house needs walls to hold up the roof, so must your pathway have support from below.
Depending on how much material you excavated and how much load bearing support is needed (more foot traffic vs. less foot traffic, and other factors), you will need a minimum 2″ subbase layer. If installing more than 2″, then it’s generally recommended to install in lifts (or layers) no deeper then 2″ each. This will allow for adequate compaction, once again, using the vibratory plate compactor in 3 to 4 passes over the evenly graded loose material. Use a grade rake, screed board, and the occasional ‘foot wedge’ to manipulate the base rock.
The material used for this layer is usually a gradation of 3/8″, 1/2″, or 3/4″ minus crushed stone mix commonly referred to as road base, crusher run, Class 2 base rock, or slab fill depending on what part of the country you reside. What does gradation and minus mean? Great question, glad you asked.
Materials that compact well are often crushed aggregates that are run through a series of screens to obtain certain sizes. For example, 3/4″ minus would indicate a material that had anything from 3/4″ rocks down to 1/16″ fines and everything in between. Compaction ratings are excellent and degradation is typically very minimal.
Hence the term road base, these optimal subbase materials are also supporting many of the roads and freeways you drive your car on every day.
Going from DIY to Pro isn’t easy, but all it takes is a some extra knowledge and a little experience. Has the information so far helped you feel more confident about your pathway project? If so, good. We are getting close to the end, you’re in the home stretch.
DG, short for decomposed granite, is a material made from – you guessed it – aging granite rock. Over time the material fractures into smaller particles making it one of the more unique naturally occurring aggregate mixes available. It, like the road base we talked about earlier, can also be run through crushers and screen decks to obtain a specific gradation.
Granite rock can have many different color characteristics too, which makes selecting a material for your landscape theme interesting. This will usually vary dramatically across the country but some notable DG hotspots like California, Arizona, Texas, and Wisconsin have tons of available materials.
The most traditionally used material for natural pathways is gold DG. Fitting too, since it conjures images of the yellow bricked road or a path made of gold. If your local landscape supply yard doesn’t carry DG regularly, ask about having it transported in from another region.
Did you soak in the information above? More specifically, did you retain the guidance revolving around subbase material gradation, compaction, and weed fabric? If not, jump back up a couple sections and review – they are all critical factors when selecting a DG material and ultimately installing it.
Remember we talked about using TechniSoil G3 – Pathway Stabilizer for this project? That will be a key piece of the puzzle as we venture into the final stages of our project.
Decomposed granite selection can be tricky, even in regions where it’s readily available. Unfortunately, not all DG is ‘made the same’. Some materials are more aged than others making them brittle or prone to faster decomposition; some contain high amounts of clay or dirt; and some gradations are not quite up to the specified size listed which could mean too many rocks or too much dust.
Not to worry though, you’re becoming a Pro! And you understand what makes a good crushed aggregate mix – structural integrity; linear gradation containing rocks, crushed pieces, and fines; minimal clay or dirt content; and finally, excellent compaction value.
To keep from putting you to sleep, we will provide some expedient ‘Cliff Notes’ explanations here. For your pathway to stand the test of time, it needs to built from a material with structural integrity that compacts well. Think of it this way, if you build a path out of talcum powder, will it last? No! Because talcum powder doesn’t ‘stand up’ well on its own. This is also the reason we want a material that has the least clay or common dirt in it. Because, you guess it right again, clay and dirt do not make good pathways.
One last physical test you can perform on the prospective DG is the ‘oatmeal test’. Make a ball of of the material in your hand and squeeze it together. When released, does it bind together somewhat? Or does it fall apart instantaneously? If it consistency is like oatmeal, and tends to stick together, you’re on the right track. But also, did the material leave your hands dirty or muddy? If so, maybe there’s too much dirt and clay in the mix. But if not, you likely have a mix that is actually crushed aggregate pieces – your best option for pathway perfection!
Whew! We have covered a lot of ground (pun intended). You’ve selected a qualified DG and you’re ready to install it over the subbase. But how will it stay in place? There a a few answers but let’s go over some basic fundamentals for building a pathway, or for any hardscape walkway or patio project for that matter.
Edge restraints are the best way to keep that path from falling apart or breaking down over time. There are many varieties including plastic edging, steel edging, bender board, pressure treated lumber, concrete, and various hardscape and masonry solutions. Whichever fits your project, we are confident they will add functional beauty to your walkway.
We discussed water drainage earlier, but there is another side to that coin. No matter what sort of surface material you’re installing (concrete, pavers, flagstone, bricks, DG), it must be pitched or sloped.
