Gravel Driveways: Advantages and Disadvantages

Gravel driveways are one of the most popular choices for driveways and hard landscaping in the UK, and it’s easy to see why. It’s cheap, easy to lay, low maintenance and looks good, particularly in country settings or in towns where it matches the predominant stone and brick colouring of the area. There’s an immense choice of size, colour and texture, so it’s a good choice for resurfacing.

The crunch of gravel under a car’s wheels is very satisfying and can also act as a defensive measure, alerting you to uninvited guests. On the downside though, you can’t use it on a site that has any gradient to speak of (see our Q&A Is Gravel Suitable On A Sloping Driveway?), it needs regular top-up resurfacing and can be tricky to keep in place.

Gravel Driveway Maintenance Information

Gravel driveways will eventually bed down and become invaded by dust dirt and weeds. This process can be delayed by occasional maintenance, usually clearing weeds, spraying weed killer, and sweeping gravel that’s escaped back onto the drive area. But eventually, the top surface will need relaying, particularly where car wheels habitually travel, as the weight will cause the gravel to break down and compact.

This takes time, though, as a typical 1m bed of gravel driveway will require an average of 1.5 tonnes of new gravel to replace what was lost over the previous winter months.

Choice of Gravels for Landscaping

There is a huge amount of choice in the gravel market. The cheapest is to get pea shingle or pea gravel from a builder’s merchant, and depending on what’s available at the lowest price in your region, it can look very good. As the price goes up, the gravel will usually be more rounded, not so sharp, and better graded in terms of size and colour. So the cheapest may be a mixed bag of all sorts of stones and finishes and a wide variety of sizes. A more expensive load will be one type of stone, smoother and more consistent in size.

There are specialist mixes available, some not stone at all. Although they are likely to work better in a garden context than for a gravel driveway, it is possible to buy ‘stones’ made from tumbled glass in all the usual colours that wine bottles come in, or slate mulch, which will come in grey, blue, green and purple. There are also semi-natural coloured gravels, usually limestone chippings that have been coated in a dye and the colours are only limited by the dyes that are available. They are considerably more expensive than natural gravel, however.

Gravel driveways are one of the most popular choices for driveway resurfacing, along with asphalt. They require no special skills to lay and repair and light traffic will cause minimal wear. As they’re usually a feature of an older property or in a more rural setting, it helps to ensure that we keep them working well and looking good

Landscaping Gravels

If you are landscaping using gravel, it is important to take into account the topography of your site. It’s usually a good idea to fill in any dips and hollows with coarse gravel because if left empty they will be filled with water, which can breed mosquitoes if they dry out after rains or plant roots will get established that may grow into lawns. If you do fill in hollows, be aware that the gravel can sink due to a lack of support over time.

Don’t make hills either, because they will also become water traps and are likely to wash away over time.

Where to Use Different Types of Gravel

You need to consider the use that the gravel will have to deal with. For a garden path, patio or other landscaping, you can be far more creative with mixing colours and patterns than for a gravel driveway. Any multi-coloured layout on a drive will quickly lose its coherence as the wheels of the cars will spit the gravels all over the place, breaking down the barriers between the different colours. You need also to consider how comfortable a gravel might be to walk on; slate mulch, if it’s coarse, is not likely to be particularly good in this capacity.

Ordinary gravel will do well on a drive, and the type of stone, colour and texture is really only limited by the size of your pocket. Steer clear of excessively rounded gravels, through. These can be hard to walk on, as they sink too quickly and roll away underfoot. They will also be scattered more easily by car tyres, and then roll further, so the risk of getting them caught up in garden machinery and causing damage is greater. Check out our article about how gravel size matters.

Self-Binding Gravel Needs Less Resurfacing

For a long gravel driveway it might be worth considering self-binding gravels. These are effectively supplied in a form that’s dirtier than the usual gravel, but the dirt is very useful. It’s actually the smaller particles, the dust (known as ‘fines’ in the trade) that is cleaned from the gravel that is sold at garden centres. The fines are left in with the stones for these self-binding gravels and in some products they even have more fines added. These bind the larger gravel particles together with a sort of ‘mortar’ that dries in place, effectively making them one piece.

These different sizes of gravel bond together over time, particularly with the downward pressure from vehicles driving over it. The result after a while is a semi-hard surface, not as hard as concrete or tarmac but more coherent than clean gravel. One advantage of this kind of drive is that with most self-binding gravels the material can be excavated, crushed and re-laid years later if necessary, so there’s no need to reinvest in new materials. Next up…discover how to look after your gravel drive.

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