Pea gravel

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Pea gravel is a small, rounded type of rock gravel. The uniformly-sized, smooth pebbles are used as hardscaping material for gravel patios and walkways. Let’s look at what pea gravel is and the many ways it can be used in your landscaping plan.

Pea gravel for sale at landscaping supply warehouse

What is pea gravel?

Pea gravel is small, rounded pebbles. Also referred to as pea stones or pea pebbles, each little rock of pea gravel is just a bit bigger than a pea (think green frozen peas). Pea gravel perhaps looks more like really large peas, like edamame or something of that size. The colour of the pea gravel depends on the colour(s) of the parent rock material.

What makes pea gravel so different then other types of gravel is that each stone is smooth and rounded (not chipped and jagged). Pea gravel is collected from nature in an area where flowing water once gently rounded each stone. The natural weathering process of the stream bed creates a smooth texture that is lovely to walk on. Think of pea gravel as mini river rock.

Pea gravel up close - shown held in hand with gardening gloves
Fine pea gravel entrance to formal british garden
The pea gravel walkway is stunning… but nothing can outshine those ornamental lawn tractors.

What is pea gravel used for?

Pea gravel is used in landscaping as a hardscaping surface material for well-travelled areas like patios, walkways, and playgrounds. It can also be used as a decorative mulch around plants or structures like raised beds.

Landscaping with pea gravel

Pea gravel is used in landscaping for paths, patios, and other areas with foot traffic, as well as a decorative (and functional) mulch. Here are some pea gravel landscaping ideas to help you add this lovely hardscaping material to your yard.

European city square paved with pea gravel and paving stones
Pea gravel is a popular surface treatment for patios, parks, and city gathering spots in europe.

Pea gravel patio

Pea gravel is a lovely landscaping material for a patio base. It has a classic look, while also draining water well. And you’ll get that satisfying “crunch” as you walk across it.

To do a pea gravel patio right, it is incredibly important to prepare a strong structural base layer. The crushed rock immediately beneath the pea gravel should be well compacted (ideally with a machine) to help it support the weight of patio furniture, strollers, and even foot traffic. The pea gravel should be a decorative sprinkling over the structural base (not a 6″ deep layer that turns your patio into a ball pit of marbles).

Building a pea gravel patio - photo of prepared structural base of crushed rock compacted
Base layer of compacted crushed rock for future pea gravel patio
Making a pathway around the house with pea gravel and pavers
Pea gravel walkways can consist entirely of pea gravel or can incorporate paving stones within the gravel (as above).

Pea gravel garden paths

Pea gravel paths are a classic landscape design feature. They can be designed of pea gravel alone or with pea gravel between pavers or flagstones. Like the patio described above, pea gravel paths require a structural base layer of compacted crushed rock.

Gravel can be used for driveways with an adequately prepared base layer
Gravel is an inexpensive driveway hardscaping material.

Pea gravel driveway

A gravel driveway is essentially a larger iteration of a pea gravel path or patio, plus some added requirements to support cars and trucks. But like the patio, it doesn’t make sense to use pea gravel alone. A strong structural foundation base layer is critical for a driveway. Don’t make a pea gravel driveway without first laying a structural base layer of compacted crush.

Pea gravel patio - close up of gravel surface
This raspberry garden has paths mulched with pea gravel to keep down weeds and discourage enthusiastic raspberry canes from growing outside their planter box.

Pea gravel garden

Garden design includes pea gravel surfaces in many different styles of gardens. It’s generally used as a surface covering in areas where weeds are to be discouraged or where foot traffic is expected. As above, pea gravel on garden paths and access areas does require a structural support base layer of compacted crushed rock.

Pea gravel is also used in gardens for drainage. Water drains through plain pea gravel quite quickly (as opposed to fine sediment like clay, which takes forever to drain). In areas where drainage is a problem, pea gravel reservoirs are sometimes constructed to encourage drainage away from plants so that the roots of the plants have adequate access to oxygen (plants can drown without oxygen at their roots!).

“Since one of the most common causes of disease in peppers is fungal infection of the roots caused by poor drainage, it makes sense to have optimum drainage in the garden. Some gardeners, those with soils high in clay or who live in locations with a high water table, actually go to the trouble of creating a scree for drainage. Screes are thick layers of crushed rock (or gravel) and sand that are constructed beneath the garden to drain water from the plant roots.”

The Complete Chile Pepper Book: A Gardener’s Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving, and Cooking, by Dave DeWitt & Paul W. Bosland

Pea gravel mulch

Pea gravel also makes an awesome landscaping mulch. It can be a mass mulch in a Xeriscape garden or can be used around single specimen trees or other ornamental purposes. You can even use pea gravel as a mulch in flower gardens – particularly perennial flower gardens with native plants in areas with hot summers. The gravel mulch will help stabilize the soil temperature and hold water in the soil when things get really dry.

