Types of Gravel & How to Use it in Your Landscape
By Axis Fuksman-Kumpa • May 13, 2022
When people talk about outdoor home improvement projects, there’s plenty of focus on striking slate pathways and beautifully laid brick patios, but we think there’s another material that deserves praise: gravel. This humble hardscaping material wins major accolades from us for its versatility, durability, permeability, and affordability.
Between natural tumbled pebbles and manmade crushed stone, you can find gravel in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors to suit any project. Gravel is an accessible material option for all sorts of DIY projects—plus, whenever you’re ready to redo your landscaping, you can scoop out that stone and swap in a new type to suit your new design.
With so many options to choose from, how can you know which is the right gravel for your front yard or backyard landscaping project? Keep reading to learn about some of the most popular types of gravel and all the ways you can use them.
Popular Types of Gravel
Between the type of rock and the size of the gravel, there is a wide array of different types of gravel to choose from. Your location will determine their availability and pricing. With that in mind, these are some of our favorite landscaping gravel types that are widely available across the U.S.
River jack is a common type of river rock notable for its smooth, tumbled stones in a variety of beautiful earth tones. River jack tends to include sizes ranging from larger tumbled stones to small pebble pieces—between the mixed size and the rounded finish, river jack isn’t the most stable material for a high foot-traffic area.
Mexican Beach Pebble
If you love the look of smooth natural stone, Mexican beach pebble might be the pick for you. This gravel is well-tumbled for regular stones, and it’s easy to find varieties sorted by both size and color for a variety of projects. This is an attractive gravel option for low-traffic or ornamental ground cover, as the rounded stones make for an unsteady path or patio.
These large, angular stones are incredibly useful to add structure and protect from erosion. Rip rap is an excellent material for retaining walls and is especially popular in coastal areas for its ability to stand up to the elements while allowing free water flow. The smaller sizes of rip rap are sometimes used as a base for driveways, but rip rap is seldom used anywhere with foot traffic because of the rough, irregular texture.
3/4-1.5" Construction Gravel
If you’re looking for a cost effective option for your gravel landscaping ideas, construction gravel is at the top of the list. This type of gravel is (as the name suggests) commonly used in construction applications and its irregular, crushed finish gives it great structure to support sturdy paths, patios, and parking areas. It can even be used as a sturdy base with good drainage for concrete, pavers, and flagstone. Although you can find construction gravel sorted by size, the colors can be varied depending on the stones that were crushed.
You might see it described as 1/4-3/8" washed or native gravel in more industrial applications, but the trendiest option on the list is more commonly known as pea gravel. Its small size combined with a smooth finish allow a layer of pea gravel to be comfortable underfoot while still remaining relatively steady, making it perfect for every application from a dog run to a modern pea gravel patio.
There’s also an attractive array of pea gravel colors to choose from, making them a popular option for a wide range of pea gravel backyard ideas. Since they’re lightweight, pea gravel pieces can shift under heavy traffic. Use a good edging at the borders of your gravel area and be prepared to rake your gravel back into place when needed.
It turns out that finely crushing a common landscape rock creates one of the most versatile hardscaping materials out there. Decomposed granite—or “DG”—is finer than gravel but more stable (and mud-free) than dirt, making it an ideal material for patios, driveways, paths, mulch, and more.
It’s pleasantly soft underfoot, but the tradeoff is that it tends to stick to feet and follow you indoors. Newer varieties include stabilizing agents to help it stay where you put it, but be sure you know which variety you’re using before you use DG to build a path right to your front door!
Gravel Landscaping Ideas
Gravel is an incredibly versatile ground cover and construction material with a wide range of landscaping applications from casual gravel backyard ideas to contemporary pea gravel landscaping. The possibilities are limitless, but we’ll give you a head start—these are some of our favorite ways to use gravel in our landscape designs.
Whether you’re talking front yard hardscape ideas or backyard hardscape ideas, almost every design includes a path. Creating a stable, beautiful walkway is a must in many landscape designs, but laying stone or brick often requires specialist assistance. Gravel paths are a simple option to DIY if you’re looking to save on budget! Just make sure to install a good border at the edge of your walkway to stop your gravel from spreading across your lawn.
Filling in Around Pavers
If you love the look of pavers but want to keep a permeable surface, you can easily fill the space between your pavers with a layer of gravel. Depending on the pavers and gravel you choose, a paver and gravel path can look rustic or modern. This can be a good choice for people who like the smooth finish of stone or pavers but want to make sure their path has good drainage.
You might think of patios as a classic poured concrete area with a set of patio furniture on top, but you have a lot of options when it comes to patio landscaping. Gravel can be one of the simplest and most cost effective material options, creating a stone patio area to place your fire pit without needing to do any masonry. There are plenty of gorgeous pea gravel patio ideas out there—just be sure to lay a good edging around your patio area. Check out our guide to patio materials for more patio landscaping ideas.
A driveway is a necessity for most but also often an unfortunate eyesore. Dirt turns to mud and asphalt cracks harsh winters, but gravel can be a perfect option if you’re looking to redo your driveway. It makes a stable driveway material that will stand up to common wear and tear, and it’s easy to top up your driveway with a sprinkle of gravel in the spring if the plow truck shifts some in the winter.
Gravel is great groundcover, which means it can also be excellent mulch. Using stones around the base of trees, ornamental plants, and even hardy garden vegetables is one of our favorite gravel garden ideas. Stone mulch won’t break down, can have a beautiful finish, and discourages pest activity.
We’ve talked a lot about the virtues of gravel as a permeable ground cover solution because it is a perfect option for areas that experience a great deal of rain and runoff. If you have areas of your landscape that tend to pool water, consider swapping out any impermeable groundcover for a gravel path or mulch to help that rainwater become groundwater in a hurry. Watch the areas of your landscaping that are prone to holding water and use your gravel as needed—no need to have a full gravel lawn.
We could keep going, but this information should provide you with a foundation of information to bring your gravel landscaping ideas to life. Be creative and roll up your sleeves for a little bit of DIY whether you’re dreaming of your perfect front yard patio, black gravel landscaping, or a striking gravel yard! What are your favorite ways to use gravel in your landscaping?
Read more about: Landscape Design Tips