A great outdoor space must be functional. But we all strive to create the perfect oasis that is both functional and visually inviting. In this DIY step-by-step guide, we will walk you through how to build a gravel path.
First, you’ll need to decide the shape and dimensions you want for your gravel walkway. You’ll need this so you can accurately calculate how much gravel you will need. Naturally, a path with a few curves is going to need a little more gravel than a straight path. But would a path with a few curves be more aesthetically appealing for your space?
- Tip: Don’t forget to do your math. You’ll need to know how long your path will be, how deep, and how wide in order to know how much gravel, edging, etc. you will need to purchase.
What you’ll need
Head out to your tool shed and take inventory of your tools, then make a shopping list.
- Hand tamper or mechanical compactor
- Utility knife
- Hammer/rubber mallet
- Garden hose
- String, rope, or spray paint to mark the location and shape of the path
- Measuring tape
Base: Use crushed stone for this layer. This is the foundation of your path, so whatever stone you choose, you want it to compact well and provide a solid foundation for your new gravel path.
Landscape fabric: You don’t want any weeds sprouting up through your new gravel walkway. Landscape fabric acts as a weed barrier and is available at any garden center.
Edging: This is where you can really get your creative juices flowing. There are many options for your edging. The material and color are two things you’ll want to take into consideration. Also, are you looking for something super easy to install, or are you looking for a challenge? Bricks or pavers will naturally be more complex to install but could have an amazing impact on the overall look. Popular edging options include:
- Galvanized steel
- Pressure-treated wood
- Concrete pavers
Gravel: Choosing your gravel is one of the most important decisions you will make in this process. There are a lot of things to take into consideration.
- Purpose: Is this path’s purpose more aesthetic or practical? It’s probably better to stick with more neutral colors and basic stones if you’re planning your path for practical purposes. If looking to add to the overall look of your backyard, don’t be afraid to be bold!
- Use: What kind of foot traffic are you expecting? Will the path see lots of bare feet? Sandals? Sneakers? Snow boots? Smaller, more rounded stones will be much kinder to bare feet during the summer. Larger rocks are less likely to get stuck in your snow boots and tracked in during the winter.
- Size: Smaller gravel pieces can be packed tight for a more solid surface, making walking on it easier.
- Color: Does your garden already have lots of colors or change colors with the seasons? If so, you may want to stick with a more neutral path so you don’t distract attention from your beautiful garden.
- Amount: For a 15-foot-long path, 3 feet wide and 4 inches deep, you need about a ton of gravel.
Common gravel types
- Pea Gravel: This small round rock is popular due to its versatility and affordability. It tends to run about $10 to $50 per ton.
- Crushed rock: Features jagged edges and comes in different sizes, styles, and shades. It typically costs about $10 to $50 per ton.
- Decomposed granite: Composed of fine granite particles, it comes in a variety of colors and typically costs about $10 to $16 per ton.
Building your path
Use a string, rope, or spray paint to mark the location and shape of your path. Use a tape measure to ensure a consistent width as you go.
Your total depth should be 4 inches to accommodate 2 inches of base and 2 inches of gravel. Check your depth as you go. Use a flat-edged shovel to make the sides of the path straight.
When you finish digging, rake the bottom of the path to make it even and smooth, then compact the soil with either a hand tamper or a mechanical compactor.
Once you have compacted the soil, add 2 ½ inches of base. Rake until it’s level. Dampen this layer as this will help with compaction and keep the dust down. Once again, use either a hand tamper or a motorized compactor to tamp down the stone. This should compact down from the 2 ½ inches you laid down to an even 2 inches.
Lay landscape fabric
Roll the landscape fabric, shiny side up, over the top of the compacted stone. This acts as a weed barrier. Be sure to make cuts along the way to allow for curves. For optimal coverage, overlap when necessary by at least 4 to 5 inches.
Be sure to keep the fabric taut. You don’t want it to bunch up and then show through the final layer of gravel. Placing spikes or pins in the fabric is useful for this purpose. You can also use the edging to help keep the fabric taut by installing the edging over the material. For more tips for installing landscape fabric check out Lawn Love’s article How to Install Landscape Fabric Underneath Rocks.
You may find it helpful to make a template/spreader bar to line up the edging. This can be a simple piece of wood cut to the width of the path that you use to check the width as you go.
Line the inside of the trench with your edging on top of the landscape fabric. Slide your template/spreader bar along to line up the edging.
Tap down the edging as you go. Use a rubber mallet to avoid damaging the edging. If you’re using a hammer, put a scrap of wood atop the edging before tapping it to blunt the force of the hammer.
Once the edging is installed, backfill with soil on the outside of the path.
Fill with gravel
Pour in your gravel. Rake it out so it is evenly distributed and none of the landscape fabric shows through. Don’t fill to the top of the edging. Leave about a half inch of edging above the gravel to keep it from spilling over.
Use your trusty tamper or compactor to compact your top layer for a more solid walkway.
Heavy rain and regular use will naturally kick up gravel over time. You will want to rake your path periodically to smooth and keep it even. Refill with more gravel as needed.
Now sit back with a tall glass of lemonade and enjoy the beautiful oasis you have created. You earned it!
For more landscaping, check out How to Use Rocks in your Landscaping.
The final word
Building a path is not complicated if you know how, but it is still heavy dirty work. If you’d prefer to put the job in the hands of an expert, check out our Lawn Love landscaping professionals.