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I'm about to put a driveway down. Is it possible to cover the driveway with mulch instead of gravel?

Context:

  • In the woods. I want to keep the woodsy feel.

  • Long, mild winters. January average temperature is 38 deg F. Not much snow, and no plowing.

  • 19" rainfall each year, in the fall/winter/spring.

  • Glacial till subsoil.

  • People have mentioned that the mulch would get dispersed faster than gravel. But if something is going to get thrown around, I'd rather have it be wood chips which will return to the earth, than gravel which will sit around forever. – Jay Bazuzi Oct 20 '10 at 16:42
  • @jay...did you end up doing this? I live in your region and we're looking at a house that has a dirt drive. We may need to do something similar ourselves. – DA01 Apr 19 '12 at 20:00
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    I did not do this. After clearing for the driveway, the remaining soil was loose and clay-rich. Drainage is extremely poor, and the mud is very slippery. Not much choice but gravel (we used 3"-minus). I don't mind it, though. – Jay Bazuzi Apr 20 '12 at 4:49

13 Answers 13

10

You could, but it strikes me as a bad idea for a few reasons. First, you'll have to replace it every year (or at least every 2-3 years). Second, you'll get much better traction on gravel, especially when wet or snowy. Finally, mulch is much more likely to wash out in the rain, especially if it's only a shallow layer.

8

I would expect that mulch, when driven on repeatedly over a year's time, to break up into compost. Driving on any wood chips will gradually break up the fibers, as well as distribute things around. You will be improving the dirt on your driveway. In my case, I would not want that to happen, as it just encourages weed growth.

Another factor to consider is if you will need to plow. Do you get snow? A snow plow will make a mess here. Even shoveling snow will be tough.

However, if you have a steady (yearly) supply of mulch, and you like the look and never get snow, a mulched driveway will work.

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    Would it be harder than shoveling/plowing gravel driveways? I used to do quite a bit of that when I was younger and it wasn't really a big deal. – Brian Knoblauch Oct 20 '10 at 19:36
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    @Brian - at least for plowing a gravel driveway, they have stand-off plates you can put on a plow so that the blade won't plow up the gravel. I don't think those would really work on top of mulch though - they would likely just sink into it unless the ground was really frozen solid. – Eric Petroelje Oct 20 '10 at 20:55
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    I plow my gravel driveway all winter long. Early in the winter, I try to avoid it, expecting an inch or so of snow will melt anyway. If I do plow, I'll peel up piles of gravel (even with skids on my plow) and deposit it on my lawn. Once the drive has frozen solid, no problem. But with mulch, a plow or a shovel would tear it up much easier. – user558 Oct 21 '10 at 3:59
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I'd go with gravel over mulch. Wood chips can retain moisture and rot. They'll also keep your driveway wetter longer after a good rain. If your driveway has any slope to it, mulch would also get washed out more easily than gravel.

Even if you decide on mulch, some municipalities may not allow it. For example, if you live in Baltimore, you may get fined. On the other hand, the same article also mentions that other cities encourage mulched driveways, and even supply the mulch for free (it's hard to beat free!).

  • Gotta do something with all the chippings they produce from collecting everyone's lawn waste. – KeithS Apr 19 '12 at 19:23
4

It sounds like you're aware of and willing to deal with the possibility that the mulch will break down and disperse more quickly than gravel, so I'm not going to harp on that.

The other reason I wouldn't personally be a fan of a mulch driveway would be the cleanliness. If you don't have a garage, I would think you and your guests will be tracking a lot of mulch particles into the house as you walk in from your cars, especially if it's raining and the mulch is wet. And if you do have a garage, your car's going to be bringing it into the garage. You could minimize this by having a gravel or paved parking area (or apron in front of the garage).

4

First I live in Florida. No snow. I've had a mulch drive now for 6 years. I chose this over shell or crushed stone for dust controll. Its a lot cheaper and its much easier to spread. It does not compost as some of the comenters have suggested. If your goal is to look good at a price you can afford do it.

3

If the goal is keeping the 'woodsy feel', you may wish to consider instead looking at some of the 'green driveway' solutions. I wouldn't say they're cheap, but they're basically plastic to to help spread the load out, so you don't compact the soil too much, to support growth in between it. (with the idea that it then fills in, and you can have a driveway that looks like grass, although, in your case, you'd probably want moss instead)

3

One factor noone else mentioned is fire safety. Just about everything burns well in certain conditions. And in the woods after several weeks of dry hot weather the last thing you want is a layer of dried-up mulch around the house.

