Last Modified: April 5, 2024

How To Lay Chippings


How to lay chippings

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


Greetings, fellow earthlings, and welcome to our comprehensive guide covering all you need to know about how to lay chippings in garden and landscaping design! You probably landed here because you are ready to take the next step after researching different ways to renovate your outdoor space? Alternatively, you have found a cost-effective and eye-catching way to transform an area of your garden, and you are in the planning phase of your next fantastic garden project. Either way, you have chosen decorative chippings as your medium, and "chosen well, you have!"

And just a quick note about our new tool, called the 'Pebble Picker', in the sidebar or menu - it allows you to effortlessly browse and choose from every decorative aggregate based on their colour and type. Check it out!

Meme of yoda lookalike playing with stones.

In this step-by-step guide, we will cover all you need to know about laying chippings. While it is more thorough than most articles out there, we keep each section as brief and as easy to follow as possible. We include a summary at the beginning of each section presenting the main points to cater to individuals of all levels of experience. This can save you the effort of going through irrelevant information. Quick links transport you to the relevant section at any point during the process, allowing easy navigation, to any of the following sections:

As a do-it-yourself project, laying gravel in gardens for aesthetic features can range in difficulty from easy to moderate, and building your own decorative aggregate feature has numerous benefits. It can help you save a lot of money, while giving you a sense of satisfaction and joy that only comes with the accomplishment of a challenging task. Plus, you can avoid the stress of unreliable tradespeople.

Lastly, we also realise that some people may also be looking for even more information, so we have a compendium article entitled the foundations of laying gravel which may interest you, too! So, whether you're sprucing up a patio, designing a serene gravel garden, or laying a low-maintenance garden border, this guide should be your go-to resource. May the force be with you!

Red granite and blue slate chips with brick edging

Key Takeaways

Golden flint front garden with red shrub and leafy ground cover

Design and Planning

  1. 1
    Consider the look you want.
  2. 2
    Choose the area
  3. 3
    Mark an outline of the area.
  1. 4
    Measure up for calculating your aggregates.
  2. 5
    Conduct a soil inspection.

Before you start any project, making some kind of design and a bit of planning is the key to success, and it can be quite fun with the right tools once you get going. You could even make a collage and get your family involved. You can make a sketch of the path on grid paper and even use cut-out images of plants or other features that you want and stick them to the paper. This can help to create a project that everyone feels invested in.

You need to decide on the location and consider the look you and theme your are going for, too. Use marking paint, garden hose or string to outline your proposed area and then measure up the length and width, noting the dimensions for calculating how much gravel you'll need.

Lastly, conduct a soil inspection. If you plan to dig more than 10cm deep, you should use a cable avoidance tool to check the area to avoid damaging any underground cables. Dig in and check the soil. If it reveals sandy or particularly soft soil, laying a weed fabric is advisable to minimise potential drainage issues.

And remember, if you have concerns about your overall capabilities, take some advice from someone with sufficient gardening experience.

Measuring an area for chippings calculator. Jpg

Selecting Your Gravel

  1. 1
    Choose the colours.
  2. 2
    Determine optimal gravel type and size.
  1. 3
    Sub-base materials (if required).
  2. 4
    Base reinforcement for poor drainage.


Now, to the fun part – choosing your gravel! The good news for readers is that Outdoor Aggregates has built a decorative aggregate encyclopaedia offering users access to 'the list', covering just about every colour, type and size of stone chipping and gravel available in the UK. Each 'product listing' gives you comprehensive information in a clear and concise manner, with links to useful guides and step-by-step DIY projects.

To top it off, Outdoor Aggregates brings you all of the various aggregates which are available in your local delivery area, giving you a convenient and easy way to choose based on the best price or stock availability. If you've noticed the colour picker in the sidebar but haven't clicked on it yet, it's an easy and efficient way to find the options available to you based on colour, type and size. Give it a try, it's free!


Consider the size – generally, gravel from 20-40mm (~1-2 inches) is best for use as a ground cover, although it depends a lot on what type of thing you are going for. Larger stones, think of 40mm plum slate chippings as an example, will give you greater coverage and more noticeable texture while small the gravel, such as pea gravel, is more comfortable to walk on and can allow you to create more intricate designs.

