PEA GRAVEL PATIO PROS AND CONS

Pea gravel is comparatively economical, easy to install, and offers excellent drainage. Against these advantages are a couple of drawbacks, including the need for frequent upkeep, shifting and scattered stones, and an unstable surface for garden furniture.

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February 7, 2023 Author: Jamie Sandford

Our outdoor patio section compares and contrasts all your favorite patio material options and costs. In this gravel patio report, we focus on one of the most popular options, a pea gravel patio. As well as examining the advantages and disadvantages of a pea gravel patio, you will learn the average cost to install a pea gravel and where to buy it. You can also compare pea gavel with similar patio materials, including crushed gravel, river rock, and mulch.

Pretty patio with pea gravel

Pros & ConsWhat is a Pea Gravel | Colors | Where to Buy | Compare | Costs | DIY InstallationFAQ’s

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ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF PEA GRAVEL FOR A PATIO

You’re about to embark on the installation of a new patio and you’re leaning towards pea gravel, a very popular choice in countryside and rural gardens. Is pea gravel the right choice for your new patio? Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using pea gravel for a patio and help you make a final decision.

PROS

  • Pea gravel is considerably more economical as its average cost per square foot ranges about $1.00, while other average square-foot prices are concrete ($8-$25), brick ($18-$35), flagstone ( $15-$22 ), or concrete pavers ($8-$25).
  • DIYs don’t need special skills or experience to install it, as opposed to concrete, which requires knowledge of mixing and smoothing the surface.
  • Pea gravel allows for superior drainage over solid materials like concrete, stone, and pavers, which can experience puddles and even flooding after heavy rain.
  • A pea gravel patio is easy to maintain, with the regular use of a rake, and repair/upkeep is straightforward with the addition of fresh gravel.
  • Pea gravel is, for many homeowners, a more aesthetically attractive option compared to other patio materials. The look, colors, and even the sound it makes underfoot are all elements that bring charm to a garden.

CONS

  • Unlike concrete, stone, or pavers, pea gravel requires much more regular upkeep as it shifts around, degrades, and requires occasional replenishment.
  • The inherent instability of pea gravel makes it hard to keep in place, unlike hard surfaces like natural stone or pavers, so it needs edging to keep it within boundaries.
  • Pea gravel’s unstable surface makes it difficult to place patio furniture. Unlike concrete, which is smooth, the many nooks and carries of pea gravel and its tendency to shift often require you to set lawn furniture an inch or two into the stone to keep it from tipping over.
  • Correct installation (see below) is essential to avoid weeds pushing through your pea gravel patio.
  • You can’t really clean pea gravel, so as your gravel degrades over time your only option is to replace it with fresh gravel.

Now you know the benefits and drawback of pea gravel are you ready to learn more? Let’s start with the basics…

WHAT IS PEA GRAVEL?

Before exploring the costs of building a pea gravel patio, it would be helpful to know what pea gravel is and how it compares to similar surfaces. Pea gravel is essentially tiny river rock. It’s smooth like river rock but is much smaller at only about 3/8-inch in size, which is about the size of a pea, hence its name. It’s a natural product, not altered by any manufacturing methods, as its smoothness comes from running water and other natural elements.

Pea gravel is usually round but can be oval or oblong. Some shapes may even be slightly fractured. The key to identifying it is that it is small and smooth. Its small size makes it desirable for specific applications like patios, walkways, or playgrounds. Its affordability, size, texture, and many different colors make it a popular choice for patios and other hardscape landscaping projects.

Pea gravel goes under several different names, including pea stone, CM-16 stone, pea rock, or pea pebbles. It’s available in a broad palette of natural colors, including white, cream, gray, tan, brown, gold, and black.

Sometimes you can even find bright colors like red and blue if you want to create a unique look. When wet, the colors become quite vivid.

