I love the classic look of a pea gravel path or patio. What I don’t like is pea gravel that gets everywhere, that washes away with every heavy rain, that hurts my knees because it’s too deep and loose to comfortably walk in. And if your neighborhood is anything like mine, the local wildlife includes a whole lot of outdoor cats, who tend to treat loose mulch, sand, and gravel as their own giant litter box.
I think I’ve finally hit on a construction solution that satisfies both function and aesthetics. My pea gravel path was put to the test yesterday when over 500 people walked on it during the Inside Austin Gardens Tour. This morning, it still looked pristine. Here’s how I did it:
First, get any current mulch or top dressing out of the way. Get down to bare dirt a few inches below where you want the level of your path to be. Tamp it like crazy. I cannot stress enough what a great tool a hand tamper is, and I wish I’d gotten one years ago, because it would have saved me from having to redo a lot of hard work.
Your bare ground:
Next, get some big rough gravel. You want lots of pointy edges that will interlock, and gravel heavy enough that it’ll stay put during one of our Texas downpours. Spread it a few inches deep, then tamp like a mofo til your arms want to fall off. You don’t want this layer to move.
You could probably put your pea gravel over this layer. However, I want to be able to rake leaves and such without worrying about catching a rake tine on the gravel and pulling it up. So I topped off the tamped gravel with a few inches of decomposed granite.
And here I took a short break to check in with my supervisor, as one does.
And here I would like to pause and offer a hot tip when it comes to using a hand tamper on decomposed granite: WD-40 is your friend. DG tends to stick to the bottom of the tamper in clumps and ruin the nice flat surface you’re trying to achieve. Wipe off the bottom of the tamper and spray it with WD-40. Problem solved. You might have to do this a few times if the DG is particularly moist.
Next, tamp that DG until it is flat and doesn’t move. Good times.
You can check whether your surface is level by spraying with water until it’s soaked and then noticing the low spots where the water pools. This also helps to pack it down.
Once I was satisfied that I had a smooth, hard, flat surface, I topped it off with pea gravel, raked it into a uniform thin layer, and tamped that too. Then I watered it in so that all of the dust would settle into the crevices. It was too dark for pictures by that point, but the result was very hard and flat and the pea gravel stayed put when I stepped from the pea gravel onto the mulch.
Here’s the view the hour before the tour started:
And here’s the view this morning:
You would never be able to tell that so many people walked on it yesterday! Guess this means I’m gonna be redoing those random squishy areas of pea gravel that are left in the front yard…maybe in the fall. My arms need a break !