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paul_ramirez33

Building a Gravel Garden: Depth and Weed Barrier Advice Needed!

last month

Hey everyone,

I'm planning a new garden area with gravel, similar to the one in this picture.

I'm wondering if anyone has experience with this and can advise on two things:

Excavation Depth: How deep should I dig out the ground for the gravel?

Weed Barrier: Is using a weed barrier recommended to prevent weeds from growing through?

Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated!

Comments (45)

  • last month

    Please tell us where you're located (nearest big city & state). Thanks!

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    We have clay soil so we just dug down 4" and laid a permeable landscape fabric.

    Weeds don't grow through unless they are super weeds with super roots. As the gravel decomposes, it becomes a packed-down lean soil and some weeds can take hold. It took several years to even see a weed in my gravel. I keep my garden beds well-mulched so it's my neighbors' weeds.

    Biggest issue with gravel is tree debris and leaf fall that is difficult to rake out without also catching up the gravel. You will need to top dress the area when most of the gravel has become hard-packed.

  • last month

    We live in an arid climate and have areas with rock/gravel mulch (about 3” deep deep) with weed cloth under it, rock/gravel without weed cloth, bark mulch, and bare ground. The bare ground gets the most weeds with rock and bark mulch no weed cloth getting some but less and weed cloth areas very little.


    Most people on this site don't like weedcloth or gravel mulch for wetter areas but I know when we were in England we saw gravel mulched areas so🤷‍♀️. Local knowledge is best though so what you find in your area would be of the most use to you.

  • last month

    Thanks guys! I am located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Zone 7a

  • last month

    Actually, using landscape fabric/weed cloth under a gravel or paved surface is about the only reasonable usage for this product. Contrary to common belief, the fabric is not a very efficient deterrent to weed development - weeds will appear - but they will appear with much less frequency if the thickness of the gravel is at least several inches.

  • last month

    I’m assuming you mean crushed granite or other crushed rock, not “ pea gravel”.

    Agree with above posts to avoid doing this under or near deciduous trees with heavy leaf and/ or fruit fall ( oaks, regular maples ). You will hope to be able to blow any mild amount of debris from area occasionally.

  • last month

    We dug out grass and it never reappeared, so I don't think landscape fabric is needed for weed suppression of any weed roots that are already there. Maybe something with a strong tap root could reemerge. The landscape fabric was really just to keep the gravel from sinking into the soil.

  • last month

    Phillly? LOL

    No. Just no, unless you already own stock in Preen and RoundUp.

    It's a wet enough climate that you can get weeds growing just in the gravel.

    BTW, interesting Fun Fact - England averages considerably less precipitation than the northeastern US.

  • last month

    I'm in Maine. I have a ton of weeds in my gravel. The worst are the crabapple babies. The roots go down and they're hard to remove.

  • last month

    In a veggie garden there's lots of organic waste (plant material and spilled soil amendments) so don't expect your gravel to stay clean.

    In northern Virginia river rock is preferable to gravel because gravel gets grimy (small bits of autumn leaves and other organic debris accumulate in the gravel and you can't blow them out). Also the weeds & tree seedlings grow amongst the gravel.

    I prefer mulch or pavers for paths.

  • last month

    Gravel has become fashionable here but seldom stays looking good. People put it down thinking it's low maintenance. They're disappointed.


  • last month
    last modified: last month

    I agree that it's going to be hard to keep your gravel clean. Over the years both garden organic waste and airborne dust settles in with these rocks, and you eventually end up with pieces of rock embedded in dirt. I know people that have actually shoveled the stuff out of the bed, put it on a screen, and hosed it down to rinse off the dirt, after which it is laid back down again, but that's a lot of work. Pavers do seem more suitable, in the long term, and weeds are simply not an issue.

    There are some folks who replace their lawns with rock or pea gravel, thinking that would save on maintenance, but they end up living with Roundup instead of with a lawnmower. That works in a desert environment, but not in a moist environment.

  • last month

    Hmm good to know. How about doing a thick layer of decomposed granite and then just a thin layer of gravel? I heard this way the granite compacts and prevents weeds from coming through as frequently.

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    We used all crushed gravel, 1/4 minus. It is decomposing into a compacted lean soil after a few years. As I said, we didn't see one weed, not for about the first five years.

