Last Modified: March 5, 2024

How to Lay a Gravel Path

Guide for DIY pathway Construction

Gravel garden path with shrubs

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist

Overview

Have you ever wondered how to build a gravel path for your garden? A garden path can work wonders for your outdoor space. Decorative gravel paths are beautiful and also remarkably practical. In this step-by-step guide, we'll walk you through how to make a gravel path, but we are going to keep it as brief as possible and make it easy to follow, too. Quick links allow you to navigate easily, throughout the entire process, to any of the following sections:

Each section has a TLDR of the main points covered so that you don't have to wade through any unnecessary information, and you can easily scan to find the section you need at any time throughout the process. However, we know that many people (ourselves included) like detail, so we cover the preparation in more depth with our article called: Gravel paths in gardens. Ok, let's commence on this path to glory!

Polar white chippings with brick edging

Key Takeaways

Cotswold chips path through dove grey limestone gravel

Planning Your Gravel Garden Path

  1. 1
    Consider the look you want.
  2. 2
    Decide on the path's start and end points.
  3. 3
    Mark an outline of the path.
  1. 4
    Measure up and calculate the aggregates required.
  2. 5
    Conduct a soil inspection with cable avoidance tool.
  3. 6
    Avoid steep inclines.

Before you start digging, making a design and carefully planning it out is key to success. It's actually quite fun once you get going - perhaps 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 features or other parts that you want and stick them to the paper. This can help to create a path that everyone in the family feels invested in.

You need to decide where your path will start and end. Consider the look you are going for, too; a winding path can add an element of romance or mystery, while a straight path can create a symmetry. Use marking paint, garden hose or string to outline your path and then measure up the length and width. Make a note of these dimensions for calculating how much gravel you'll need.

Lastly, conduct a soil inspection. You need to use a cable avoidance tool to check the area and avoid damaging any underground cables. Dig in and check the soil. If it reveals sandy or particularly soft soil, compacting additional hardcore is advisable to minimise potential drainage issues.

And remember, if you have concerns about your overall capabilities, tackling steep inclines or poor drainage without taking some professional advice may be unwise, as these factors may complicate the process and require a lot more labour and materials.

Pens pencils rulers and a grid board for planning garden projects. Jpg

Choosing Gravel For Garden Pathways

  1. 1
    Choosing the colour.
  2. 2
    Determine optimal gravel type and size.
  1. 3
    Sub-base materials.
  2. 4
    Base reinforcement for poor drainage.

Colour

Now, to the fun part – choosing your gravel! The range of decorative aggregates available to homeowners in the UK is quite vast, and thanks to Outdoor Aggregates, it has just increased enormously. Our decorative aggregate encyclopaedia offers users access to a list with just about every type and size of stone chipping and gravel available in the UK. Every listing provides comprehensive information presented in a clear and concise manner. Additionally, they include links to useful guides and step-by-step DIY projects.

What's even better is that Outdoor Aggregates brings together all of the various types of aggregates that are available in your local area, making it convenient and easy to make a choice based on the best price and stock availability. If you have noticed that colour picker in the sidebar and haven't clicked on it yet, it's also an easy and efficient way to locate the options available to you based on colour type and size. If you haven't given it a try, it's free, so feel free to have a go!

Size

Consider the size – generally, pea gravel up to 10mm (about 0.6 inches) is most comfortable underfoot. However it can depend on what type of path you are going for. For example, if you want to install a path that is quite level and less comfortable underfoot, you would go for angular, crushed gravel. If you were looking for a gravel that was more suited to wandering in bare feet and less traffic, then pea gravel is the right type for you.

Sub-base Materials

For the sub-base, you'll need MOT type 1 sub base material or a limestone type 1 hardcore to establish 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 properly compacted. However, if the soil is sandy or particularly soft, it's advisable to reinforce the base with additional hardcore. Add another 5-10cm of MOT, but remember, this will mean you will need to dig a further 4 to 8cm deeper into the trench.

In all of these scenarios, you need to strike a balance between your goals - including colour and textures - and the types of materials that can help you get there. At the end of the day, building a gravel path leaves more room for error than a concrete path, so there is no exact right or wrong.

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

Ornamental bird bath in a garden with wheelbarrow and tools in the background. Jpg

List of Materials and Tools

In this section, we cover the remaining essential materials required to build a lasting path 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
  3. 3
    Edging materials (metal, bricks, wood, rubber, etc)
  1. 4
    Heavy duty weed membrane
  2. 5
    Pegs or spikes
  3. 6
    Timber

Alongside your aggregates, you will also require some other materials. Edging is essential to create a hard border for the containment of your chippings. With prefabricated edging made from materials such as metal, wood, rubber, or plastic alongside traditional items that can be bought from recycling centres like bricks, stone, or logs, the options available are almost endless. The issues to consider are the material's durability and ease of use for installation. We cover this in more depth in: edging for gravel.

Regarding the ease of use, if you don't want to include the idea of cutting metal or large pieces of timber, then prefabricated edgings could be for you. Alternatively, if you have the tools and the willpower, you can do anything from chiselling flagstones into edgings to sawing railway sleepers or rustic wooden logs for rustic borders.

