How to Lay Gravel Over Grass

lay gravel over grass

It’s really no surprise why so many homeowners think of replacing grass with gravel. It’s suitable for almost every type of garden, it’s easy maintenance and there are many types to choose from. So, if you are also wondering about renovating your garden space, this is a helpful guide on how to transition from grass to gravel.

Table of Contents:

Removing the Grass

One of the most important things about laying gravel is the process of installing a weed membrane. And this, like any other landscape fabric, cannot be placed directly over a lawn. The surface would be too lumpy and uneven for the gravel to be laid down properly and as the turf decomposes, the landscape fabric will get even bumpier.
So, start with removing any large debris and other items from your lawn.

Chemical Methods

  • Choose a product specially designed to kill grasses and not broad-leaved plants. Check the expiration date. Carefully follow the instructions and if needed, check out some additional tutorials on the Internet to help you out.
  • A rainy or a windy day is not a good one for applying chemicals. The rain water will dilute the herbicide, making it less strong, and the wind may will blow it in an undesired direction. Always wear gloves and other protective gear when using chemicals in your garden.
  • You also have to keep in mind that in many cases, when the turf is strongly established, more applications of the product will be needed. Note that any seeds in the soil will not be affected by the chemical and may germinate later on. You should only try this method if you have the correct equipment, can follow the instructions carefully and are able to wait for a couple of days until the treatment is complete.

Removing grass by digging

This method is a lot quicker as you will be able to place the gravel right after you are done. The only possible problem is that it requires a lot of physical work. The most efficient tools for this job are spade or a fork and you will probably need to free a whole day to do everything, depending on the amount of grass you need to remove and the dimensions of your garden. The best thing you can do here is to grab a buddy and share the work. You will be twice as fast and it will be twice as fun.

  • A couple of days before the actual digging, water the soil well. Try not to overdo it, it only needs to be moist not soggy. The soaked soil will double the work you need to do because it will now be heavier.
  • Take an edger or a sharp spade and cut the area into parallel strips. You will be lifting those pieces a bit later, so it will be best to cut them into 1 to 2-feet lengths, of course, having in mind the thickness of the sod.
  • Pick a strip to start from and raise the end carefully with a fork. Cut any deep taproots, still connected to the ground and remove the piece carefully. Roll up the strip while still cutting the roots. If the length is too much, the rolled strip will be very heavy in the end. It’s better to divide the area into smaller pieces, especially if you are working alone.
  • After you have removed all the soil, the level will probably be a lot lower, so depending on your needs, you might need to add compost or aged manure. While removing the strips, you can always shake them, in order to loosen some of the soil form the sod but it won’t be enough if you want to raise significantly the level of the bed.

Removing grass by smothering

This is perhaps the easiest and slowest process. If you are the one to plan ahead and you prefer an easy and secure result, then, this is the method for you. With this technique, you will literally kill the grass by cutting out all needed sources for life. You can use plastic or an old carpet, here is how:

  • Place a big, light-excluding plastic over the area you need to take care of. Secure the edges with something heavy to keep it in place. The plastic will gradually increase the temperature under it and along with the lack of light, it will surely kill the grass permanently. Still, it will probably take a couple of months for the process to be over. After it’s done, make sure to remove all the plastic.
  • Get your old carpet out and place it over the place where you want the grass terminated. Because carpets are much thicker than cardboard or newspapers, they will block the sunlight much better. They will will not change after a rainfall and get absorbed into the soil, unlike paper and cardboard.

How to Choose the Correct Gravel

If you want to have the best results and enjoy your garden for years to come, you have to be careful when choosing the type of hardscaping material. Textures, colours, sizes, everything is important. First, you need a clear idea of the gravel’s purpose. Small-sized, soft type of gravel will be perfect for walking but won’t be as good if it’s placed on a high traffic area, like a private parking. So, here are the different types of gravel and their best use.

