Use gravel for pathways and patios, as mulch for garden beds, to reduce rainwater runoff and more.
GRAVEL is one of the most versatile landscape materials, as it can be used as anything from a pathway material to mulch. It’s an affordable hardscape material for outdoor seating areas, filler around flagstone pavers or a useful drainage tool. With many colours and sizes available, gravel works to enhance the look of many garden styles. Take a look at these ways to put gravel to work in your landscape.
Gravel is a great walkway material, offering quick drainage and that pleasing crunch underfoot. Some gravels ‘roll’ more than others. Proper installation as well as the type of gravel you select can make a big difference in how much it rolls. To reduce rolling, choose either a fine gravel, like decomposed granite, or a larger crushed gravel that is heavier and locks itself in place better.
To install a gravel walkway, first lay down a layer of base rock to act as a firm foundation for the walkway. After compacting the base rock, spread a layer of gravel 5 to 10 centimetres deep over the top, and compact again. Binding products are also available that can be washed over the top to hold gravel in place.
2. Mixed with flagstone
Gravel can fill the gaps between stone slabs on flagstone or paver pathways. It’s an attractive combination that’s easier to maintain than paver pathways that feature ground covers between stone slabs.
Select a colour of gravel that matches the flagstone or pavers. To prevent gravel travelling up onto the flagstones, start by installing a layer of compacted base rock, then lay the flagstones – setting them in the base rock so they’re slightly above what will be the gravel level – and spread gravel in the gaps.
Using gravel as a flooring material can expand your options for outdoor seating areas, especially if you’re concerned about having enough permeable surfaces in your garden. Gravel acts as a permeable surface, since rainwater can drain through the stones. As a patio material, gravel makes a nice floor that adds texture but also visually reads as a unified surface.
Choose a colour that complements other hardscaping materials and is in keeping with the style of your garden. For example, dark gravel often works well with contemporary garden styles, while warm-toned pea gravel looks good with English cottage and Mediterranean-style gardens.
4. Water features
Gravel mixed with stones is useful for covering the base of recirculating fountains, filling the bottoms of ponds and lining dry stream beds. Dark-coloured gravel often looks particularly rich in these applications. When water splashes on the gravel it almost appears black, and nearby foliage plants stand out through contrast to create a lush, verdant look.
5. Mulch for beds
In garden beds, use gravel as a top-dressing as you would use a bark mulch. After planting, spread a two-and-a-half centimetre layer of gravel over the soil’s surface, keeping small circles around the bases of trees and shrubs gravel-free. Don’t pile on the gravel much thicker, or you can cause soil compaction. The result is a crisp and clean look that shows off plants and also helps suppress weeds and prevent water loss through evaporation.
While gravel mulch is more common in low-water and succulent gardens than in other garden styles, the technique works well for traditional plantings too.
6. Permeable driveways
As long as it’s properly installed on a firm foundation of compacted base rock and geotextile fabric, gravel can easily support wheel traffic from cars and act as a solid surface for a driveway. Gravel driveways can work well in areas with heavy rainfall, where permeability is a priority, and in regions with hard winter freezes that can cause asphalt or concrete to crack over time.
While the cost of gravel varies, even at the higher end it’s far less expensive than asphalt or concrete.
7. Drainage solutions
Depending on how they are used, gravel trenches can help move, direct or drain water. French drains, for example, help move excess water away from the home or saturated beds. Rain gardens and bioswales, on the other hand, use gravel trenches or depressions to prevent runoff and drain water on-site. Gravel can also help with drainage by breaking up an expanse of impermeable hardscape.
For this concrete patio, for example, garden designer Robin Parsons of Spring Greenworks filled a thin gap running the length of the paving with stones.
Laid out as a graceful meander, the gap acts as an attractive artistic feature of the patio and provides somewhere for rainwater to go. To tie the design together, Parsons used the same river rocks along the base of the adjacent retaining wall – another place where drainage can be an issue. While the designer used polished stones for this application, gravel could easily be used in the same way.
8. Edible gardens
Chunky gravels are useful for surrounding raised beds and are less apt to travel if you roll a wheelbarrow over the surface. The jagged edges of gravel lock in place to form a surface that’s compact but allows water from the hose to quickly drain. Plus, a thick layer of gravel will suppress weeds that may be apt to spring up with access to the water and nutrients you’ve given to the edible plants.
9. Fire pits
Gravel can also be used to surround an outdoor fire pit. Far less expensive than pavers or flagstone, gravel acts as a neat and tidy flooring material and is a safe surface for a stray spark to land on. If your fire pit is constructed with stone, choose a gravel in a colour that matches or complements it. Metal fire pits and portable models look good with nearly any colour of gravel.
10. Erosion control
Gravel spread on sloped walkways or used as a mulch on hilly beds can help prevent soil erosion. While all gravel will help to some degree, crushed gravels have more angular edges and are better at catching particles of soil and holding them in place in the presence of running water.
If erosion is a big issue for your property, gravel alone won’t solve the problem but can work well with other erosion-prevention measures such as plantings, retaining walls and soil-reinforcement meshes.