Pooling water creates problems so creating a runway helps redirect into a system better suited for water transport. Think of a storm drain on a city street, without them, the streets would flood in even the lightest rains causing accidents and general unpleasantness.
With decomposed granite pathways, slope and crowning are the most beneficial methods of diverting water. Crowning is the process of raising the center of a finish grade in a slightly rounded fashion to create runoff on both sides. This is very effective when stacking all the runoff water on one side creates a problem.
Why is this all so important? Decomposed granite, even when stabilized with a polymer additive, is still a crushed stone mix that is not impervious to water. Even concrete isn’t impervious to water – believe it or not – while some water runs off, some evaporates, and some percolates.
Water, especially in excess or for extended periods, will soften your path. And we have to think of that DG path sort of like a kitchen sponge – when the sponge is wet it’s more pliable but when the sponge dries it becomes more rigid. We’ll discuss more in the next section about how your polymer will react, but suffice to say that water drainage and runoff deserves our attention.
Let’s face it, no one wants to walk outside and see this in the back yard.
It’s time to get that DG in place, you need to walk the path of least resistance! The DIY’er is now venturing into the world of the Pro.
You have managed this project with careful consideration to each phase. The underground work is done, subgrade and subbase layers are good to go. You’ve selected DG and a complimentary edging solution, and even went so far as to examine how and where water will go in accordance with your path.
Now let’s get that DG laid and stabilized. Install the decomposed granite directly over the subbase and grade into place using a grade rake, screed board, or hand tools for tighter areas.
The DG will need to be compacted, but NOT YET! Why, you ask? Because the ever important issue of stabilization has yet to be addressed. Your path needs stability to last longer, but you also don’t want to track all those loose surface materials into the house either. Decomposed granite is a wonderful landscape material, but it isn’t very cool when scuffed across your interior hardwood or laminate flooring. Nor do you want a DG bed in the floorboards of your car or truck. Liquid polymer stabilization to the rescue, G3 – Pathway Stabilizer from TechniSoil is on the case.
Install the DG at no more than a 2″ depth. More is not always better, and this is definitely one of those instances. More DG costs more money, no need for a budget buster. But perhaps as important, we already discussed how compaction works with your vibratory plate compactor and we know that 2″ is about the maximum depth it can compress well. Further, a thicker DG layer is like having a thicker sponge. Remember our water permeability section earlier?
The last thing you’ll want to remember before you apply G3 – Pathway Stabilizer is the finish grade of your DG. On average, decomposed granite will compress about 20% – 30% after compaction. This means if your DG is at or below the level of your edge restraints, it will drop even lower. What happens then? You’ve created a dam and a very convenient runway for water to travel – right down your brand new pathway.
Remember… DO NOT COMPACT YOUR DG YET. We need glue!
OK, let’s lock this deal in…
This is it, we have traveled the long road of preparation and we are now ready to finish our project. We are now going to send our DG pathway through a time portal and inject a modern innovation into the build process.
G3 – Pathway Stabilizer is a water-based, liquid polymer formulation solely purposed to add cross-linking stability to a decomposed granite surface. Even better, this gem of an innovation is environmentally friendly. How so? Well, for starters it is VOC-free, or to put into layman terms – it does not spew Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) into the air during its curing phase. The easy to pour and ready-to-use liquid is safe around plants, shrubs, trees, animals, and pets. G3 can even balance your checkbook and do the laundry (OK, that last sentence isn’t true to our knowledge, but you get the point).
Stabilized DG holds up better than non-stabilized DG and can significantly reduce maintenance over the life cycle of a pathway. Better yet, those pesky loose materials that are notoriously tracked all over are wrangled up and kept in place for a longer period of time.
When the time has come for maintenance, it’s a piece of cake. Divots, scuffs, or abnormal wear and tear can be fixed easily with some replacement DG and a topcoat maintenance application of G3 – Pathway Stabilizer. Sort of like repairing a divot on a putting green, it’s easy and fast.
As we veer into the application process for G3 – Pathway Stabilizer, take a peek at this short video demonstrating the process in a back yard.
Just think how knowledgeable you will be when the neighbors stop by to see your new project. They will be in awe of your new found proficiency in natural pathway construction and maintenance. From DIY to PRO we go!
Now that our DG is graded into place, and you’ve accounted for a drop in finish grade once compacted, it’s time for the G3 – Pathway Stabilizer pour-in application. Application is easy using a standard watering can with a shower head, just like the one you use to water the patio flower pots.