  • Pea gravel. This type is mostly used for patios, as a ground cover and pathways. The name comes from the size of the stones – that of a pea. It goes through a tumbling process to ensure nice and round edges of the gravel, which is one of the main reasons, along with the size, why this type is so popular and preferred. The colours, you can choose from, are usually dark or light grey, beige, and caramel brown.
  • Crushed rock. As the name suggests, this gravel has not been processed in order to have round edges. Its roughness ensures that the gravel stays compact and secured in place. It’s not as crunchy as the pea gravel and is around one-eighth to three-eighths of an inch larger. If you decide to go with it, you’ll have many colours to choose from – off-white, grey, reddish brown and tan.
  • Decomposed granite and path fines. This type of gravel is extremely fine and is the best choice if you want to have a stable surface, suitable for anything on wheels. The size ranges from one of a sand grain to around one-eighth inch. The colours variate from dusty and warm tans to dark slate, red-brown, and light blue tones. You should have in mind that, due to the size of the particles, patios made from this material will not drain as good. You can buy this gravel either “natural” or “stabilised”. The natural and cheaper version is not mixed with a binding agent, which makes it not as solid as the stabilised type, so you have to consider this when going for path fines.
  • Drain rock. This gravel is the largest one and is the best for drainage. It’s suitable for French drains, driveways or around raised beds. Just like the crushed rock, the rough edges allow the gravel to form a solid surface, but the gaps are big enough to allow the water to flow in between. You can get this in light and dark grey, sandy tones, and reddish browns.

Laying a Weed Membrane and Gravel

Having a weed membrane underneath the gravel is not necessary but it is recommended. Just as the name suggests, a membrane is a layer which will stand between the gravel and the ground to prevent any weeds from growing. Like the smothering method of killing grass, a quality membrane will cut short any light and air to the soil beneath and nothing will grow. The maintenance will be a lot easier, as you won’t have to pull weeds every couple of days. So, if the area, you are renovating, will not need any green life, it’s best to make sure nothing grows there.

When choosing a membrane, you have to keep in mind the purpose of your gravel path or hardscape area. If it is one with less foot traffic, or is only used by people, then a thinner layer will do the trick. It’s a lot easier to cut and will also keep the soil beneath nourished by allowing water, light, and air to enter.
A thicker membrane is more damage-resistant and is suitable for vehicle areas and heavy foot traffic. It’s harder to install, due to the said thickness, but it’s a lot more durable than other kinds.

Before you lay down the membrane, make sure the area is completely cleared out of weeds, grass, stones, and anything else which might pierce the fabric. If you have areas, in which weeds are more likely to grow, we would recommend spraying with a weed killer before putting the protective layer.
After you have cleared out everything, start placing the membrane carefully. Overlap all the joints and gaps every 100mm by using stones and pegs, for example. When you are done, cut out all the excess fabric and do some finishing touches.

Once you have laid the membrane, you can continued with laying down the gravel. No matter what tools you are using, if you are pouring it from a bag or a wheelbarrow, always try to distribute it evenly on the ground. You can make things easier if you help yourself by using a rake or a spade.

Wash the gravel with your garden hose when you are done. This will bring out the colour of the stones and rinse off any dust that is left on the surface.

Pros and Cons of Replacing Grass with Gravel

If you are still wondering whether to take this step not, here is a summarized list of the most important advantages and disadvantages of installing gravel space in your garden.

Pros

  • Water saving
  • Easy and affordable to install
  • Suitable for different types of gardens and purposes
  • Low-maintenance; only needs to be raked smoothly every now and then
  • Permeable to prevent runoff
  • A nice, satisfying crunchy sound when stepped on
Cons
  • Difficult to maintain and clean during snowy winters.
  • Not the best furniture base.
  • Depending on the type and the frequency of usage, it needs to be replenished every now and then.

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You know something we don’t about replacing grass with gravel? Leave a comment below, so we can discuss it.

Header image source: DepositPhotos / dit26978

Posted in Landscaping Projects

Last update: November 28, 2018
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