Landscaping with gravel

How to choose and use this easy, plant-friendly paving for great paths and outdoor rooms

GRAVEL BASICS

Gravel refers to rocks ranging in size from ⅛ inch to 1½ inches. It comes in two forms: Manmade crushed rock has sharp, irregular edges; nature-made river rock (also known as natural pebbles) is rounded.

Choose the right type

Visit your local landscape supply yard to experience the look and feel of different types of gravel. Consider how it will be used.

For high-traffic areas, such as paths and patios, use manmade crushed rock. Because the pieces bind together well, they create a more stable surface for walking. The most common size is ⅜ inch, an all-purpose gravel that's also good as a mulch around plantings. For a softer surface under bare feet, use ¼-inch or finer natural pebbles.

For low-traffic areas, river rock is an attractive choice. Its larger, smoother pieces are less stable underfoot than crushed rock, but they have more presence.

Lay the groundwork

Although many references suggest excavating 6 to 8 inches for a gravel path and layering crushed rock, sand, and then gravel, most designers don't use this method. They say the smaller pieces inevitably work their way up, spoiling the clean look of the gravel. Landscape fabric also tends to show up at the surface. Instead, lay a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of gravel directly on bare, weed-free soil that's been compacted with a tamper or roller.

Keep it tidy

Rake gravel regularly to remove leaves and other debris. Use a rake with round wire tines.

Design: Susan Calhoun, Plantswoman Design, Bainbridge Island, WA (206/842-2453).

More: Lose the lawn! See 14 inspiring low-water landscapes

 

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