What to Know About Installing a Walkway of Pavers and Pebbles

Whether you do it yourself or hire a pro, here’s what to consider in adding a path of pavers and gravel

Garden paths made of pavers set into gravel are one of the most popular walkway styles due to their natural look, permeability for rainwater and versatility in design. Given the wide range of materials available and opportunities for different combinations, walkways made of pavers and pebbles work with all garden styles. For example, you can pair poured concrete slabs with dark gravel for a contemporary look or set irregular flagstones in warm-toned decomposed granite for a more Mediterranean feel. 

If you’re considering adding a pathway of this style, there are a number of things you will need to consider, including the range of costs for materials and installation, whether or not to hire a professional and how to reduce the gravel traveling onto the pavers.

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The Todd Group, original photo on Houzz

Project: Installing a walkway of pavers and pebbles

Why: To create a welcoming front walkway, connect garden areas or provide an invitation to explore 

It’s a good project for you if: Pathways of pavers and gravel can be problem solvers in gardens that receive a lot of rain. Rather than running off a hardscape area, rainwater trickles between the gaps in the gravel and stays on site. “It you have drainage problems and need to maintain porosity and pervious surfaces,” says landscape designer Zach Hammaker of ZH Design, “nothing beats [gravel].”

A walkway with pavers and pebbles may not be for everyone. Compared with a smooth surface, stone and gravel pathways can be more difficult to navigate for wheelchairs, walkers and strollers. Proper installation with a nice, firm base can make it much easier for wheels to move across the surface without sinking or jolting. “I can easily roll my full yard waste can over it,” says landscape designer Cathy Edger of Edger Landscape Design, in reference to a pathway made of gravel installed on base rock.

Who to hire: If you do not have some experience with pathway installation, hiring a contractor, a landscape designer or both is your best choice. For paths that require grading or stairs, it’s recommended you hire a professional.

DIY: If you’re comfortable rolling up your sleeves and confident using basic landscape construction tools such as a tamper and a level, you can consider attempting this project on your own. Compacting the soil beneath the pavers and getting both the pavers and the edging material level will make a big difference in the finished walkway.

Cost range: Cost varies widely depending on the materials selected and size of the pathway. Hammaker advises clients to budget between $25 and $50 per square foot for a professionally installed path. This range of cost includes materials and the installation. If you are planning to DIY, you’ll have a better idea of the final cost once you’ve selected your materials and mapped out the size of the walkway.

Things to consider: How to choose pavers and pebbles or gravel that are in keeping with the style of your garden. Getting the installation right is key in the safety, durability and the overall finished look of the path.

Typical project length: Installation time depends on the size of the path and complexity of the materials. Walkways made of custom poured concrete or those that require fitting together irregular flagstones will take longer than those using precast pavers. Project length can vary from multiple days for a simple installation to several weeks for more in-depth designs or difficult sites.

Best time to start: Dry season. Ideally, paths should be installed start to finish on dry soil and, if using poured concrete, in relatively warm weather.

Permitting: Permitting requirements vary by state and county. Whether or not you need one for installing a new pathway or replacing an existing one generally depends on the size of the proposed design. Count on needing to submit plans to your local building commission if you’re doing anything more than laying down a few pavers in some gravel as a DIY backyard project. 

Building departments are primarily concerned with the safety of new walkways (particularly in front yards) as well as the total amount of “permeable” vs. “impermeable” surfaces on the property as a whole. Gravel and pebbles count as permeable surfaces since rainwater can be absorbed between the stones. Counties vary on whether they consider compacted gravel surfaces (such as those of a driveway) to be impermeable or permeable surfaces.

Design a Garden Walkway With a Local Landscape Architect

Material Options

Pavers. When choosing pavers, there are a number of qualities to consider, such as shape, size, color and cost.

  • Precast pavers: Precast concrete pavers are available in square, rectangular and circular shapes and can be one of the most inexpensive options. The downside: The pavers themselves are usually fairly small (1 foot by 1 foot is most commonly available) and often come standard in only a few colors (light gray, dark gray and terra cotta).
  • Concrete: Cast-in-place concrete runs more expensive than precast but opens more possibilities in the design. You can pour larger landing pads or nonstandard forms, such as long, narrow rectangles. Concrete of any form looks chic in contemporary gardens, particularly paired with dark gravel.
  • Cut stone: Cut stone works well with any garden type, from traditional to cottage-style. A wide variety of cut stones are available in hues and materials from desert gold granite to cool-toned bluestone, and prices can vary.
  • Flagstone: Pathways made of irregular flagstones fitted together add texture to the landscape. Due to the time it takes to fit the slabs together, installation can be more expensive than for cut stone. Flagstones complement Mediterranean-, ranch- and desert-style gardens.

June Scott Design, original photo on Houzz

Gravel and pebbles. In general, select gravel or pebbles that complement your pavers. For a subtle look, choose gravel that picks up the colors of the paving stones. Pale pavers paired with dark gravel (or vice versa) creates a more dramatic garden path. 

  • Gravel: The cost of gravel varies by type of rock and size of stone as well as what is more widely available per region. Decomposed granite (also called “granite fines”) have the smallest particle sizes, while coarse gravels can have rocks over an inch wide.
  • Pea gravel: This attractive gravel is widely available and has a satisfying crunch underfoot. One drawback: The rounded pebbles tend to travel up onto pavers.
  • Mexican beach pebble and polished river rocks: Larger rocks have a chunky, tactile quality between pavers and the added benefit that their weight keeps them from traveling.

