When I was growing up, I had an aunt who had a pea-gravel walkway through stacked natural stone planters that led to her house. It was a lovely design, a precursor but to me, also something more colorful than a planned concrete walkway. My mother and father made a patio beneath their yard swing out of pea gravel.
Using pea gravel to make paths and patios is cheap and very easy when it comes to installation. There is hardly any maintenance to it at all. However, you need to install it correctly to keep grass from invading it and prepare for finding pea gravel all over despite trying to keep it in one spot.
Let’s get into this trend so that you’ll know if you want to use it or not.
Pea Gravel Is Inexpensive Compared to Other Patio Materials
The reason my parents used pea gravel is that they were on a fixed income and this was the best alternative to purchasing wood or pavers. A lot of places sell pea gravel by the ton or cubic yard and it can be anywhere from $30 – $60.
When you compare this to how much it would cost for pavers to make a patio of the same size? Yeah, you’ll see the difference. And lumber has also increased in price, so pea gravel is customarily the best deal. I even looked into buying pea gravel by the bag at my local big box store and it came out cheaper than had I placed a wood patio in the same amount of area.
Pea Gravel Is Easy to Install and Maintain
Like with any other patio, you need to prepare the ground first. That part is very important if you want the least amount of maintenance later on. You can prepare the ground for a pea gravel patio with just hand tools and a bucket or wheelbarrow! It’s so easy you can do it over a weekend or even in a day.
First, you dig the area you want the pea gravel to lay down by 3 inches (7.6cm) creating a bottom that is as flat and level as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s another advantage to using pea gravel.
Next, you’re going to use landscape fabric or black plastic to prevent weed growth. Once you have that down, you can use gravel to secure it. Make sure the fabric or the plastic comes up the sides of the dug-out patio before tamping it all down well. Once you’ve got things set, you can then gently pour the rest of the gravel into the area until it reaches the top to match the surrounding yard/surface.
I’ve always seen people use rounded wood, or cheap landscape edging or even the cheaper border pavers to go around the top of the patio. This further keeps the gravel from washing away. I suggest the rounded boarding. It might cost a little more, but it’s less likely to cause a trip hazard.
Pea gravel is easy to maintain.
Considering the fact that most other patio materials require multiple forms of maintenance from quarterly cleaning to sealing and treating with chemicals, pea gravel is a piece of cake.
Pea Gravel Can Be Used for Other Decorative Additions
You don’t have to “either-or” this situation. I’ve also seen people use pea gravel around natural stone pavers, letting the gravel help stabilize the stone. It was like a decorative stepping-stone path. You just really need to be sure your stones are stabilized so they don’t make a tripping hazard. Not to mention, you don’t even need to add the pavers, if you don’t want to.
We use pea gravel and river stone in our front flower beds to snuff out the weeds and create a decorative landscape. We were stuck with a flooding issue and we know it’s going to take some time to work it out. So, instead of watching mulch float away, we place pea gravel in the beds and added some flower planters made of old wine barrels, and tossed some river stone in there. It’s lovely!
Because pea gravel can be poured into any shape you can come up with to dig out, they are very versatile in areas that can be problematic for any other materials. And if you go out barefoot, they don’t hurt as bad as you’d think. Sure, it’s not going to feel fantastic, but it’s doable – and they don’t hold the heat from the sun like concrete, cement, or wood will. So your tootsies will at the very least, not burn.
The thing I like best about pea gravel is that it looks so natural in natural surroundings. It is literally stone purposely weathered and rounded – so, of course, it looks more natural than painted wood or cement. And should you want to uninstall it or move it somewhere else – so long as you worked that underlayer properly, it’s easy to dig up and get out via wheelbarrow.
I plan on digging out the area between my garden boxes and having a delivery of pea gravel made for that so that we don’t have to cut grass over there. As a matter of fact, that’s a very good idea that I’ve seen several gardeners implement – using pea gravel between their raised garden beds to make life easier. It has great drainage, so they don’t have to worry about pooling water and if you install it properly, there should be no grass to mow in that area.
There Are Some Drawbacks to Using Pea Gravel
If you don’t have a good border, the pea gravel can scatter all over your yard. There will be some scattering anyway, thanks to shoes and just weather. But if you just pour pea gravel and then a thunderstorm hits, it will scatter all over the ground instead of staying in place.
Also, pea gravel doesn’t always snuff out grass and weed growth. In our front beds, I do still have to weed regularly (we have some thorny weeds that really love the edges of our beds). That’s after we even used a layer of mulch and fabric beneath the gravel. And don’t get me started about the back fire pit area.
I’ll be redoing that in the near future. You see, the previous owners used clear plastic and white gravel that doesn’t block the sun and honestly encourages weed growth. The space that is supposed to be weed-free is definitely not. Pea gravel can do the same if you don’t layer the foundation properly.
That’s why I advised going as far as adding a layer of black plastic to the landscaping fabric, just to be absolutely sure you are blocking all sunlight and preventing weeds. So you need to be very careful about how you install your pea gravel in order to keep it where you want it and help it extinguish grass and weeds in that area.
The only maintenance is making sure things are kept off the top of it and raking it to keep it level. I know from experience that if it snows or ices over the pea gravel, be sure you get some salt or melting crystals on it before trying to scoop it off. Otherwise, a good portion of the gravel goes with the snow!
Another issue that people have with a patio made of pea gravel is that you can’t put certain types of furniture on it without the furniture sinking. And if it sinks, it can rip holes in your underlayment. So, just be aware of that when you add furniture to it. In my case, I just made sure to get patio furniture that had large surface area bottoms. In my parent’s case, the patio was built around a yard swing that was already in the ground. So, it was a non-issue.
So, Should You Use Pea Gravel?
If you don’t mind a little pea gravel getting all over your yard and in the soles of some of your shoes, this is a very easy to maintain, inexpensive material that you can use for decoration in landscaping, path making, and patio making. I’ve dealt with it before and I know other people who have and I feel like the pros outweigh the cons.
Hopefully, you’ve found this article informative and you’ve been able to decide if pea gravel as a medium is right for you and your backyard.