November rains are often the start of slippery paths and patios that last for months on end, making it hard to enjoy the garden when the sun does shine. Take action now with simple steps that can prevent or reduce slip, slide and slither in your winter garden and patio.

Moss, lichen and algae

I have a love:hate relationship with these garden friends (or foes). Lichen are beautiful, said to be an indicator of good, clean air and they make stone and wood look old and loved. Some varieties of moss are stunningly beautiful, most are evergreen (and they remind me of miniature moss gardens made on kitchen plates as a child). Moss, algae and lichen all add to the diversity of your garden and in the right place they add interest. These fellows don’t damage what they are growing on and many gardeners encourage lichen on pots and stone features, and celebrate moss (even in lawns).

Easy to see why I love them all?

slippery paths

Dull and uninteresting old moss? Not so - enjoy it in the right place in your garden. Karl Pipes. Licensed for re-use under Creative Commons licence attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 generic

But - and it is a big BUT - on hard surfaces where you need to get about, like paths and patios, algae and moss especially can lead to slips, slides and slithering. And in these places, celebrating their beauty is not on.

First – reduce the cause of slippery paths and patios

  • Only pave areas that really need to be paved and, if you can, choose a surface that rainwater can run through.
  • Make sure paths, patios and shed roofs slope so water can run off.
  • Make sure rain from gutters and down pipes does not spill onto paths and patios.
  • Regularly brush hard surfaces with a stiff broom so that moss, algae or lichen don’t settle in.
  • Wooden surfaces on patios or decking can become very slippery – stretch and nail a medium sized wire mesh over the top to give your shoes a grip.
  • As winter kicks in, spread a layer of coarse sand on wooden steps as a quick and simple anti-slip method.
  • Prune back plants that hang over paths or patios so that sun and wind can reach the hard surface.
  • Improve drainage next to hard surfaces. As part of your autumn clear up, scoop out shallow channels next to paths and around patios and fill the channels with coarse gravel.
  • Fork over the flower beds close to hard surfaces so they absorb water.

Second – remove the foes!

  • Clean out moss between paving slabs. On hands and knees, run an old knife or the edge of a trowel along the cracks and brush the mess away. Or for large areas, brush along the edges with a firm outdoor brush with a long handle, narrow head and sturdy (preferably wire) bristles.
  • Use a pressure washer. On patios and paths beware not to leave water hanging (one of the causes of mossy and slimy surfaces), brush it away. And always wear goggles when using this kit.
  • Pressure washers are the best method for removing moss and algae on wooden fences, sheds and seats. Once clean, treat fences and sheds with wood preservatives and treat wooden furniture with teak oil or similar.
slippery paths

Wooden decking and a bench in the middle of the Devon countryside and - not a slip risk in sight. Roger A Smith. Licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike generic 2.0 licence

And if all else fails – call in the chemicals

The RHS advice on choosing chemical products is, as usual, clear and easy to follow. It's good to read before looking for a quick fix on garden centre shelves. But just like hard brushing your patio or path, chemical treatments need to be used often, so it makes sense to prevent the problem if you can.

Whatever you do and however you do it - take care on wet paths and patios that may be more slippery than you think.