To calculate how many gallons of G3 – Pathway you need, simply divide the total square footage (commonly abbreviated as ft2, with a superscript 2) by 15. Why are we dividing by 15? G3 – Pathway Stabilizer is installed in two applications, the first at 20 ft2/gallon (square feet per gallon), and the second at 50 ft2/gallon. This process overall, averages out to approximately 15 ft2/gallon.
Is that math making sense for you? If not, don’t worry, it is a little tricky on first look. You might think you would get an average by adding the two applications together and dividing by two, giving your 35 (20 + 50 = 70/2 = 35). But alas, this is not correct.
It will make perfect sense if you break the process down into each single application. Let’s consider a 1000 ft2 project. The first application of G3-PS goes in at 20 ft2/gallon; 1000 ft2 divided by a rate of 20 ft2/gallon = 50 gallons. The second application of G3-PS goes on at 50 ft2/gallon; 1000 ft2 divided by a rate of 50 ft2/gallon = 20 gallons. 50 + 20 = 70 total gallons of G3 – Pathway Stabilizer needed for our 1000 ft2 project. For those of you inquisitive minds who divided 1000 by 70, what answer did you arrive at? If you said 14.29 then good work, you can see where the rounded number of 15 came from.
You might imagine it’s difficult to meter how much liquid you’re applying on the pathway. Here’s one last tip to help you stay on track during application process. Since you already know how many square feet are covered with 1 gallon (20 first, then 50 second), simplify by mapping out a 20 square foot area and only fill your watering can with 1 gallon of liquid. Now you can monitor your own flow rate in real time as you move across the 20 ft2 area, which should empty the gallon of liquid. Of course, you can ramp these numbers up to cover more ground if you like. The key is being consistent, not overly exacting.
Congratulations! From a knowledge standpoint, you have just soaked in a copious amount of information and helpful tips. Do you feel like a Pro yet? What is the one thing a Pro has that a newcomer does not? Experience. So let’s get that experience now and close the book on this project.
Enough prep, you’re ready. Like Luke Skywalker, you now understand the power of using The Force. Let’s get to work.
Always consider the weather on a project, especially at the liquid polymer stage. Avoid super hot days (90-100 degrees and up), super cold days (55 degrees and lower), and rainy days. Sounds like a lot of restrictions right? Not really, but it helps to think of it this way – would you paint your house in any of those conditions knowing their was risk of failure? If your answer was maybe, or no, then let’s follow the same cautionary guidelines with our liquid polymer DG stabilizer.
Pour the G3 – Pathway Stabilizer liquid thoroughly and evenly over the prepped decomposed granite pathway. Remember, this pour-in application is done pre-compaction.
Allow the liquid to permeate into the DG, this is precisely where our cross-linking adventure starts. After 45-90 minutes or when the surface appears moderately dry, fire up the vibratory plate compactor and circle over the surface in 3-4 passes. Keep your eyes on the surface texture while compacting and remember this is what the finished product will look like. If the texture is a more rough than you’d like, perhaps one more pass around – but if the texture is smooth and closer to the desired finish, it’s time to wrap up the compacting phase and move on (over compacting will damage the surface).
If the compactor is smearing the surface, stop! That means the surface is still too wet for compaction. Give it a little more time to dry and then try again.
At this point, you are done with the vibratory plate compactor on this project. Use a hand tamp and masonry trowel to tidy up any hard to reach areas. Envision concrete finishers on a new slab, thus the devil is in the details. If a little more finish work will make you happy, then now is the time. Don’t skip detail work just to get done, odds are you’ll regret later every time you pass over it.
Give your pathway 12-24 hours to let this G3-PS pour-in application time to cure. Curing is essentially the evaporation of the water portion of the polymer formulation – as the water evaporates, the polymer strengthens to a cured state.
After allowing some cure time, you are ready for the final topcoat application. Using the exact same process, apply the G3 liquid over the surface at a rate of 50 ft2/gallon. Guess what? When you finish this step – YOU ARE DONE!
All that’s left is a little cleanup. Clean any tools with water and a mild detergent if needed. Those empty G3 – Pathway Stabilizer bottles are recyclable, so if you choose, return them to any municipal or private recycling center (they may ask you to rinse them out first). If you have any G3 liquid left, that’s actually a good thing as you’ll be prepared for any needed maintenance without making another trip to the supply house. Be sure to store it indoors in an area that will not boil or freeze the liquid (freezing will damage the polymer in its liquid state).
Now you can touch up the landscaped areas around your pathway. Maybe some bark or decorative rock would look nice swept up against your path. Or maybe some new sod is going in alongside it. Whichever angle you take, you now have a beautifully crafted DG pathway to connect it all together. ENJOY!
Good luck and enjoy!