When it comes to ensuring minimal maintenance and maximum drainage and stability, there is no substitute for the installation of a heavy duty weed membraneWhile there are many types of landscape fabric weed barriers out there, for this purpose, it is inappropriate to use anything else. The pegs or spikes are required to secure the membrane. Pieces of timber cut at the desired width of your path are extraordinarily useful when it comes to keeping your edging in place prior to securing them at the time of laying your chippings.

List of Tools

The following is a list of tools which are mostly essential to a smooth operation. Whilst the majority are items you should have in your garden shed or can easily be borrowed, a compactor of some description may need to be hired.

  1. 1
    Shovel and/or square-edged spade
  2. 2
    Wheelbarrow
  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
    Handsaw
  5. 12
    Axe or pruning shears
  6. 13
    Compacting tool
  7. 14
    Scissors
Gardening tools and gloves in a wheelbarrow. Jpg

How to Make a Gravel Path: Step-By-Step Guide

Now that you have selected and ordered your decorative gravel and sub-base and gathered your other materials and required tools, it's time to get into our step-by-step guide on how to make a gravel pathway:

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.

With your materials chosen, it's time to prepare the site. Dig a trench by removing the top layer of soil within your marked area to a depth of ~10cm (4 inches), removing weeds and cutting away any roots with an axe or shears. This stage is crucial to laying a solid foundation, which requires excellent drainage. Use a tape measure or a pre-cut slice of timber to check the height of your trench along the course of the path.

Cut a 'step' into the wall in preparation for your gravel edging. Make sure the depth of the step will leave the desired height of your edge above the level of the soil surface, which can vary from 1 cm to higher. Also, ensure it is cut in to the approximate width of your edging material. This will help to achieve a flush installation.

Hint: 5cm is the ideal gravel depth, and 5cm will be for the compacted sub-base, making 10cm in total. Adjust this depth where necessary for additional subbase compacting.

Using an edging tool to start digging path trench

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.

Drainage is important in any landscape project. Usually, a good sub-base in a level to slightly sloping garden will suffice. Proper drainage can prevent structural damage, settling, erosion and flooding of lawns and patios caused by rainwater or a watering system. Grading can mean a significant earth-moving operation or moving a small amount of soil to produce a slight slope for better drainage. Your path project will likely fall into the latter category and MAY be necessary if the yard is in a 'bowl', for instance.

Additionally, more significant grading may be needed to divert water away from your house or to ensure it's not running off onto your neighbour's property, especially on steeper slopes. Just try to imagine the channel potentially created by a new path with a solid subbase that is also sporting a weed-proof membrane. Now imagine a torrent of water flowing down that pathway towards a neighbour's house at a lower gradient.

If the course of your path heads in this direction, then our advice would be to seek a professional opinion about the best options for you, unless you are extremely experienced. Consulting with your neighbours would also be very wise to avert any future disasters.

Excavating preparation for a garden path of gravel

3. How to Lay Gravel Path Weed Membrane

  1. 1
    Not compulsory but advisable.
  1. 2
    Heavy-duty type recommended.

Although it's not compulsory, it is highly advisable to lay a heavy duty weed membrane for improving drainage, suppressing weeds and keeping the chippings or sub-base separated from the soil. For laying gravel path barriers, you would want to use a heavy-duty type rather than a landscaping fabric, which is more suitable for ground covers without traffic.

Place the weed membrane sheets across the length of the path over the soil or sub-base, ensuring an overlap of 10-15 cm with the sheets beneath and the exterior walls. Once you have laid and weighed them down using heavy objects such as rocks or bricks, cut the pieces away so that you end up with complete coverage and an edge of about 10 cm around each side of the trench. Peg the membrane, every 50cm, around the edges and throughout the base to limit movement when the chippings are laid.

Crushed Gravel Installations (OPTIONAL)

If you decide against laying a sub-base, then it's best to use 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, they will sink into the soil overtime without the minimum installation of a membrane.

Also, to help prevent sharp gravel from creating holes in the fabric, the membrane can be covered with a 2.5cm base of fine-washed sand or some gravel containing fine particles and gravel dust. It also helps to compact both materials, reducing the downward movement of the surface gravel.

4. Compact a Gravel Path 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.

A solid sub-base is the foundation of a long-lasting and successful gravel path. On top of your sub-base, spread your crushed stone or hardcore evenly to a depth of about 20% above the desired 'compacted depth', which should be 5cm minimum after compaction in well-draining soils. Use a hand tamper, roller or plate compactor until you create a stable, level surface. Level each section, whether with a laser level or a builder's spirit level.

Compacted sub base for a path

5. Installing Gravel Walkway Edging

  1. 1
    Importance of proper borders.
  2. 2
    Minimum 5cm compacted depth.
  1. 3
    Install flush with the ground.

The installation of proper edging is an integral part of building low-maintenance gravel garden paths. Not only does it give structure and helps to keep aggregates contained (like pea gravel which is prone to scattering), but it also adds a beautiful symmetry for the eye to follow, improving the feature's overall attractiveness. The edging should be installed so that it's flush with the surrounding ground, preventing the gravel from spilling over.

