Comparing Gravels for Landscape Installation

OES | Crushed limestone, Texas basalt, and zoysia grass

photo credit: tali wildman

We love using gravel in our landscape installations. We spec it on every project as a lovely composition with steel, wood, concrete, turf grass, and vegetation. For a while we used mulch in vegetative beds (and I know our build team would prefer to move it over heavy gravel), but we found that gravel was preferable as a surface treatment in most applications for a number of reasons:

  • Maintenance. Gravel does not need to be reapplied each year (except for topdressing where the ground plane has settled) nor does it move as easily with storm water. It’s easier to blow leaves out of, especially when stabilized with polymeric sand.

  • Appearance. Gravel color stays consistent while wood mulch will fade in the sunlight.

  • Weeds. Wood mulch breaks down and adds organic matter, allowing for weeds to germinate, while gravels discourage the errant opportunistic seed.

  • Water. Gravel does a fine job of covering exposed soil, especially when installed over landscape fabric, to retain moisture.

  • Design. Gravel implies a path much more clearly than wood mulch, and creates a space when framed with furniture, vegetation, walls, and steel edging. It also works better with sparse xeriscape planting.

During a consultation, we ask our clients how they want to use the space. Programming informs our design decisions and material choices. There are certain criteria that I’ll expand on in pros/cons below that make one gravel choice more preferable over another.

  • Will you be barefoot?

  • Is there or will there be a pool?

  • Are there dogs or small children that might move the gravel?

  • Do you want to dine at a table, or sit at a couch? Will the chairs move?

  • Is there slope or drainage we need to address?

  • Do you expect users to have limited mobility?

  • Will you be maintaining the area yourself or having a crew come in periodically?

Below are the gravels available in and around Austin, TX. We have experience working with each of these aggregates and gathered feedback from clients after extended use. We always recommend using heavy-duty steel edging instead of leaving two loose materials butting up against each other – the maintenance headache alone has proven that this durable material does more than simply add another visual element.

OES | Decomposed granite

Decomposed Granite – Naturally decomposed; usually has clay mixed in. This is the most common material used for paths in park spaces and for low-cost landscape installations. Brown/dark tan in color.

  • Pros: Compacts really well, providing a stable surface for paths and driveways. Best used as a base for other gravels, especially because of its inexpensive price point.

  • Cons: Tracks in on shoes / paws and can scratch wood floors; erodes even on a minor slope or in the path of storm water; weed-prone. Not barefoot friendly.

OES | Crushed limestone

photo credit: casey dunn

Limestone Screening / Crushed Limestone – Sedimentary rock that is composed of the minerals and skeletal fragments such as coral and mollusks; white or creamy in color and screened for consistent sizes for landscape application.