Gravel is versatile and budget-friendly paving material that meets all kinds of landscaping needs. Your tough choice isn't what color of gravel to choose; it's what size. Gravel isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. The size needed for a walkway isn't necessarily the best option for a rock garden. The type of project you're doing, and quantity of foot traffic it will receive, are factors that'll help you choose the perfect grave size.
Creating Comfortable Walkways
Choosing the right gravel size for garden paths or walkways makes a significant difference in how comfortable they are for walking. Typically, the smaller or finer gravel is, the softer it is underfoot, especially if you'll be plodding barefoot from the pool to the house. Opt for gravel with a diameter of 1/4 inch or smaller, often called "pea stones," for a comfortable walking surface. Smooth gravel with rounded edges are preferable to sharp or rough edges.
Building a Stable Patio and Driveway
In a large paved area such as a patio or driveway, gravel's size can create a stable surface. For a patio, select gravel that is 3/8- to 3/4-inch in diameter. A driveway needs layered gravel to provide stability for vehicles. Start with a layer of stones about the size of baseballs or softballs, with a diameter of 3 to 4 inches. Next, install a layer of 2- to 3-inch-diameter stones. The driveway's top dressing should be 3/8-inch-diameter gravel. For both patios and driveways, though, opt for crushed, man-made rock gravel because its pieces bind together well, increasing stability.
Find a Long-Lasting Mulch
Gravel is an effective mulch for plants because it helps prevent evaporation from the soil surface and, unlike wood mulch, doesn't get blown away in typical weather. Naturally, smaller gravel, under 1/4-inch size, may scatter a bit. This makes medium-size gravel the perfect choice for for flowerbeds and the base of trees. An all-purpose gravel of 3/8-inch diameter works best as plant mulch. Smooth gravel may have more decorative panache than rough, angular gravel when used in mulch, but rough gravel will put up a good fight when it comes to staying put.
Design a Rock Garden
Virtually any size of gravel works in a rock garden, since it's not an area with heavy foot traffic and the gravel is intended for decoration. Large gravel is often the best choice since it works visually with boulders and other large rocks you might be featuring in the garden. A 1- to 1 ½-inch-diameter gravel tends to look great as the top dressing in a rock garden. Depending on the aesthetic you're after, smooth river rock offers a very different appeal versus more angular stones. You can't go wrong with either, it's just about what feels right for you and your space.
Based in New York City, Jennifer Blair has been covering all things home and garden since 2001. Her writing has appeared on BobVila.com, World Lifestyle, and House Logic. Blair holds a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Seminars from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.