After cutting the edgings to size (where necessary), place them into the step already cut to hold the border and tamp soil around it for support. When you install gravel walkway edgings, reinforcement will not be needed for simple plastic, metal or heavy-timber edgings. The weight of the gravel will keep them firmly in place.

To create edgings with form reinforcement, support the form with wooden stakes and double-headed nails. Fill in the backside of the trench and stand the edging of your choice against the form. Tamp soil around the edging for added stability.

Grey brick edging along white marble gravel

6. Adding the Gravel

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

Hooray, you have nearly completed your path. Now that your base is ready and edgings are in place, it's time to add your gravel. With a wheelbarrow or large buckets, move the chippings into piles spread throughout the path in order to minimise the distance required to rake the first layer. Distribute the gravels evenly, aiming for a depth of 3-5cm (1-2 inches), using a garden rake to spread the gravel and create a smooth, even surface. You've done it!

Gnome holding a trophy.

Addressing Garden Inclines

  1. 1
    Use larger-sized aggregates.
  2. 2
    Higher edging or terracing for stability.
  1. 3
    Gravel grids for containment.

Key strategies include using larger-sized aggregates that are less likely to shift, incorporating edging or terracing to provide stability or gravel grids for containment. Remember, if the slope significant, it might be more practical to consider alternative materials, routes and the advice of an expert.

Laying gravel onto a garden

Common Mistakes to Avoid

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

When building gravel garden pathways, it's essential to avoid some common mistakes. One of the most significant made by DIY gardeners is neglecting the subbase. This can lead to several issues, including the path sinking, flooding and faster deterioration in the life of the path.

Another mistake is underestimating the amount of gravel required and settling for what you have. It's always best to have some extra gravel, especially as the path will need occasional top-ups as it settles. Ordering small amounts after the fact can be expensive, so it's best to use a gravel calculator and get the order right the first time. Plus, there are plenty of great  uses for leftover gravel.

Proper drainage is crucial, and I cannot emphasise this enough. Poor drainage can cause water to wash away the gravel, leading to worse issues that can even affect the structure of buildings and other areas of your garden over time.

Maintenance

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

Like any garden feature that experiences traffic, your gravel path will require the occasional upkeep to keep it looking great and functioning well. It is mostly confined to occasional raking to keep the surface level. You also may need to add extra aggregate to keep the depth especially in areas of high foot traffic. Keep an eye on weeds and if any appear pull them out as soon as possible to stop them taking hold.

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

1raking a pea shingle path

Summary

Congratulations! We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to lay a pathway. You're now equipped with the knowledge to build a beautiful gravel path in your garden. It's worth keeping in mind that there are a few hard and fast rules about laying a gravel path, but the ones we have outlined should be closely heeded. These relate to compacting a sub base, ensuring adequate drainage and being mindful of where water will run regarding your home and that of your neighbours, too.

However, with these issues accounted for, the level of skill required in most settings makes laying gravel paths achievable by just about anyone, if you follow our step-by-step instructions and take professional advice where recommended. And don't forget our aggregate-matching technology is here to assist you. From selecting the perfect coloured stone to finding the best prices. Head to the sidebar and give it a try - just dial in your preferences, explore the options, and start your gravel path project today!

So, isn't it time to start cutting your path towards a more beautiful and low-maintenance garden today?

1close up of flamingo stones with concrete path edging. Jpg

FAQs

What materials do I need to make a gravel path?

To make a gravel path, you'll need crushed gravel, sub-base material, edging materials, landscape fabric and basic gardening tools.

How do I prepare the area?

Preparing the area involves marking the path, removing topsoil, and ensuring a level and compact base. Reinforcement may be needed on slopes.

How deep should the gravel be for a pathway?

The gravel should be laid to a depth of about 3-5cm (approximately 1 -2 inches) on top of the sub-base. This depth is adequate for stability and comfort while walking.

Do I need to use a weed barrier under the gravel?

Yes, using a weed barrier, such as a heavy-duty weed membrane under the sub-base or gravel, is recommended. Laying gravel path membrane prevents weed growth and keeps the gravel separate from the soil or sub-base.

Can I use any type of stone chippings for a pathway?

It's best to choose stones for garden path surfaces that are either comfortable for walking on barefooted, or chosen for maximum traction. Rounded, 10mm pea gravel is most comfortable underfoot, but 14-20mm crushed gravel chippings are best for traction, so it depends on your objective.

Should I compact the soil before laying the gravel?

Yes, compacting the soil before laying the gravel is crucial if you are not intending to install a sub-base. Compacting the soil can provide a stable base to prevent the gravel path from sinking or becoming uneven over time. However, it's no substitute for a sub-base, particularly in high-traffic walkways.

What is the best way to edge a DIY path?

The best way to edge a DIY path is to use materials like metal, wood, bricks, or stone. Ensure the edging is flush with the ground to contain the gravel and enhance the path's appearance.

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.