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Choosing Your Garden Gravel

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Choosing the right garden gravel doesn’t have to be difficult.

There are many kinds of garden gravel to choose from and many applications for gravel in the garden. Making a poor material selection can be both dangerous and ugly. Fortunately, with proper planning and installation, gravel can be a wonderful and relatively inexpensive hardscape material.

garden gravel side-by-side

On the left: angular 5/8s minus gravel. On the right: round decorative pebbles.

Why do you need gravel?

Trying to suppress weeds in a planting area? Creating a walkway, patio or driveway? Creating a decorative dry stream bed? Or something else?

angular garden gravel walk

Walk ——> on a pathway made of compacted, angular rock.

Select the right garden gravel for the right application.

If you’ve ever visited a stone yard, you’ve probably fallen in love with many colorful gravels on display. The problem with many of these gravels is their shape. While using round stones in mixed sizes is ideal for creating a decorative dry stream bed, these stones simply do not compact into a safe, hard surface for pathways and patios. Soft mixes of pea gravel, round pebbles or even semi-angular pebbles with tumbled edges will turn into ankle-twisting walkways that neither a wheelchair nor a wheelbarrow can traverse.

Mixed pink round pebbles

Colorful round pebbles may look nice at the garden center, but they aren’t nice to walk on. Landscape fabric beneath them makes for an additional rolling, ankle-twisting, falling hazard.

Instead, opt for something a little less showy for your walkways. Truly angular rock with lots of fines will compact into a solid path that also drains. These gravels are usually referred to by the size of the largest partical in the mix: 5/8s-minus or 1/4″ minus are two popular options for walking paths.

angular gravel in formal garden

Even a formal garden looks & sounds great with crunchy, compacted angular stone like this.

These are also used as an ideal base material for permeable stone patios and paths. In fact, in most applications they work better than sand, which is also a bunch of tiny, round particles that don’t compact well.

What about gravel to suppress weeds?

Many believe that covering a planting area with decorative rock will keep weeds from growing. But, weeds are tough and will easily push right through a permeable pebble or gravel layer.

Landscape fabric & garden gravel renovation project

Too, a thick layer of stone placed over a planting bed may raise temperatures. And that mayburn tender plant roots below. While flame weeding over stone may be possible , running a flame weeder around plants may burn and kill your garden.

Should I put landscape fabric under my garden gravel?

Covering the earth with landscape fabric and topping it with gravel path or patio is just asking for a twisted ankle or worse. That fabric is slippery. Stone on top just gets more slippery. Angular gravel that should compact into a safer walking layer, won’t tighten up over fabric. And round pebbles will roll worse than ever on that slick surface. Plus, in the wet season, water may end up pooling or sheeting in runoff streams when it can’t readily pass through fabric to the soil below.

Landscape gravel & fabric clean up project

Cleaning up a bed filled with trashy landscape fabric and dangerous round rock is hard work. Plus, it may take many months for the soil to rejuvenate. Once all of the slippery, rolling hazards are removed from this bed, it will be possible to safely walk & plant in this area again.

Adding a layer (or overlapping layers) of landscape fabric between your garden bed soil and a topping layer of gravel isn’t going to do you any weeding favors in the long run. That fabric layer will eventually pop up through the stone and look like trash flags on your garden floor. And, the fabric will inhibit moisture from flowing into the soil, which can stunt or kill your plants and the living eco-system within the soil itself. Plant roots will readily grow between overlapping layers of any fabric as they attempt to find access to moisture above ground. As they weave their way through the layers, roots may become kinked and otherwise caught in a messy entanglement that’s hard to later remedy.

So, do it right in the first place. Skip the fabric, and if you’re not convinced to do so yet, consider reading this very popular post on on the subject. Avoid the lure of colorful round pebbles. Install functional paths that will weather the test of time and mulches that will encourage rather than suppress the complex life beneath your feet.

Still struggling with your garden gravel decisions?

If you need more help choosing your garden gravel or making your way through other gardening challenges, sign up now to be notified just as soon as our next enrollment period opens. That way you’ll be first in line to get in on our best deals on our best programs. Plus, we’ll be sure to get you lots of bonus gardening tips along the way (for free).

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