COLOR AFFECTS YOUR PROJECT’S LOOK

Although many providers sell pea gravel in mixed colors, you can select pea gravel in a single, uniform color to give your patio a particular look. Consider these looks:

  • White – A clean, minimalist look
  • Cream – Softer than white, stands out against a green lawn
  • Green – Reflects the landscape, ideal for adding vibrancy
  • Tan – Calming, yet versatile, ideal for rustic or traditional decor
  • Grey – Neutral color that shows little dirt
  • Black – Provides contrast and a sleek, modern look

HOW TO GET PEA GRAVEL

Many big box stores like Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Menard’s, and similar outlets sell pea gravel. You can even find it at smaller chain stores with landscaping departments, like Ace Hardware. Usually, these stores carry bagged pea gravel sold in 0.5 cu.-yd./ 50-lb. bags.

Sometimes in the spring, when homeowners DIY landscaping projects, you may be able to find pea gravel at these stores in bulk quantities. Companies that sell pea gravel at stores or online include Vigoro, KolorScape, Mastercraft, and Rock City.

Large projects like patios require a significant amount of pea gravel. Look to sources like local nurseries and landscaping supply companies to buy more significant amounts. You can also contact concrete and gravel companies to ask about purchasing pea gravel by the ton.

COMPARE PEA GRAVEL WITH SIMILAR PATIO BUILDING MATERIALS

Now you know what pea gravel is and its pros and cons are you now clear on whether it’s the right patio choice for your home? What about other similar materials?

CRUSHED GRAVEL VS PEA GRAVEL

Crushed gravel is similar to pea gravel but differs in shape, size, and color. This landscaping material is made from larger pieces, ranging from 3/8-inch to about three inches, reduced in a rock crusher. You’ll find no consistency in shape, with individual pieces often showing sharp edges. You can tamp down and flatten crushed gravel as these stones lock together, whereas pea gravel cannot. When bought in bulk, the color of crushed rock depends on the geology of the area where the stone was sourced.

Further Reading: Pea Gravel Driveway

PEA GRAVEL VS. RIVER ROCK

You can kind of view river rock as pea gravel’s big brother. It is also smooth but is not suited to patios because it provides uneven surfaces that make it difficult to place patio furniture. River rock is better suited to landscaping beds.

PEA GRAVEL VS. PEA PEBBLES

These two terms mean essentially the same thing. Nevertheless, there are different sizes of grains for these smooth stones, with the smaller ones referred to as gravel instead of pebbles.

PEA GRAVEL VS. MULCH

When considering these two materials for a patio, aesthetics are your most significant consideration. Do you want a variety of colors and textures, or would you prefer a material that will eventually degrade into the soil that you’ll need to replace?

COST OF A PEA GRAVEL PATIO

One of the mayor advantages of a pea gravel patio is that it’s less exspensive compared to other patio materials like concrete or brick. Not only are the your base materials cheaper but a pea gravel patio is definitely a DIY project which will save you lots of money. Lets take a look at all your pea gravel patio costs, starting with the price of pea gravel itself.

HOW MUCH DOES PEA GRAVEL COST TO BUY?

Pea gravel is easy to buy. Just walk into any store with landscaping materials, and chances are you’ll find a few bags. However, note that if you buy pea gravel in smaller bags, you’ll pay more. The typical price range for each 0.5 cu.-ft. bag is $4 to $7, while the typical price range per ton is $25 to $53.

When priced by volume, the cost is $25 to $67 per cubic yard.

The average amount of pea gravel required for a patio would average about $310. The most inexpensive colors are shades of gray, brown, or a mix of the two. For specific colors, expect to pay $20 to $50 more per ton.

HOW MUCH DOES A 20’X20′ PEA GRAVEL PATIO COST?

A patio of this size covers 400 square feet. You’ll need a minimum of three tons of pea gravel, or 2.5 cu.-yd., if you use a depth of two inches. When bought in bulk, pea gravel will cost $75 to $201. If you want another 15% for eventual compression, add another half ton, increasing the pea gravel cost from $87 to $216.

Note that if you install a specific color, your materials cost could run as high as $760, depending on where you live and what you choose.