“Don’t try to stretch your mulch too far. Using too little mulch is like trying to paint with a dry brush. The end result isn’t worth much. Try to figure out beforehand how much mulch you are going to need. A 100-square-foot garden will need 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cubic yards of shredded bark, leaf mold, or gravel to make a mulch layer 4 inches deep. That’s eight to nine wheelbarrows of mulch. It’s always good to have extra mulch on hand to replace any that’s washed away or decayed, or to cover a newly spaded area. Almost invariably you will end up using more mulch than you thought you would. And you can always stockpile what you do not use.”

How to Mulch: Save Water, Feed the Soil, and Suppress Weeds, by Stu Campbell and Jennifer Kujawski
Pea gravel often needs to be contained with an edging material, like this rot-resistant cedar

Pros and cons of pea gravel landscaping

Here are some pros and cons of using pea gravel in your yard and garden landscaping:

Benefits of pea gravel

Pea gravel is generally a low-maintenance, inexpensive, well-draining surface choice. It has a natural appearance and a versatile aesthetic. Pea gravel looks as at home around modern architecture as it does in cottage gardens. It’s also quite easy to find locally and install! All it needs is a quick rake now and then to keep the stones in place.

Colorful pea gravel - close-up of pebbles

Drawbacks of pea gravel

While pea gravel is highly ornamental and smooth to walk on, it doesn’t provide the same structural support as a properly prepared base of compacted crushed stone. Just imagine your wheelbarrow sinking down into a pile of marbles. Pea gravel performs best when it is used either between structural paving stones or on top of a properly-compacted base.

Pea gravel does have a tendency to stray from its original position. It really does need some kind of edging to keep it in place if it runs alongside a lawn. Weed trimmers and lawnmowers can toss stray pea gravel (leading to broken windows, et cetera).

Even foot traffic can displace pea gravel eventually, leading to some landscapers using stepping stones in addition to the pea gravel itself. And if you live in a snowy area, be prepared to clean up the stray gravel each spring. You may also need a fresh batch every couple of years to keep things in tip-top shape.

Buying bulk pea gravel
Pea gravel is generally quite dusty at the landscape supply store and when it is first placed. It will look much better after water washes off some of the dust.

Pea gravel cost

Standard bulk pea gravel generally costs about $50 per cubic yard when purchased in bulk at a landscape supplier. Pea gravel sold at a garden centre is generally more expensive – up to $100 per cubic yard – but there are more choices available. Garden centres may stock pea gravel of varying sizes and colours to suit your landscape design.

If you’re buying a yard or two of pea gravel, it generally needs to be transported in a heavy-duty utility trailer. Many garden centres will deliver. You may also be able to buy a more easily transported 5-gallon bucket of about $15 bucks worth of gravel. Smaller amounts of pea gravel are sold in bags. An average 0.5 cubic foot bag of pea gravel costs about $5 per bag.

Link: Pea gravel by the cubic yard at Home Depot

Pea gravel for sale 86 dollars per yard at landscaping store
Pea gravel forms in streambeds where water weathers the edges until they are smooth
Pea gravel forms in streambeds where water weathers the edges until they are smooth

How to clean pea gravel

When pea gravel arrives in bulk (and sometimes even in bags), it is generally quite dusty. You may wish to give the pile a bit of a rinse to get some of the dust off before placing it. This will also help you get a good idea of what the gravel looks like (once it has dried).

Pea gravel generally still looks dusty after initial placement. Spray it with the garden hose or wait for some rain to let the true colour of the rock shine through. Once the initial dust has settled down between the rocks, the pea gravel will generally stay quite acceptable just with rainwater washing it off.

To keep the surface tidy, pick up and remove any stray leaves or branches and give the surface a quick raking now and then. Toss any stray stones back to their spot. But in general, pea gravel is very low maintenance!

Cedar edging for pea gravel to keep gravel in place

How to keep pea gravel in place

Most of the battle for keeping pea gravel in place can be won by installing a hard edging material. The photo above shows a pea gravel and paver pathway with a cedar edging. This edging is simply a 2″x6″ cedar board sunk into the ground to separate the lawn from the pea gravel path.

The photo below uses a poured concrete edging. While this is quite a bit of work, it does match the paving stones well and almost widens the width of the path (which is great because those ornamental grasses are always creeping inwards!).

Despite all your efforts to keep the pea gravel in place, some of it will sink, stray, or get permanently borrowed. A touch-up with fresh pea gravel every few years will keep things uniform and looking sharp. Do try to get the same type of pea gravel if you can! While you can rake it in with the previous batch, its always easier just to get the same type.

Pathway made from concrete rectangular paving stones and pea gravel
Natual streambed with rounded boulders, pebbles, gravel, and sand
Pea gravel and cobblestones in european village
Pea gravel generated pin 9645
Pinit fg en round red 32
Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a Master Gardener and founder of the gardening website Home for the Harvest. She has been featured by Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Mother Earth News, and the National Garden Bureau. Mary Jane lives with her family in the Okanagan Valley.