Gravel blend with gardening gloves

Sub-base Materials

Most ground cover applications do not require a sturdy base because they won't be constantly trampled by people or vehicular traffic. In most cases, some type of weed suppressing layer will suffice in order to reduce maintenance and keep the chippings separated from the soil. This could be a geo-textile fabric or even just be layers of old cotton sheets. There are many ways to achieve the desired goal and it is not necessary in all cases, for example, mulching a raised bed or planter box. Generally, the larger the space and more challenging the weed control, the more useful a weed membrane will be.

However, it is advisable for other jobs such as pathways, driveways, patios and other outdoor living spaces frequented by feet or heavy moving objects. If you plan to use a sub base, which is advisable for any gravel landscaping which involves traffic, then you will need to put down a sub base. Use MOT type 1 sub base or a limestone type 1 hardcore for creating a stable foundation. Aim for a depth of about 6.5cm (~2.5 inches) of hardcore for compacting down to ~5cm final depth, as the materials should reduce by ~ 20% in height once manually compacted. It is recommended to strengthen the base with extra hardcore if the soil is soft or sandy. You will need to dig 4 to 8cm deeper into the trench if you choose to add an additional 5-10cm of MOT, so keep this in mind when planning.

Achieving your desired goals, such as incorporating your colours and textures, requires finding a balance between your goals and the materials you choose. Ultimately, there is no one correct or incorrect way to approach this task.

Need to work out how much gravel your project needs? Try our free gravel calculator.

Materials and Tools

In this section, we cover the remaining essential materials required to build a feature chippings and follow that up with a list of the tools required for your project.

Materials List

  1. 1
    Gravel or stone chippings
  2. 2
    Hardcore for sub-base (where required)
  3. 3
    Edging materials
  1. 4
    Weed membrane (if desired)
  2. 5
    Pegs or spikes  (if required)
  3. 6

You will need other materials in addition to your aggregates to complete your project. To contain your chippings, it is essential to have edging that forms a firm border. There are many options available for prefabricated edging, such as metal, wood, rubber, or plastic, as well as traditional items like bricks, stone, or logs that can be found at recycling centres. When selecting edging, you should consider factors such as its durability and ease of installation. For easy edging options, consider prefabricated edgings. Or, if you have the tools, you can make DIY edgings using flagstones, railway sleepers, or wooden logs. We cover this topic in more depth in our article: edging for gravel.

To minimise future maintenance and maximise the longevity of your feature, it is worth considering a weed membrane. In order to secure the membrane, landscaping pegs or spikes are necessary. Prior to laying the chippings, timber pieces cut to the desired path width can be extremely useful in keeping the edging in place.

River wash pebbles. Jpg

List of Tools

The following is a list of tools which are mostly essential to the operation. While most probably live in your garden shed or can easily be borrowed, a compactor of some description may need to be hired if you plan to put a sub-base down (see above)

  1. 1
    Shovel and/or square-edged spade
  2. 2
  3. 3
    Rope, garden hose or string
  4. 4
    Garden gloves
  5. 5
    Boots or safety shoes
  6. 6
    Hammer or mallet
  7. 7
    Tape measure
  1. 8
    Lawn edger
  2. 9
    Garden rake
  3. 10
    Spirit level or laser level
  4. 11
  5. 12
    Axe or pruning shears
  6. 13
    Compacting tool
  7. 14
Gardening tools and gloves in a wheelbarrow jpg

Step-By-Step Laying Garden Gravel

Now that you have selected and ordered your aggregates and other materials and gathered required tools, it's time to start construction.

1. Preparing the Site

  1. 1
    Dig the base for the foundation.
  2. 2
    Clear weeds and roots.
  1. 3
    Cut an step for the edging.

Preparation Without Laying a Sub-Base

Remove the top layer of soil within your marked area to a depth of ~5cm (2 inches), removing weeds and cutting away any roots with an axe or shears. This stage is crucial for weed control and drainage.

Preparation for a Sub-Base

Remove the top layer of soil within your marked area to a depth of ~10cm (4 inches), removing weeds, etc. Use a tape measure or a pre-cut slice of timber to check the height of your trench. Hint: 3-5cm is the ideal gravel depth, and 5cm will be for the compacted sub-base, making 8-10cm in total. Adjust this depth where necessary.

Edging Preparation

In order to prepare for your gravel edging, it's important to cut a "step" into the wall. The depth of this step should be such that your desired edge height is above the level of the soil surface, which can range from 1 cm to higher. It's also important to ensure that the step is cut to the approximate width of your edging material, as this will help you achieve a flush installation.