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    Well I'd say that would be a problem no matter what the driveway was made of; at best gravel would only be a fire break, and for that to be effective at fire prevention your entire property would have to be gravel. If he lives deep in the woods, conifer needles and other forest-floor detritus burns even better than mulch, to say nothing of the crown fire that would sweep over the top of everything. – KeithS Apr 19 '12 at 19:25
  • MOST houses (for better or worse) have mulch piled up around the house. Mulch won't readily burn, though. It's usually wet, and lacks easy access to oxygen. – DA01 Apr 19 '12 at 19:58
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I have to answer this because I did this about 15 years ago for an older relative. She wanted a dirt/mulch driveway for her suburb cottage. I tried to talk her out of it but she insisted. So I rented a bobcat for $100 and dug out a 12 foot wide section of her yard leading up to the patio. I went a good 10-12 inches deep and kept the edges pretty sharp. We laid down a ton of coarse mulch (tree service place basically said this was as coarse as they did mulch - get "tree chips" not gardening mulch which is actually more expensive) after I flooded the dirt area.

We used a truck and some old plywood to smoosh the mulch down. A roller would have worked better and faster but didn't have a roller. This was about 60 feet and total work time was maybe 12-14 hours. "Driveway" is in the midwest and goes through all of the seasons. She spends about $50 a year for not only the mulch but the tree service does a quick spread too.

Digging out her driveway increased drainage away from house and she loves her mulch driveway which goes with the house. You can't shovel it in the winter, but it doesn't ice up either. The sides have rounded and the driveway sits in about 6 inches. Maybe it will have to be redug in 10-20 years... Not sure it is messier either. The mulch doesn't stick on the bottoms of our shoes (and she makes us take them off at the door). The only downside I have seen is that I do get mulch in my shoes.

Is it better than a concrete driveway? No way in my opinion. But it functions and goes well with her house. Her cheapest concrete driveway bid was 8K. If you can invest that at 10% she has already made enough just on interest to buy 3 driveways.

  • I have about 200' of hog fuel (basically bark mulch) along 1 side of my arena it's been there for 4 years and is driven over daily by a diesel tractor that weighs 10000 lbs, no weeds, we put gravel on the other side and the weeds grow in the gravel. The only negative is it is always damp in Oregon it rains so if you need to work under a piece of equipment you are going to get wet unless you put something down first, but it has lasted better than I thought it would and the horses don't mind walking on it where the gravel side they don't like as well especially after having there feet trimmed. – Ed Beal Jan 4 at 0:43
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It is possible to cover it with shredded newspaper, but I don't think you'd want to.

The first time a car goes over the mulch, most of it will be pushed aside, like snow is when a car goes over it. If the car goes too fast, it will be thrown up like a rooster tail. Soon enough, you'll have to replace the mulch. (This happens with gravel as well, but to a much lesser extent)

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I have mulch in a part of my driveway. We recently had a 2 week stretch of rain, and now I have a nasty slop hole where the mulch is. I live in south Louisiana, by the way. The mulch was a good idea while it was dry, but the wet mulch is a very big mess. Don't do it, is my advice. I just got off the phone with the limestone man, and I will be putting limestone where the mulch is.

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Really nice to see a response from someone who has actually done it. Out of boredom and desperation, I once laid a bunch of mulch down in a large patch of mud that my husband used as a driveway to his shed/shop. Probably 20 x 20 area. It worked WONDERFULLY. It seemed to almost fuse with the mud and created a compact surface and that was with a fairly thin layer of filling in mud ruts and raking over the top for the rest.

  • When did you do this? Or how long did it last? Can you share any other details about your experience, like, weeds growing, mowing, or how and how often do you tend to it? Also, in what region do you live (not to be personal, I'm asking about the climate in your area)? If possible, I would like to see a set of pros and cons about this from you. – Ben Welborn Apr 6 '16 at 18:20
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At our last farm we used bark mulch (hog fuel) for several paths /roads that have daily tractor and horse traffic. It held up well and although we added a truck load about every other year the horses like it better than gravel especially after getting there feet trimmed. At this farm we only have about 200' the rest is gravel the advantages I see is no grass in the mulch compared to the gravel. One disadvantage is that the mulch holds water so if you need to get under a tractor or implement if it has rained in the last week you will get wet unless a tarp , board or cardboard is put down first (it always has rained in the last week in Oregon LOL).

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Coming from SE Nebraska, Snow, Ice, Low plains... I have done this every late Winter after last snow and it works beautifully to bill and temporarily raise the area where I park. It doesn't ice and every other year I have a beautiful compost process going on. It's not a muddy mess in the Spring. I use the sides that are not really broken down in the garden and it works well on my all-dirt driveway.. I guess it all depends on where you are and what you need...

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