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Ask a Landscape Designer: Gravel good in the garden?

For pathways, the type of gravel needs to be the sharper-edged gravel, not rounded beach stone. The sharper gravel will grab on to it's neighbor and become firmer and easier to walk on than the rounded stones.Question: Could you find a landscaper to comment on pros/cons of pea gravel in a residential setting? I’m entranced with the look, and permeable hardscape is important to me.

However, when I research on the Internet, I find most postings by homeowners are negative: It does not stay put if there are children or dogs in the household, neighborhood cats use it as litterbox, ants build mega cities in it, it’s not a realistic choice if children run barefoot in the yard, a wheelbarrow pushed down the path creates ruts and sends pebbles into the flower beds.

I’ve also read that 2 inches is not sufficient and that 6 inches is needed and that the gravel should be mixed with aggregate to stabilize it better.

Answer: From Pamela Berstler, landscape designer of Flower to the People in Los Angeles:

We LOVE gravel as a mulch in the garden, and most people in the Mediterranean would agree with that assessment. It reflects heat, but protects roots, and it maintains moisture, reducing the need for irrigation, and does not decompose and require replacement.

The wide variety of local colored stone can really enhance a natural landscape installation, but we try to stay away from exotic or excessively processed material, as it is not a sustainable solution.

Gravel mulch and pathways require different treatments. In the garden beds, as mulch, 2 inches is pretty much the maximum required (not 6 inches). You actually want to use less rather than more, as the deeper the gravel application, the more difficult to keep it away from the base of plants, keep ruts out and keep it from spilling everywhere. When the application is thin and slightly compacted, it works beautifully. And of course, we recommend NO weed barrier beneath.

The optimal type of gravel will vary for pathways and planting beds. Gravel in the planting beds can be rounder, and perhaps even smaller — as small as 3/8-inch diameter, and as round as a beach pebble. Our favorite simple gravel for mulch in planter beds is 3/8-inch to 1-inch Del Rio pebble, but pretty much anything will work.

For pathways, there are more basic rules. First, gravel pathways are best installed over a stabilized base — stabilized compacted soil, decomposed granite or a plastic grid like a grasspave work the best, and only about 3/4-inch to 1-inch depth is required. Second, gravel pathways must be contained with a barrier that rises 1 inch above grade at a minimum. We like stone edging (classy and very Mediterranean), but bender board, aluminum or steel edging would work too. Third, and perhaps most important, the type of gravel needs to be the sharper-edged gravel, not the rounded beach stone. The sharper gravel will grab on to its neighbor and become firmer and easier to walk on than the rounded stones.

E-mail Pamela

(Photo: Flower to the People)

21 Comments on Ask a Landscape Designer: Gravel good in the garden?

  1. A large broom can sweep away any wheel barrel marks and foot prints. The quick sweep keeps pea gravel looking fresh and clean.
    I used it in my last landscape for paths, patios and grout alternative. It is great at reflecting heat and allowing water to drain into the earth.
    It is also nice for the senses. Think of a zen garden where you rake the sand around the boulders — it is a calm resting point for the eye. The crushing sound is pleasing to the ear and it will even ward off or alert you to any intruders.
    I am using black rock in my current landscape for patios and accent hardscape. I have found that the dark rock retains heat and may be making the soil hydrophobic (not absorbing). The dark color is beautiful but not as functional as the light pea gravel.

  2. My experience is similar to S&N. Been there & done that with crushed gravel and the smaller round peat. The larger round gravel has worked well here though there are a few things to remember for it to stay put. Don’t go overly deep as it gets “slushy” which makes it hard to walk on or move a wheelbarrow on. Also remember to border it well with lumber, concrete, plastic grass separator, etc. (S&N’s brick idea sounds good too !!) Large rocks work well to border garden areas. In any case, try not to pour your gravel so high that it easily rolls over your barriers.

  3. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  4. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  5. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  6. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  7. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  8. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  9. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  10. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  11. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  12. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  13. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  14. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  15. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  16. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  17. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  18. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  19. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  20. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

  21. We love the look of pea gravel paths, but after experiencing some in person, we realized that the rounded gravel doesn’t stay put and can be difficult to walk on because the stones tend to slide against each other and roll out from underfoot. For our garden paths, we’ve opted for crushed yellow brick and Santa Fe shale . The warm colours are beautiful and, although the texture is not good for barefoot walking, the irregularly shaped pieces stay in place when wheelbarrows or lawn mowers are rolled over them. So, to get the look of gravel with few of the drawbacks, opt for shale or brick inside a brick edged path. Weeds can be raked out and brick edging keeps the path from widening,

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