Grass vs. Gravel

castorpAugust 20, 2009

Most of my yard is planted with groundcovers and shrubs. I have wide grass paths and a tiny area of lawn in back. I'm considering replacing the grass with gravel (or river rock or pebbles). But I want to make sure it's a good idea.

I read that gravel is lower maintenance than grass, but sometimes I read just the opposite, that gravel is a lot more work. Which is true?

Two things worry me in particular about the gravel. One, there are a lot of trash trees in the neighborhood. They drop limbs and tons of narrow willow-like leaves that blow everywhere. I'm afraid the leaves and twigs would get all mixed up with the gravel, rot, turn to compost, and make a perfect spot for weeds to grow. Several gardeners in the area have warned me against gravel for this reason. They say it gets messy fast.

My other concern is that soil is extremely sandy, like a beach dune. I know it will be necessary to use some kind of barrier to prevent the gravel from disappearing into the sand. I've heard of using landscape fabric, screens, and packed clay. I've also read of using something to bind the gravel. I can't remember the name of the products, but it seems to work like a cement. I'm looking for the best option for the long term.

Thank you.


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In my opinion, grass is always easier maintenance. I'm forever pulling random weeds from the areas of our property where the original builders river pebbles were used, and they get kicked around easily. With grass paths, it's a quick mowing during the growing season.

Now, if you're talking about stabilizing the stone, as in concrete aggregate or other permanent measures, that's another thing entirely. But loose stone? I wouldn't do it, myself.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2009 at 3:42PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Which would you rather do, mow that amount of space, or weed it and pick up what the trees drop?

    Bookmark   August 20, 2009 at 4:23PM
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You've answered your question. Gravel is at its worst with a lot of organic stuff dropping. As usual, always have to differentiate between non-specific "gravel" vs. decomposed granite made into a hard packed path. That type of path is easier to rake and less prone to weeds. Pea gravel is much worse. But if you currently do some of your tree-litter pickup by mowing over leaves from time to time, all that will have to be done by raking (or leaf sucker-shredder). So another question is, what would you gain? Are you going for a certain aesthetic and will it be worth it?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 12:13PM
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My sideyard. It was impossible to keep the St Augustine nice because we have moles that come out of the field in the back. So voila! no more moles! In my situation gravel is a no-brainer. I would not go back to grass.

My backyard. The gravel was put down in the spring of 2008.

I put brick edging down in this spring.

This is called spurge. I hate it. If left alone it gets to be 2' across and reseeds terribly. I just used RoundUp in the front circle after I let it get out of hand. I have bought Halts to prevent this in the future but haven't put it out yet. This one is about 5" across and comes out easily.

This is the type of weed I get in the backyard. It pulls out easily. I found 2 of them when I was taking photos today. They're not a problem. This one is about 3" tall.

It just rained, and you can see the gray color darkens when wet.

The grass on the left is not on my property. It's part of the water retention area, but I planted it and mow it. It's the only grass I will have soon.

My front garden. This photo was taken before I mulched in May so I'm embarrassed that it's not pretty.

It's called crushed granite, and stones are 1/2" and smaller. I laid 15-year weed cloth from Lowe's under it. The gravel is about 2"-3" thick. You can make it thicker if you want. I push a wheelbarrow on it without a problem. After you first spread it, it will feel a little squishy under your feet, but when you hose it down well, the dust washes down and the gravel will lock into it and the jagged cuts of the gravel lock into themselves, making it very solid and easy to walk on - but NOT with bear feet. You can see I have oak trees, and they drop leaves constantly it seems. It surprised me how well the blower works on the gravel to get rid of the leaves. You can't blow straight down, but if you do, the damage is easily smoothed out with your foot. I use oak leaves for mulch so they're always blowing around. Gravel in my yard is as close to maintenance free as you can get short of pavement. I have one last strip of grass alongside the driveway which is coming out in the fall. I would not use it without weedcloth, but it doesn't migrate into the beds even without the edging. It does look better with edging.

Hope this is helpful. They use this stuff in parking lots a lot. BTW, I bought what they called "contaminated granite". It had pieces of limestone in it whether by accident or on purpose I don't know. But regular crushed granite was $60 a yard, and this was $35. To me the few white rocks scattered around don't look bad, aren't really noticeable.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 7:07PM
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Thanks to you all for the information. And thanks, Sherry, for the photos and the information about installation and upkeep. Your garden looks great! I recognize your weeds from my lawn (I'm just south of you in DeLand). How big a chore is keeping the weeds out of your crushed granite areas?

I'm interested in the gravel because my grass paths don't look good much of the year. Now in the rainy season (when I'm mowing every fourth day) they look okay, but in the winter (when it's nice to be outside in Central FL) the grass is dormant, and it also suffers from spring drought. So I was thinking gravel (or crushed granite) might be a better option. I've also considered local materials like crushed shell or crushed coquina. I would use stepping stones with these. But I would have to stick to groundcovers that don't mind the change in PH.

Does crushed or decomposed granite drain well once it's compacted? I have a couple of areas where good drainage will be really important.

Thanks again.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 5:32PM
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Bill, the only problem I've had was with the spurge in the front circle. I procrastinated with the RU. Well, first I procrastinated with pulling because I thought it was going to be a real pain. I went out there with a rolling stool and a handrake. Turns out they come out quite easy even the big ones, but I there were tiny seedlings that I wasn't getting out and figured I'd come right back with the RU. But I didn't, and they went crazy. That's why I bought the 'Halts' by Scotts, a weed preventer/killer. I'm told it works very well, but as usual I haven't done it yet. If you zap them when they're small, you don't even have to pull them. I had an area in the back path area that had several (maybe 30) small ones. It took me less than 10 minutes to pull them. I think if you get them before they go to seed, they're not a problem. I don't think you're paths would be hard at all to keep up. In the biggest part of the backyard I've never had to use RU. The weed sprouts are few and far between. I don't know why they're such a huge problem in the front. I did have this spurge in the lawn there before I graveled, but it doesn't come up through the cloth like that onion grass stuff. Those are tough.

I hated to get rid of the grass because I love lush healthy St Augustine, but I've never had moles and grubs until we moved here. I battled them for 2 years then gave up.

My drainage is fine. Early on I had a few spots that puddled, so I added more gravel to the low spots. Mine hasn't flood at all. Also, in the sideyard the runoff from the roof doesn't bother it at all. This granite is much better than rounded gravel. It doesn't shift at all once it locks in. I have mulch on the other side and the runoff digs a trench. I don't see any downside to crushed granite - except that it's heavy.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 9:25PM
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