Last Modified: February 11, 2024

Laying Gravel Tips


Gravel garden with plants

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


In this edition of "People Also Ask About," we cover tips about laying chippings and gravel gardens. Through frequently asked questions, we'll provide insights and practical advice to help you find the answer that you have been looking for all in the one place, without having to search endlessly online. Please search for your specific question in the quick links box.

A garden gnome wondering about gravel.

Key Takeaways

  • Depth: We cover the ideal depth for optimal gravel and stone chipping installation.
  • Preparation: Proper ground preparation is key to a successful gravel garden or feature.
  • Membrane: Choosing to lay the right membrane can increase the longevity of your gravel landscaping.
  • Planting: Putting your plants directly into gravel may be sub-optimal for your grave garden greenery.
Landscaped gravel garden with shrubs and grasses

Tips for Laying Gravel

In this section, we cover your questions about laying gravel and chippings in your garden projects.

What is the difference between gravel and chippings?

The difference between gravel and chippings lies in the texture; stone and slate chippings provide a smoother, flatter surface when compared to crushed gravel's angular shape. This makes stone chippings suitable for garden designs where a smoother pathway surface and appearance are desired. These types of decorative aggregates are also very affordable and easy to install. We have more information available in our article, Gravel Paths in Gardens.

How do you put stone chippings down?

The best way to put stone chippings down involves establishing a compacted base followed by the placement of a quality weed control fabric landscape beneath the stones. These fabrics form a barrier against weed seed germination, although no landscape fabric can completely stop the emergence of weeds. However, the fabric also impedes their root development, making them very easy to uproot. We have more information in another part of our 'People Also Ask About' series, about laying Membrane Plastic Under Gravel.

Pea shingle on top of heavy duty weed membrane

Can I lay gravel on top of paving slabs?

Yes, you can lay gravel on top of existing paving slabs, such as concrete, tarmac or block-paved surfaces. It can be successfully achieved by first installing gravel stabilisation grids, such as Nidagravel grids. These plastic grids provide a stable foundation that contains the decorative aggregates into honeycomb-shaped structures that allow for the gravel to be evenly distributed and remain in place. They are also easy to install and replace.

How long does gravel need to settle?

Gravel, with its versatility in styles ranging from modern to rustic, is one of the most DIY-friendly materials to install for a driveway. The process of laying a gravel driveway and allowing it to settle typically requires less than a week. It will naturally settle with use over the short term, and this means that the driveway can be used immediately. Check out Stone Chippings for Driveways if you're thinking about one!

How do you prepare the ground for bark chippings?

To effectively prepare the ground for bark chippings, it is advisable first to remove any large weeds. Then, rake and compact the soil (using a hand tamper) in the area until you have a completely level surface. It's also advisable to add a weed membrane or barrier of some description before making sure the bark chips are fully distributed. This helps to prevent weed growth through the decorative bark, helping to keep a clean and low-maintenance surface. If you are considering a bark feature, learn more about the types in Bark Mulch 101.

Installing landscaping bark chippings

Can I just put gravel down?

Yes, you can lay gravel directly on topsoil, although it is not recommended. Any aggregate laid without proper preparation is prone to many problems, from sinking into the soil to migration, particularly when subject to pedestrian or vehicle traffic. This will result in the need for more frequent maintenance and re-application of the gravel to keep an even surface. The drainage will also be affected, which can be improved by using stabilising pavers that are installed as a base to secure the gravel more effectively. We cover more about this in What to Put Under Gravel.

How do you lay plastic under gravel?

In this case, we presume that laying plastic under gravel is the same as laying a weed membrane, which requires a few key steps to ensure a sturdy installation:

  1. 1
    To prepare the area, remove any debris or weeds and level the surface to ensure proper drainage.
  2. 2
     A geotextile weed membrane should be laid as it serves as a foundational layer improving drainage.
  3. 3
    At this point, you can opt to install gravel grids to provide stability, particularly if you intend to use smaller-sized pea gravel.
  4. 4
     Finally, levelling and compacting the gravel is important for stability and achieving a uniform, attractive finish.

Do you need to put membrane under slate chippings?

While it is not mandatory, it is highly recommended to compact the area before laying a geotextile membrane underneath most stone chippings, such as slate chippings. The membrane significantly impedes weed growth and prevents the chippings from getting lost in the soil while making the overall structure more stable and long-lasting. Slate For Pathways covers the use of slate chippings for pathways.

Slate with river pebble rockery

Should you put membrane under gravel?