    The weeds don't come up through the gravel. Seeds get blown in or dropped by birds and root into the decomposed gravel that's under the loose gravel. I am in Oregon so we have plenty of rain for weeds. Now we get some kind of ground-hugging, spreading weed and corsican mint, but nothing like dandelions. My perennial seedlings don't even root in it.

  • PRO
    last month

    Had extensive crushed granite garden walkways. Dig down about 8”. Put black plastic down then layers of the crushed granite. Weeds came in with birds and the wind. Drove me crazy. Nothing stopped them. The weed fabric was useless. We had to add a ton of new granite every year. I would seek a different solution. Maybe large flat stones dig into stone gravel bed. But avoid small crushed stone of any kind. I am in Texas south of Houston. Get good amounts of rain most seasons.

  • PRO
    last month

    Nothing stops “nut grass”. If you have that concrete or stone walkways are needed.

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Two neighbouring gravel gardens I snapped this morning illustrating the point that gravel is not care free. Both were laid on landscape fabric.

    High maintenance


    No maintenance


  • last month

    You can get pavers that have pea gravel embedded in concrete. That way, it LOOKS like pea gravel, but you can just hose it off, and will not allow weeds, except maybe in the cracks. I'd have to assume that weeds will grow right through decomposed granite. It's not an optimal growing medium, but weeds will always find a way. In any case, once soil starts washing over it, it will become better suited for weed growth.

  • last month

    Those garden beds might just be top-dressed with gravel. Plus, they're not walked on, which could help prevent some weeds from growing.

    Close-up of my gravel path. The creeping Jenny was planted. My backyard has a slight slope so this area puddles on very rainy days. This is the only area where I see weed seedlings, but I am overdue in adding fresh gravel to replace the compacted gravel. There is no way to clean up debris to have the pristine look of fresh gravel. I like the natural look, and it suits my garden. I don't have a manicured garden style.


    Last month.


  • last month

    The OP is planning a working vegetable garden with heavy foot traffic and presumably wheel barrow traffic in a rainy climate. Comparisons to ornamental gardens aren't useful to him.

  • last month

    Great points! Considering all this, would a layer of decomposed granite topped with river rock or crushed stone be a more effective weed barrier than pea gravel?

  • last month

    I’m so confused. Were you planning pavers set in some kind of gravel, like your inspo pic? And if so how do you run a wheelbarrow over that combination?

    If you were thinking pea gravel, how do you push the WB through that, or walk stably on it?
  • last month

    Read down. Weeds grow in decomposed granite. I've seen it happen. Not an optimal growing medium, but they do it anyway. You seem to have decided that a layer of gravel is what you're going to do. Best of luck.

  • last month

    Will post photo later. Husband is spraying gravel drive after nagging. The weeds do not come up from the bottom. Weed fabric does not help. It keeps the gravel from going into the mud. The seeds fall on the gravel and sprout from the top and the roots go through the gravel. You will either spray with Roundup all the time or burn with a weed torch. In our zone, you have weeds. What photos you have are from dry places.

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    "Those garden beds might just be top-dressed with gravel"

    If you mean the ones I showed, they're not. I watched them being constructed. There's landscape fabric underneath.

  • last month

    The OP is planning a working vegetable garden with heavy foot traffic and presumably wheel barrow traffic in a rainy climate. Comparisons to ornamental gardens aren't useful to him.

    And I am showing him busy walking paths in a rainy climate--the PNW. It doesn't matter what's planted in the garden area. Weeds aren't selective.

  • last month

    If you compare rainfall totals for Portland, OR and Philadelphia during the growing season, Portland is practically a desert. And the rainfall totals don't take dew into account, which can be a notable water source when the humidity is off the charts.


    https://www.extremeweatherwatch.com/cities/portland-or/average-rainfall-by-month


    https://www.extremeweatherwatch.com/cities/philadelphia/average-rainfall-by-month

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Great points! Considering all this, would a layer of decomposed granite topped with river rock or crushed stone be a more effective weed barrier than pea gravel?

    No. The purpose of decomposed granite, or crushed granite as it's called here, is that it is angular. The pieces lock together as it settles, providing firm footing. Pea gravel rolls when you walk on it. River rock is dangerous to walk on. I'm not sure what you mean by crushed stone. But as gravel decomposes, it forms soil. My paths went in in 2017 and it only took a few years to see areas where there wasn't much loose gravel on top, particularly where we exit the deck. I suggest you go to the stone yard and look at the product. You will see that decomposed granite isn't crushed into fine particles.

