I think one of my least favorite things to deal with while owning a home was the fight with grass over my gravel driveway. Also, the fight with grass over my gravel or rock-strewn landscaping. Or what’s going on right this minute in my backyard: the fight with grass over the firepit area. So, how does one fix these issues when they arise?
If you cannot prevent grass growth through your gravel by using landscaping fabric or plastic, you can consider using fire, salt, or commercial chemical sprays to destroy the plants you need to be rid of. No matter the method, always think of safety first and prepare the area and yourself.
Because gravel is more affordable, it’s a valid option for all manner of things. But, you have to keep it maintained or it can become overgrown with grass. If you’ve ever walked down a city sidewalk, you know the tenacity of weeds. I remember taking a picture of a dandelion growing through a concrete barrier in the middle of downtown Birmingham.
If weeds will fight to grow through full-on concrete, imagine what they will do around a very loosely placed gravel. Seeds can get between the stones and all you need is a good rain to have grass popping up. So how do you keep grass from becoming a problem? Let’s go over some ideas on how to prevent grass or remove the grass if it’s already an issue.
Some people call these weed suppressing sheeting or landscaping cloth. This is meant to be placed as a preventative barrier, though, not as something to help after the fact. When you clear the area that you plan on placing gravel over, placing two layers of the landscaping fabric down over the soil can help to kill off any roots still there and prevent weed growth.
Landscaping material not only blocks the sunlight but also can block nutrients from reaching the grass, deterring growth. It’s not 100% effective, but if you spend the money and time to lay out more than one layer of it, that can help.
If you use plastic in the same way as you would the landscaping material, you can also hinder weed growth. I will caution you that right this very instant, I am fighting weeds that are growing through and around a plastic layer that the previous homeowners used in exactly this fashion. So either it doesn’t work well or they didn’t use enough of it.
It’s a cheaper route, plastic. But my suggestion, from experience, is to use thick black plastic instead of this cheaper stuff that I now realize the previous homeowner used here. For one thing, the UV rays of the sun can still penetrate clear plastic. And though the presence of the plastic raised the temperature beneath it, killing a lot of things, I kind of think it also does something else – a greenhouse effect.
Clear plastic is actually used in greenhouses. Sure, rainwater won’t hit your covered grass directly, but the root systems still have access to the moisture in the yard. Add to that the UV rays they still get through the clear plastic and then also the moisture available to it through transpiration inside that plastic. You’re creating an odd sort of terrarium for some hearty plants.
Farmers use thick black plastic to handle these issues and get rid of unwanted weeds. So, if you’re going to use a method to prevent weeds beneath your gravel, I’d go with the tried and true.
If your driveway is a safe enough distance from your other property and you prep the area you don’t want to burn by wetting it with a hose, fire is a legitimate method of removing the grass. You need to be sure there’s not an ordinance against it and that it’s a safe day for burning per your local fire department.
Fire will take out the unwanted grass while leaving the gravel unscathed. It doesn’t just destroy the grass on the surface, though. Usually fires forced to remain in one area can burn hot enough and deeply enough to destroy the roots of the grass, keeping it from growing back.
If you use salt or any combination of salt and something else on your lawn, please know that grass will not grow well afterward. So use it wisely. But if we’re talking about a gravel driveway or a place where you definitely want permanent gravel and no grass at all, go for it.
Salt provides a safer method of deterring grass than using the non-organic chemical combinations in other grass removal liquids. If you really want to see some quick turn-around, using rock salt is suggested. Mix one pound of salt to one gallon of water. Dissolve that salt into the water and then spray it or dump it on the areas you want to clear of grass.
The grass and weeds in the treated area will begin to wither and should be dead after a week or so. Some people even add a bit of dishwashing detergent to make the saltwater stick to the leaves. I believe this is the method I plan on using around my teeny tiny firepit and in the front beds (where the plants I want to keep are actually in planters and we placed decorative gravel in the actual ground beds).
Commercial Chemical Grass Killer
This can be a controversial topic. I tend to not use commercial chemical grass killers because studies have shown that products like Round-Up may be linked to cancer. I really don’t want that run-off going into the water supply.
Exposure to glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, increases the risk of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 41 percent, according to a new analysis from researchers in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS).
Does it work? Absolutely. It will dry up the plants and do so within 24 hours. But you have to weigh that against the possible problems in using it.
Which Will You Use?
If you’re just beginning and have the opportunity, using a preventative layer between the soil and your gravel is a good idea. I have gone and done what some people call overkill and salted the area before then placing a black plastic or doubled landscaping fabric on top. I wish we could have consulted the previous owners about where we are now. Alas, now I have to kill weeds that are overgrowing the area.
So what will I use? I’m more of a ‘let’s go natural’ gal. I like to be sure my ecosystem is kept healthy and also that I’m not contributing to chemical waste. So instead of commercial chemical grass killer, I’ll be salting my problem areas and then plucking the dried-up leavings from the soil. No matter which method you choose, I wish you good luck and please stay safe.