Edging tool in grass garden with wheelbarrow in the background

2. Drainage and Grading

  1. 1
    Importance of proper drainage.
  2. 2
    Additional grading MAY be wise.
  1. 3
    Don't forget your neighbours on slopes.

Although less important for small features or those without traffic, good drainage is still important in any landscape project. Generally, if there is well draining soil in the area you are placing your feature, you will have no problems. In situations where there is clay or very damp soil, it is recommended that you dig a little deeper than you might have with better draining soil and also use a weed membrane.

If you are planning to construct a patio, path or driveway, then proper grading and drainage is important to prevent structural damage, settling, erosion and flooding. Please read our specialised DIY guides for the relevant tasks; Installing a Gravel Driveway or How to Lay a Gravel Path.

Excavated garden in prepartion of laying chippings scaled. Jpg

3. Compacting a Sub-Base

  1. 1
    Compact for stability.
  2. 2
    Minimum 5cm compacted depth.
  1. 3
    Level each section.
  2. 4
    Add more in poor drainage.

When it comes to adding decorative features like borders or ground covers that won't have any traffic, you may not require a sub base. Nevertheless, before laying down any weed membrane or placing chippings, it's always better to first compact the soil beneath, using a hand tamper or roller. This will allow for a more structured base and ensure that the chippings or gravel remain contained and separate from the soil, providing greater effectiveness. Level each section, whether with a laser level or a builder's spirit level.

Compacted sub base mot type one

4. How to Lay a Weed Membrane

  1. 1
    Not compulsory but advisable.
  1. 2
    Landscape fabric recommended.

It is highly recommended to use a landscaping fabric to improve drainage, prevent weeds and separate chippings from the sub-base or soil. To lay the weed membrane, place the sheets across the site's length, ensuring an overlap of 10-15 cm with the sheets beneath and the exterior walls. Once you have laid them down, weigh them down using heavy objects like rocks or bricks, and cut away any excess pieces to achieve complete coverage and an edge of about 10 cm around each side of the trench. Finally, peg the membrane every 50cm around the edges and within the base to limit movement when the chippings are added.

NOTE: It may be better to use a heavy weed duty membrane where there is likely to be foot traffic, such as a patio or pathway, or you are dealing with a significant weed problem.

Should you decide against laying a weed membrane, in all cases it's highly recommended that you tamp the soil as firmly as possible to create the most solid base for you to lay your chippings on. However, over time they will sink into soil without a barrier of some kind.

Crushed Gravel Installations (OPTIONAL)

For scenarios wheres some traffic may be involved, the membrane can be covered with a 2.5cm sub base of fine-washed sand or some gravel containing fine particles and gravel dust to help prevent sharp gravel from creating holes in the fabric.

Weed membrane under blue chip garden

5. Edging

  1. 1
    Importance of proper borders.
  1. 2
    Install flush with the ground.

Installing proper edging is an important aspect of creating a low-maintenance gravel feature. Its purpose is not only to provide structure and keep your aggregates contained, such as pea gravel that tend to scatter, but also to add an appealing symmetry that adds to the overall attractiveness of the feature. The edging needs to be fitted flush with the surrounding ground to prevent gravel overflowing.

If necessary, cut the edgings to size before placing them into the step or trench that has already been cut to hold the border. After that, tamp some soil around the edgings for support. Simple plastic, metal, or heavy-timber edgings won't require any reinforcement since the weight of the gravel will keep them securely in place. For edgings requiring form reinforcement, use wooden stakes and double-headed nails to support the form. Fill in the backside of the trench and position the edging of your choice against the form. For added stability, tamp soil around the edging.

Flamingo chips border with edging. Jpg

6. Adding the Gravel

  1. 1
    Check gravel distribution is level.
  1. 2
    Minimum 3-5cm depth.

Congratulations, you are almost done! Now that you have set up the base and installed the edgings, it's time to add the gravel. Using a wheelbarrow or large buckets, move the chippings to different spots to reduce the distance you need to rake the first layer.

If you are planting any shrubs or other types of flowering plants, it's worth adding some good quality compost or fertiliser below the membrane or chippings prior to filling the space in. Remember, they will still need food in the future so keep some distance around the plants stems as you would with mulch.

Spread the chippings evenly, aiming for a depth of 3-5cm (1-2 inches), using a metal garden rake to create a smooth and even surface. Well done, you have successfully completed the job!