    After so many years, weed seeds can grow in this lean soil even though there is none to very little organic matter. I have never seen a weed in the center of my path. They're where the garden beds meet the gravel, maybe because it's moister there because the clay of the garden beds holds the moisture. Only certain weeds like these conditions. So I doubt whether crushed gravel alone will grow your local weeds. It's the decomposed soil that has settled underneath the top layer that can root some weed seeds.

    I'm diligent about removing baby weeds. If you're not, and if you let them go to seed, of course you will have more weeds than I do.

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Weeds will pop up or accumulate in pretty much any gravel unless one keeps it groomed. If you put enough fabric under and pack under it might keep out a lot of the stuff from under... but stuff will still accumulate in the top.

    Why do you want to do this? Gravel or gravel+pavers isn't really the friendliest thing to walk on around raised beds you use on the regular. It looks great when it's freshly groomed like in the OP pic. But having walked and worked in places that do that, it's not great in use. There are other friendlier garden bed surround mulches to be had. If it's just for the looks, I'd do as some others have suggested and use all solid pavers to achieve the look. But it's much friendlier to walk and work on. And keep weeded and clean looking.

  • last month

    I see. So if I move away from gravel, what kind of pavers would you recommend? Any pictures are highly welcomed!

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Probably square 12x12" is the easiest kind of paver to use. Helps keep your bed size math simpler too. If you like the gravel look, use gravel top. If you like the look of gravel+smooth paver, get some smooth ones to space in with the gravel tops.

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Re pavers, as I said, you can get ones that look like pebbles on top. Look around. Took a few seconds to find this online. They call it an "aggregate paving stone". Most big box hardware stores have them.



    Or, you can go with something a little colorful.


    In principle, you can make your own. Stir pea gravel in cement and then drop in a tray.

    You can hose these off and they'll ALWAYS look like pebbles, and you won't get weeds. Again, loose pebbles or gravel will accumulate dirt, and look less and less like pebbles and gravel as the years go by.

  • last month

    That’s good to know. Is the installation for these pavers much more expensive though? I guess that was the appeal of the gravel. Seemed more DIY friendly

  • last month

    I'm not sure what you would use around the pavers. Gravel and mulch gets kicked up over them. Raised beds are usually set on gravel, mulch or cemented-in brick.

  • last month

    I think dry laid pavers are very DIY friendly, since if you mess up, all you have to do is pull the pavers and start over. How good a job you do on the base will determine how even the pavers stay, and how likely they are to crack.

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Pavers are pretty much DIY, but yes, you'll have to lay them down on a bed of gravel to assure stability. Don't just lay them on the soil. Yes, gravel is DIY friendly, until you get around to rinsing off all the dirt that gets embedded in it. That will take a lot of work. Of course, for the gravel under the pavers, you don't care how those end up looking.

    You might consider laying the pavers down on a bed of pea gravel, and then just separating them with a thin layer of that pea gravel. That is, dig them into the pea gravel. That's pretty easy and, as noted, if they start to get cocked, just pull and reseat.

  • last month

    I’m not sure how this is helping. Dry- laid pavers have to be in SOMETHING. With spaces in between, in which, ummm, weeds will grow eventually. In fact, may grow better as I have observed stone- spaces to seem to have fertile properties, possibly related to moisture retention or better accumulation of small sediment. So you’d have to still spritz with weed- killer at times. Perhaps pre- emergent helps some?

    The advantage would be, very well- prepared base + pavers can feel more solid underfoot. Well- prepared base means digging @ compacting & leveling. My yard areas are not level!

    But then not sure why would recommend 12” pavers- the bigger the better. Plus, not sure how commenters are envisioning running the wheelbarrow- what kind of wheel- base does it have? All this sounds pretty discouraging, I imagine, if everything has such a downside. What to do? Was anyone thinking of just mulch paths? To me they’ll grow weeds also, but perhaps is easier to cart in & cheaper to re- fresh. I’m not in anyway a designer, but also feel there is not enough specific info on exactly what is the planned layout re: beds, dimensions, amount of pathway. I have done raised beds in a Bermuda lawn, with a small killed DMZ & pavers around them, because of having rainfall & leaf debris. If I had several beds adjacent, I think I would have just done a 3’ or so mulched area between the raised sides, & battled some weeds. So OP, wonder if your actual raised bed design will be more informed by these “ pathway” and maintenance options, rather than make up an aspirational/ inspo layout and then try to figure out how to fill it in.
  • last month