Related supplies to install the patio, like landscaping fabric, tools, and equipment, including rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, machine rentals (if DIY), fuel, plus other necessary consumables, can run between $126 and $157.

When considering professional installation, the cost for basic labor alone ranges from $260 to $440 and includes:

  • Digging out a space for the patio
  • Laying down landscaping fabric to prevent weeds
  • Placing landscaping edging

Sites that require leveling or drainage considerations can increase labor costs to $510 or more. Overall, a professionally installed patio of this size will range between $750 and $1,430.

HOW MUCH DOES PROFESSIONAL INSTALLATION ADD?

Although installing pea gravel is a fairly easy DIY project, you may not have the time or the equipment needed. While your material costs will be the same, labor will add $15 to $70 per hour. Installation of small patios can often be accomplished in two hours.

In some instances, if you don’t own the tools needed to complete the work, you may save money by hiring a professional landscape to do the job. When you add in the time you spend doing the project, you may find it’s more worthwhile to let the professionals do the work, especially if professional installation is only marginally more expensive.

DIY PEA GRAVEL PATIO INSTALLATION

There are plenty of great tutorials detailing the best way to install a pea gravel patio, and we provide links to the best resources at the end of this section.

Here though, is an overview of the steps.

  1. Mark out your patio space (don’t underestimate the size needed)
  2. Dig out patio space 4 to 4.5 inches deep, removing any roots or stones.
  3. Level out the base. Tamp down small areas with suitable shovel
  4. Install rigid edging to contain gravel
  5. Pour in 2 inch base layer of crushed gravel/aggregate
  6. Rake base layer level, water and tamp down again.
  7. Fix landscaping fabric over base layer to contain gravel and prevent weeds
  8. Now add top layer of pea gravel, 2 to 2.5 inches, and rake level

Here are the best tutorials for DIY installation of a pea gravel patio:

Lowes.com: 8 step installation process and required tools
ShelterLogic: 10 step detailed installation
Braen Supply: Patio depth, installation and maintenance
YouTube: DIY pea gravel patio installation

FAQ’s

Can pea gravel be used for driveways?

Pea gravel can be used for a driveway although typically other types of gravel and crushed stone is used in driveway construction. This is due to the loose nature of pea gravel which has a tendency to scatter and leave deeper type ruts than other similar materials.

Do you need landscape fabric under pea gravel?

Landscaping fabric is an essential step in pea gravel patio installation. It holds your base layer of crushed stone in place, stops that base layer and pea gravel top layer from mixing together and prevents weeds pushing up through your patio.

How deep/thick should a pea gravel patio be?

For economy your layer of pea gravel need only be 2 to 2.5 inches deep but the total depth of the patio should be 4 to 5 inches deep to accommodate a base layer which will give stability to your patio.

How do you clean a pea gravel patio?

You can’t really clean pea gravel. You can frequently rake it level and keep turning the gravel to keep it fresh but if over time it’s gets unattractively dirty the easiest option is to replace with fresh gravel.

How do you repair a pea gravel patio?

It is recommended that you purchase extra bags of pea gravel during your initial purchase and keep the surplus in storage for topping up your patio gravel as needed. Occasional weeding may be required and edging should be maintained.


REVIEWED AND FACT-CHECKED BY JAMIE SANDFORD

Jamie Sandford - Owner and Lead Editor at RenoCompareJamie Sandford is the Chief Editor at RenoCompare (find out more). Jamie has been involved in construction for over 30 years. Straight out of college, Jamie worked with construction crews for the television, film and theatre industries for over 12 years. In his thirties, he turned his attention to DIY decorating and construction, working on many house renovations and remodels. During this time he started to specialize in home flooring and in 2013 he launched the Home Flooring Pros website. Two years later he launched RenoCompare.

“I’ve seen interior design, remodeling, and construction from both sides of the street, contractors on one side and homeowners on the other. My aim is to close the gap between the professionals and the consumers and make it easier for both sides to work smoothly and effectively side by side. At RenoCompare we want to save you time and money by giving you the information you need as simply and as quickly as possible!”