Many gardeners do not think of gravel as a landscaping tool, just a “filler” to take up the spaces where grass won’t grow or to help drainage at the bottom of a trench. It can be much more than that, however, and can even be one of the most decorative parts of your garden’s look.
Gravel in Gardens
The most common use of gravel in gardens is as a walkway. It’s an ideal material for this, lending both texture and ease of maintenance. Its greatest attribute, however, is its combination of hard surface and softness. It’s easy to walk upon, giving a slight cushion, but is hard enough that a wheelbarrow, cart, or other machine can be rolled over it in even the most inclement weather.
Outside of walkways, though, gravel can also make a great base in lieu of mulch in a xeriscape or low-water setup. It’s also an excellent alternative to concrete or bare earth in shady areas where turf doesn’t easily set.
For a patio, gravel can be a nice alternative to concrete or wood. It can be filled in thickly at relatively low cost per foot, keeping most weeds at bay and providing a neutral backdrop for planters, furniture and fountains.
Around the patio, it can also make a great border in which flowers and other plants can easily be planted without worrying about weeds.
Gravel can also be used to fill in things, like an unused firebox, a shallow well, or to make the soil surface of a flower box look more lively.
Discussed above, walkways in any part of your yard can be enhanced with gravel. Even driveways can be lain with gravel, making them easier to maintain than bare earth and simpler to care for in bad weather than concrete. In fact, a gravel driveway will usually shed its snow and ice covering long before a concrete one will.
Another decorative idea for walkways is to lay a base of gravel and then set stepping stones into it. Compared to using sand as a base, this is easier, more maintenance-free, and can look stunning.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Landscaping With Gravel
The greatest benefit to gravel is that it is cleaner and easier to work with than bare soil. It also costs less than half the amount of concrete to install. It’s very do-it-yourself friendly, allowing most people to create their own gravel enhancements without needing special tools or skills. Since it’s not permanent, it can be changed or eliminated without heavy equipment or cost.
Some drawbacks to gravel are that it does not block weeds on its own unless it’s laid very thick. It also can be kicked or strewn around, so you end up with rocks where you don’t want them. Heavy equipment or thin-wheeled carts will cut through the gravel and be hard to move or ruin its look. Gravel also requires periodic raking to keep it looking smooth, and fresh gravel will probably need to be added every few years or so.
Overall, given these limitations, gravel is still often a much better choice than bare soil or concrete. It’s also available in a variety of colors and mixes, so it can be easily matched to any look.
Want to learn more about landscaping with gravel?
Mulching with Wood/Bark Chips, Grass Clippings, and Rock from Colorado State University Extension
Gravel Garden Picture and Tips from Purdue University Extension