    We used 1/4- crushed gravel for our rear yard path. Our yard is small and we wanted to keep it natural looking with the large trees and shady area. Fabric protector was first put down but I really do not think it was needed. The gravel packs down tightly and we can wheel anything along the path. It does get an occassional weed in it and even mose grows on it as some of it gets very light sunlight, We had the path formed with steel so it will not change shape or deteriorate over time. 1/4- is a sharp gravel which is why it packs down so well but a small amout of it will stick to the bottom of your shoes if is is wet outside. It does come off after taking a few stops on concrete (or use a mat). We can blow off any leaves on it with a blower set on low and it cleans nicely. The picture was taken after a rainly day yesterday and we are in the PNW.



  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Well, certainly if you have pavers, weeds can grow in between the pavers. But it's VASTLY less area and VASTLY less work than pulling weeds from gravel. No question that you're doing yourself a favor getting larger pavers. I was never recommending 12" pavers, except you're going to have lots more choices with those.

    Gailan, that's a nice path, though it looks to me like the gravel pieces are very small, and you already have soil mixed in with them. If you can tolerate that, then go for it.

    I would add that if the goal is just to have a path that doesn't get muddy, laying down rock will work fine. It will drain well. But if you want a path that looks entirely like rock or gravel, without soil intermixed, then pavers are the way to go in the long term.

  • last month

    Dan, yes, I agree that densely spaced pavers reduce the total surface area.

    I think OP is focused on pea gravel and/ or not doing a lot of prep. OP, I could be wrong? My understanding is there is a difference between “ dry- laid pavers” vs. pavers nestled in pea gravel. I actually have done the latter for a small sitting area , more to provide some “ hardscape “ contrast with surrounding plantings, very informal, because I bought a house where previous owner had put a huge amount of white gravel ( yuck!) over a large area in the side yard. So that was DIY to work with an existing condition.
  • last month

    Gailan, that's a nice path, though it looks to me like the gravel pieces are very small, and you already have soil mixed in with them. If you can tolerate that, then go for it.


    There is no soil mixed with the gravel. It may look that way because it is still wet from the rain. It does not get muddy at all and is much better than DC that I used in a previous home.

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    If you're going to use gravel, use the 1/4 minus crushed that Gailan and I used. It will give you a firm base, and therefore a safer base.

    The easiest thing to do is use bark mulch and replenish it every other year. Have it delivered by a landscape supplier if they can provide small chunks of bark, not shreds. I really dislike the shredded type in a bag, like Scotts, which is even dyed. Also avoid big chunks, which aren't good for walking on.

  • last month

    You replenish mulch every other year? dang.. i do it every year. is it not needed?

  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Start by grading the contour and compacting the soil. Next lay down heavy duty woven geotextile gravel driveway fabric and stake it. $$$. WARNING!! Do not use any Vevor products, it is substandard and worthless. I recommend Dewitt and the width can be up to 15'6" and 300' long so few seams needed and tough puncture resistant rated at 700psi or 1000psi depending on fabric choice You should easily get by with 2" of aggregate using the proper geotextile fabric for walking and a wheel barrow.

    We used this stuff on a 700' driveway for a cabin in northern MN to keep the gravel from being swallowed up by the red clay and preformed excellent spreading vehicle weight leaving no ruts. It is designed to go under aggregate and do not recommend anything else. The cheap products people buy at stores, like Vevor is the reason they have so much trouble with landscape rocks.

    After 10+ years when the rocks need cleaned they can easily be scooped up with a grain shovel and screened. The fabric will be like new and just sweep it off and put the rock back down. It will NOT allow any thing grow through it.

    I use a thinner WOVEN landscape fabric from Dewitt (3.2 oz/sq. ft) for ground cover in my gardens and have never had a weed of any kind grow through it and have never accidentally punched a hole through it in the 5 years I've used it. Spend the money for the good stuff.

  • last month

    many weed seed are air borne.. so man made weed crap under your stone is irrelevant... one minute after you put it down.. weed seed i dropping on top ...


    imho.. weed barrier is useless ... put down your stinkin stone.. and learn how to spray it with weed killer when necessary ..... i used roundup.. you can find any alternative... if you wish ...


    burying man made plastic products.. is just stupid... but what do i know.. im sure you can figure out better options...


    ken