Luciole Design Inc., original photo on Houzz

Edging materials. Pathways made of gravel won’t stay put without an edging material such as synthetic bender board or terrace board, precast concrete, bricks, stone or metal edging.

  • Synthetic edging: Edging made of recycled plastic is inexpensive, durable and widely available. Synthetic edging is very pliable and can create tight, smooth curves to pathways, as shown in the California native garden here.
  • Concrete bricks: Less expensive than brick or stone, precast concrete bricks can also act as attractive edging for paths.
  • Brick: Brick edging works well for traditional and cottage-style gardens and is widely available.
  • Stone edging: Stone is typically sold by the pallet, so it can be difficult to estimate the price per linear foot. Granite cobblestones are commonly used as edging in Northeastern gardens.
  • Metal edging: The sleekest, most contemporary option on the market, metal edging is highly durable and nearly disappears from view. Coated aluminum tends toward the lower end of the price range, while unfinished and powder-coated steel can be more expensive.

How to Get Started

First, make a plan. Map out the length, width and trajectory of your pathway either on your own or with the help of a professional. Next, choose your pathway materials. Apply for and receive a permit, if it’s required by your county, and you’re ready to begin installation.

Prep your site. Start the path installation by leveling the area and digging down to remove soil between 4 and 10 inches deep, removing any weeds. You can lay down a weed barrier at this point, although the black landscape fabric commonly used for this can deteriorate or become visible over time. Anchor your edging material to border the path.

Lay a foundation of base rock. Once the area of the path is dug, raked smooth and edged, spread a layer of base rock between 2 and 9 inches deep. The base rock acts as the stabilizing foundation of your pathway — keeping gravel from rolling too much underfoot and providing a firm base for pavers. 

Arrange pavers. Compact the base rock with a handheld tamper. If you’re laying flagstones or large pavers, top the base rock with about an inch of sand to settle the stones in place. Check to make sure the pavers are level and adjust as necessary. Leave gaps between the pavers or flagstone to accommodate the gravel.

Spread gravel. Once pavers are in place, spread between 1 and 4 inches of your selected gravel to cover all base rock and surround the pavers. Rake smooth.

Edger Landscape Design, original photo on Houzz

The depth of the path area and base rock needed varies by region and specific site. “I find that there is not a lot of knowledge about how deeply [gravel] should be laid,” Edger says. “Here in California, I like a 3- to 4-inch layer of base rock and a thin layer of the gravel. It only needs to be slightly deeper than its own diameter for it to provide cover and be a firm surface.”

ZH Design, original photo on Houzz

Generally, gardens in areas with heavy rainfall and snow will need to have a thicker layer of gravel (and a deeper trench for the installation) than drier regions. “Paths like this are typically laid on top of a three-quarters-inch modified stone base that is compacted. For this type of path, a base of 6 to 9 inches thick would be acceptable in our Northeast zone,” Hammaker says. To reduce pea gravel getting on the flagstones in the garden pathway here, Hammaker set the flagstones just slightly higher than the gravel. Another trick: “The pea gravel is only lightly sprinkled on top of a layer of sand,” which sits below both the flagstones and the gravel to hold them in place.

When laying out pavers or steppingstones during installation, keep in mind where your foot would fall in a natural stride. Place a paver there. Landscape architect Ive Haugeland of Shades of Green Landscape Architecture used precast concrete Stepstone pavers set about a hand-span apart to make a walkway that is both visually stunning and easy to traverse. Haugeland estimated the price of the pathway was at least $25 per square foot. 

For pathways of flagstone or pavers that transect gravel areas, there is no need to border the pathway with edging material as long as the gravel patio is contained. “The steppingstones are nestled in place on stone dust. No mortar or cement was used,” says landscape designer Robert Welsch of Westover Landscape Design. The curved path adds a charming design detail to the gravel seating area and connects the driveway to the front walk. Welsch says that the gravel courtyard and flagstone pathway cost between $1,200 and $1,500 including materials and installation.

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Maintenance. To keep the pathway looking good, use a combination of a rake and a broom to keep gravel smooth and stray rocks off the pavers. Leaf blowers set on low are also effective at removing lightweight fallen leaves and debris without shifting the gravel. To counteract sinking gravel, every few years spread a layer of fresh gravel, rake smooth and lightly compact it around pavers.

Decorative Landscaping, original photo on Houzz

5 Ways to Reduce Gravel Traveling

1. Proper installation. “The key is a good strong base and not to put the gravel down too thick. You want to create surface friction against the base to help keep [gravel] in place,” Hammaker says. Reduce traveling further by keeping the gravel level just below the pavers, setting gravel in sand on top of the compacted base rock and using path edging.

2. Locking gravel. Rocks with jagged edges lock together to form a firmer base underfoot than rounded stones such as pea gravel.

3. Bigger rocks. Larger stones (silver dollar-sized to palm-sized) are usually heavy enough to stay put. 

4. Larger pavers. Creating generous landing pads in a pathway, such as those out of poured concrete, reduces the likelihood that you’ll kick pebbles up onto pavers while walking across the path.

5. Binding products. There are a number of products on the market that can be poured on top of gravel and, once set, hold the stones in place. They are usually made up of either polyurethane or epoxy solutions and can be purchased from home improvement stores.

Categories: Gardening & Landscape