Pea gravel is one of the most economical and simple materials to use for a patio. This outdoor project is simple to complete, and long-term maintenance of the patio is a breeze. For very little money and a few days of work for an average-sized area, you can have a graceful and gorgeous patio with a look that lends itself perfectly to many other cool, fun elements: string lights, do-it-yourself firepits, outdoor furniture, and more.
Note: The difficulty of excavating depends on what’s in the soil. If you find a lot of rocks and tree roots the project will be a lot more difficult. The more people you have to help, the quicker it will go. Project metrics are based on 2 people working.
Pea Gravel Patio Basics
Pea gravel is the easy-to-handle material that makes all of this happen. While hardscaping materials like poured concrete, concrete pavers, and natural flagstone are solid, reliable patio surfaces, they are expensive and can be backbreaking and/or technically challenging to install.
As suggested by the name, pea gravel is about the size of 3/8-inch-diameter peas. Each piece of gravel is rounded and smooth, making it nice to walk on and less prone to clumping up and retaining footprints than gravel with angled sides.
Pea Gravel Project Details
This project will help you create a gravel patio that is 16 feet long by 16 feet wide, with a gravel depth of 2 to 3 inches. You can adapt the dimensions to fit your patio's size. Because pea gravel is loose and tends to shift, you will need to build a wooden frame with pressure-treated landscape timbers or lumber to contain it. Note that the wood must be rated for ground contact to forestall rot.
Call Before You Dig
Call 8-1-1, the national "Call Before You Dig" hotline, to have all utility lines marked on your property. This is a free service, but it can take a few days, so be sure to call several days before you plan to break ground on your new patio. While you won't be digging deeply within the patio area, you will be driving 12-inch-long stakes into the ground, and these could potentially run into buried electrical or plumbing lines.
In addition, the stakes could hit sprinkler system piping, so do your own investigative work to locate irrigation lines in the patio area.
Fenceless pet containment systems (Invisible Fence) use low voltage wiring at or near the ground surface. The wire can be damaged during shallow excavations. If you have a pet containment system, be sure you know where your border wire is located. Turn off power to the system and use caution when digging nearby.
Equipment / Tools
- Measuring tape
- Mattock or pickax (optional)
- Bow rake
- Drill and 1/2 inch wood bit
- Hand sledge
- Wheelbarrow or garden cart
- Garden hose and spray nozzle (optional)
- 3 cubic yards Pea gravel
- 8 Pressure-treated 4x6"s or 3x4" landscape timbers, 8 feet long
- 24 #4 rebar pieces, 12 inches long
- Landscape fabric
- Landscape fabric pins (garden staples)
Select the Patio Space
Confirm that the patio location will work for gravel. Steep places will not do well with this project. Because pea gravel is rounded and smooth, its angle of repose can be as low as 20 degrees; at steeper pitches, it will begin to shift. Heavy foot traffic can disturb gravel and create a mess. If an unusual amount of water is coursing through the area, the water can easily wash away the gravel.
Order the Gravel
Order your pea gravel from a local supplier. For a 16-by-16-foot area, 3 inches deep, you will need 1.58 cubic yards of pea gravel. Depths more than 3 inches can be difficult to walk in; depths less than 2 inches will become exposed after time. You should order a full 2 yards of gravel, both to facilitate the order and to have extra on hand to replenish gravel that gets lost over time.
Square the Perimeter
With twine, mark off the perimeter. Square up the frame by measuring between the diagonally opposed corners and adjusting the timbers as needed. The frame is square when the two diagonal measurements are equal.
Excavate the Area
Use a shovel to remove all vegetation, rocks, and debris from the patio area, including where the timber frame will go. If necessary, cut away roots with a mattock or pickax.
Rake and Tamp
Rake the soil so it is level, then compact it thoroughly by walking repeatedly over the ground or by tamping it with a hand tamp.
Lay out the Frame Timbers
Arrange the eight landscape timbers to form a 16-foot square. Overlap the timbers at the corners so that the end of one timber butts up against the side of the neighboring timber. When you're done, each side of the frame should have one butted end and one overlapping end, resulting in a perfect square.
Secure the Timbers
Drill three 1/2-inch holes through each timber, one a few inches from each end and one in the center. Drive a 12-inch length of #4 rebar into each hole to secure the timbers, using a hand sledge. Drive the rebar so it is flush with or slightly below the surface of the wood.
Install Landscape Fabric
Roll out strips of landscape fabric to cover the entire patio area inside of the containment frame, overlapping each strip of fabric by 4 inches. On the sides, the fabric should extend up the containment frame by an inch or two. Thoroughly secure the fabric with landscape fabric pins around the perimeter and at all seams.
Add the Gravel
Load up a wheelbarrow or garden cart with pea gravel and bring it to the side of the frame. Begin by lightly tossing shovelfuls of gravel at several places throughout the patio to further secure the landscape fabric. Be careful not to tear the fabric with your feet or the shovel.
Add more gravel to fill in the bare spots with a shallow layer. Continue adding gravel and spreading it with the rake until you reach the desired depth. Smooth the gravel with the rake so the surface is flat and level. If desired, spray the surface with a garden hose to clean the gravel. The patio is now ready for use.
When to Call a Professional
Creating a patio from pea gravel is generally a do-it-yourself project, rarely requiring the assistance of landscapers or contractors. At most, if heavy loads are difficult for you to manage, you may wish to have one or two assistants for a day to help you pour and spread out the pea gravel.