How to Build a Pea Gravel Patio

Are you looking to build a patio but don’t want to spend a lot of time and money? You aren’t alone! According to U.S. Census data, 20% of new homes added a patio space to their backyard in 2018, a 30% increase from previous years. Traditional patios made with poured concrete, natural flagstone, or concrete pavers are expensive and can be challenging to install. A pea gravel patio might just be your solution! Pea gravel patios are economical DIY projects that can add a relaxing, appealing space for your backyard, and it could be a weekend project. Patios made with pea gravel are also easy to maintain in the long run.

Pea gravel: Things to consider

Pea gravel is smaller than other types of gravel, making it more economical and easier to work with than stone pavers. There are no special skills or tools needed to make your own pea gravel patio, and there isn’t as much prep involved to build one. The diameter of most pea gravel is around ⅜ of an inch, so it is perfect for walking on for humans and pets alike. It also drains easily, making maintenance and clean up a breeze (just clean with a water hose or leaf blower). Pea gravel is also great in colder climates, as it does not heave or crack due to frost or thaws.

There are some drawbacks to pea gravel, as with any material used to build a patio. Some homeowners find it more difficult to walk or roll things on. It would help if you built a border to contain the gravel, which adds to labor time and cost. The gravel may be kicked or strewn to flower beds or other parts of the yard, and some patio furniture may not sit as well on pea gravel as on paved surfaces.

Now that you know the pros and cons of using pea gravel for your patio, it’s time to get started designing and building your patio!

Choose Your Location

For your patio, you’ll want to choose an area in your yard that is relatively flat with good drainage (a steep grade is not ideal). Also, notice how water runs through that part of your property when it rains. Water does tend to drain well in pea gravel, but too much water rushing through can wash away some smaller pieces. Also, take into account sunlight, shade, or wind, and make changes accordingly (an umbrella or other shade structure, for example). 

Also, before breaking ground on your patio, call before you dig! The National “call before you dig” hotline, 811, will have signs around your property to mark utility lines. It may take a few days to get an inspection, so take that into consideration when planning your patio build.

Materials

Sourcing bulk materials locally is the best value for your DIY pea gravel patio project, but you can purchase it from big chain stores like Home Depot or even Amazon. The main supply you’ll need is the pea gravel. The best value is having pea gravel delivered to your home from a local supplier. Many concrete companies have pea gravel for sale in bulk. This is more cost-effective than buying bags of pea gravel from your local hardware store. One cubic yard of pea gravel will build a 100 square foot patio for less than $100. Always purchase a little extra for maintenance purposes.

Tip: *To figure out exactly how much gravel you’ll need for your DIY pea gravel patio, check out this handy guide.

Other materials you will need to build your pea gravel patio:

Building Your Patio: Step by Step

Now that you have your location, materials and called the 811 hotline, you’re ready to begin! 

  1. First, mark out your patio boundaries with marking paint, or you could even use a garden hose or twine. Make sure your patio furniture, plants, fire pits, etc., will fit in the space comfortably.
  2. Next, dig your designated area to about three inches deep to clear away rocks, roots, or other debris. Any deeper than three inches is harder to walk in, any less become exposed. Using a cultivator will help with this step but is not necessary. *Tip: using a square point shovel will keep edges clean and level. 
  3. Check to make sure the area is level, raking the dirt to make it even. Fill in low spots and tamp down the dirt by using a hand tamp or by repeatedly walking over the entire area.
  4. Next, add your edging. This can be border pavers or landscape timbers. No matter what border you use, make sure you leave about a ½ inch of border above the gravel. Tip: *Make sure you have a perfect square by measuring opposed corners diagonally and making adjustments to your border as necessary.
  5. Add landscape fabric next to prevent weed growth. The fabric should cover the entire area within the border, overlapping each fabric strip by four inches, making sure the fabric also extends up the border by an inch or two so the pins can secure the fabric. Secure fabric pins around all seams and sides. *Tip: Adding a base layer of crushed gravel and gravel dust will help prevent weeds but isn’t a necessary step.
  6. Begin adding the pea gravel. When adding the gravel, don’t dump the entire wheelbarrow of gravel at one time into the perimeter--this will tear the landscape fabric. Instead, gently toss gravel by shovelfuls and smooth out with the rake. Keep adding until your desired depth of no more than 2.5 inches.
  7. Rinse off gravel with a garden hose to remove all dirt and debris.
  8. Now add in your design elements! Benches, a table and chairs, a fire pit, string or solar lights, and potted plants will help beautify your space and make it more enjoyable.
  9. Finally, enjoy! Kick back with your family, entertain friends, or relax solo on your new pea gravel patio.

Now more than ever, Americans are spending more time at home due to pandemic restrictions. Why not make your backyard a welcoming, relaxing spot for afternoon cocktails or dinner under the stars? With your own DIY pea gravel patio, you just might make your own home your number one destination.

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