Garden gnome on pile of gravel.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. 1
    Poor sub-base preparation.
  2. 2
    Miscalculating gravel requirements.
  1. 3
    Importance of drainage.

It's crucial to avoid some typical mistakes when laying gravel in the garden. One of the errors made by DIY gardeners is neglecting the base, from compacting to laying a membrane. This can result in problems, such as sinking, flooding and a shorter lifespan.

It's important not to make the mistake of thinking you have enough gravel for your path when you may actually need more. It's always a good idea to have some extra gravel on hand, as the path will require occasional top-ups as it settles. For larger borders or features, ordering small amounts after the fact can add to the costs considerably, so it's best to use a gravel calculator and get the order right the first time. Plus, there are plenty of creative uses for leftover gravel.

Ensuring proper drainage is of utmost importance, and it cannot be stressed enough. Inadequate drainage can result in the erosion of the gravel, which can lead to more severe problems in your garden, and even affect the integrity of buildings and other areas over an extended period of time for larger projects.


  1. 1
    Occasional raking and inspection required.
  2. 2
    Keep surface level and weed-free.
  1. 3
    Replenish gravel over time.

Keeping your garden's gravel in good shape requires occasional maintenance. To keep it level, simply rake the surface every so often. Areas that get a lot of foot traffic may need more gravel added to maintain the depth. Weeds can also be a problem, so be sure to pull them out as soon as you see them to keep them from spreading. Feed your plants, trees and shrubs as usual as well.

Click here if you want to read our deep dive about how to clean garden stones.

1person raking a gravel garden


Congratulations! You have successfully acquired the knowledge required to construct an attractive feature in your garden using chippings. It is essential to note that there are no strict rules to follow while laying gravel, but the guidelines we have provided should be followed for the best outcome. These include compacting the base, ensuring proper drainage, and being cautious about the direction of water flow towards your home and that of your neighbours.

It is possible for almost anyone to lay gravel successfully if they follow our step-by-step instructions and seek professional advice when necessary. Remember, with our aggregate-matching technology, you can select the perfect coloured stone and find the best prices to begin your gravel project today. Simply go to the sidebar, enter your preferences, explore the options, and get started. (Feature coming very soon)

Isn't it time to start chipping away at your next low-maintenance garden feature?

1cotswold stones garden with shrubs border


What to lay under gravel?

To ensure proper weed control and improve drainage when laying gravel it's recommended to use a weed membrane. This simple step will help keep your gravel feature weed-free and functional.

What are the pros and cons of laying gravel on concrete?

Laying gravel on concrete can be a feasible, low-cost option, although it requires consideration of factors like how to ensure adequate drainage and the need for solid edging to keep the gravel in place. Also, the risk of slipping on thin layers of gravel is a potential problem, making it unsuitable for driveways under the weight of cars. Overall, drainage and the potential for instability are concerns.

How to lay gravel on soil?

To successfully lay gravel on soil, clear the area of weeds and roots, compact the soil and then lay down a landscaping fabric membrane to prevent weed growth and improve drainage. Finish by spreading the gravel evenly.

How and when to lay gravel grids?

Gravel grids provide stability and even distribution of gravel, making them a smart choice for high-traffic areas or sloped terrain. To lay them, position the grids on the membrane or base, interlocking them as you go. Lastly, fill them with gravel and level the surface.

How do I prepare the area before laying chippings?

To ensure successful installation of chippings, you must prepare the area properly. First, clear the area of all rocks, debris, and vegetation. Then, level the ground to create a smooth surface. Finally, assess and improve drainage to prevent water accumulation and prolong the life of your chippings.

How thick should the layer of chippings be?

The thickness of your chippings should be between 3 to 5 cm as a general rule. Of course, in certain situations where they are purely decorative are you have a weed membrane installed, you can lay as little as 2 to 3 cm, especially for smaller aggregates like pea gravel.

How do I prevent them from spreading or migrating?

To keep your chippings in place and prevent them from spreading or migrating, use edging such as sleepers, bricks or metal strips. For smaller, rounded stones, gravel stabilisation grids are also easy to install and will help keep your chippings contained.

Can I walk on the chippings after laying them?

Yes, you can walk on the chippings after laying them, although it is important to bear in mind that they will need some time to settle. Making sure that the chippings are evenly distributed and compacted before using it regularly will help with safety and functionality.

We have every type of gravel available to choose from in the UK. Check them out!

About the author 

Ben Parrot is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.