Definitely, yes, you should put a high-quality woven weed control membrane under gravel for pathways or any area experiencing traffic. For those making a decorative border, a lighter weed fabric is suitable and can be more cost-effective. Weed membranes act as a protective barrier, preventing the soil from mixing while suppressing weed growth, thereby maintaining the cleanliness and stability of the gravel and minimising future migration of the decorative aggregates.

Can you lay self-binding gravel on soil?

No, it is not recommended to lay self-binding gravel on soil without a proper sub-base. Although it is self-binding, it requires a construction approach similar to that of other paths and driveways. It is essential to compact the materials onto a free-draining sub-base so that it binds to a solid base. For long-term durability, the use of a suitable heavy duty weed membrane beneath the sub-base layer and the compacted soil can significantly improve the drainage, stability, and functionality of your self-binding gravel surface.

Hardcore rubble sub base

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

Gravel Depth

The depth that you lay gravel can have a significant impact on the way your garden feature looks, how much future maintenance it requires and also and how long it will last. Here are some answers to common queries related to depth.

How deep should stone chippings be?

When laying stone chippings, whether slate chippings, decorative stones or gravel, it is recommended to install to a depth of at least 30-50mm. However, it depends on the type of aggregate and the intended use. Where you are installing for areas of traffic, the depth should be a minimum of 50mm (2 inches) for the most hard-wearing surface. After laying the chippings, rake the surface smooth and level.

Is 2 inches of gravel enough?

A depth of 3-5cm (~2 inches) is generally suitable for installations that won't experience much traffic. For pathways and drives, a deeper layer of gravel will provide a more solid foundation with adequate coverage and stability. To calculate the required volume of gravel, simply multiply the area to be covered by the desired depth, or take your measurements and then head to our Gravel Calculator 101 to generate an accurate estimate of your needs.

Grey chips around a palm

How deep should gravel be laid?

The depth at which gravel should be laid varies by the size and its intended use. The following is a guide to the two most common sizes:

10mm Gravel Aggregate

When using 10mm gravel, a depth of 30-40mm is suitable for general purposes without much traffic. For paths and driveways, a minimum depth of 50mm is advisable for durability and stability.

20mm Aggregate

If you are using 20mm gravel, a depth of 40-50mm is recommended for general landscaping. It is recommended to use an increased minimum depth of 50-60mm for driveways, pathways and gravel patios.

These are guidelines that can help to ensure sufficient coverage, drainage and support from the gravel.

Black limestone patio stones

Gravel Gardens

How do you prepare ground for a gravel garden?

The way to prepare the ground for a gravel garden is as follows:

  1. 1
    Remove all of the weeds from the soil, taking care to dig out the roots.
  2. 2
    Best practice is to dig down, taking off 5cm or more so that your gravel mulch ends up level with the garden surface.
  3. 3
    If you are putting the gravel garden in an area with highly free-draining soil or sand, take off the top and use some type of mulch to increase the amount of nutrients available to your plants. This could include organic matter such as peat-free multi-purpose compost, mushroom compost, well-rotted horse manure or homemade compost.
  4. 4
    If you desire a weed-free gravel garden and have planned out where your permanent perennials will reside, laying some kind of landscape fabric will minimise the number of weeds that are likely to invade your gravel garden and reduce the amount of maintenance.
  5. 5
    Remember to cut out holes for your new shrubs and perennial plants.
  6. 6
    Whether or not you lay membrane or not, once the ground is prepared, put the plants into holes dug to fit the container they have come in comfortably, and backfill them with soil and compost.
  7. 7
    Lastly, lay the gravel and give the plants a good watering to help them get established.

This is a quick guide to creating a gravel garden. We cover this in more detail in our primer, Designing Small Gravel Gardens.

Gravel garden and rockery

Can you plant directly into gravel?

When planting directly into gravel, it's important to keep in mind that small plants tend to be overwhelmed by the aggregates. To avoid this, planting these types on a slight mound will raise them above the gravel level, promoting healthier growth. If you are creating a gravel garden without a landscape fabric, the garden will be prone to weeds and self-seeding plants, which can upset your intended design. This will require on-going maintenance for keeping the feature looking its best.

Small round shrub growing with panda chippings


In this comprehensive guide, we've explored a variety of topics related to the installation and maintenance of gravel and gravel gardens. Our "People Also Ask About" series is designed to tackle the issues DIY gardeners and homeowners search for and to provide you with the best and most helpful answers we can. Happy gardening!

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.